Conformity to the character of God, insofar as creatures are able, is our goal as believers, and the Holy Spirit is the agent chiefly responsible for this work of sanctification (Rom. 8:1–17; Eph. 5:1). As we follow His leading and the transformation of our minds by God’s Word, the Spirit bears in our lives fruits such as joy, peace, patience, and kindness (Rom. 12:1–2; Gal. 5:22–23). Goodness and faithfulness are also fruits of the Spirit’s work, as we see in Galatians 5:22 and today’s passage.
Biblically speaking, goodness involves both the external act and its internal motivation. God measures us not only by how we obey His law but also according to the intent of our hearts (1 Sam. 16:7). Thus, a deed is fully good only when it is motivated by a desire to please the Lord. Moreover, remember that our Savior had harsh words for those who acted holy but not for the right reasons (Matt. 23).
Fallen people are unable to do what is good according to this standard (Rom. 3:10–11). Measured by the relative standards of sinful creatures, we can say that unbelievers do civic good and other commendable things, such as loving their children. Nevertheless, because fallen people do not do these things out of a love for Christ, such deeds are ultimately splendid vices. Only believers, because we are redeemed by Jesus and have been granted the Holy Spirit, have the ability to do what is good in an ultimate sense. Sin, however, remains in our lives until our glorification (1 John 1:8–9), so our best works are still tainted by impure motivations. Thanks be to God, the Spirit does work in us to purify our motivations (Titus 3:4–7), making us more willing to do the right things for the right reasons.
Faith is another fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:22). But when the Apostle refers to faith, he speaks not merely of “believing in God.” Paul also calls us to “believe God.” Believing in God is not that remarkable — even demons do that. What the Lord wants is a people who trust in His promises alone (James 2:14–26).
Every time we sin we show disbelief. To transgress God’s law is to show that we do not consider evil to be evil and do not fear the Lord’s promised wrath. To flee sin, on the other hand, is to show faith in God as the ultimate standard of good and to believe His promise that righteous men and women will prosper (Ps. 1).
We will continue to sin until we are in the direct presence of God, so there will always be occasions when we disbelieve the Lord and transgress His law. Our need for perfection has been met in Christ, and He alone is the One in whom we will stand before the Father unafraid. In the meantime, the Lord desires faithfulness from us, namely, an effort to know His law, love His law, and repent when we fail to do His law.