Truth to Restructure Your Thought-Life Around

A Look at Bill Johnson’s God Is Good

We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (see Romans 12:2). A key to that renewal is to take the goodness of God seriously. And if we take it seriously, we will pursue it passionately and consistently.

This is one of the themes of God is Good: He’s Better Than You Think, by Bill Johnson. Here is a bit more about that, and some of the book’s other important ideas.

Not Just a Doctrine, but a Disposition

The book is not really about proving the doctrine that God is good, but about developing the disposition. We know the doctrine, but we are not experiencing the reality as much as we could.

The doctrine is widely accepted in the church, but not deeply accepted. It’s not fully appreciated. The doctrine tells me that goodness is one of God’s attributes. The disposition, on the other hand, determines my immediate expectation from God in any circumstance, as well as my general approach to God throughout my life. When I expect to discover more of God’s overwhelming goodness every day of my life, it becomes the first thing I look for.

This disposition prepares the way for faith. The more I expect to experience His goodness, the greater my fatih. Bill Johnson puts it this way:

“My faith can go only where I have understanding of His goodness. His goodness then becomes the real estate that I live on and explore freely.”[1]

Johnson points out that King David, in Psalm 27, credited this kind of disposition with saving him from despair:

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” – Psalm 27:13 (NKJV)

For our own sakes, and for the benefit of the world around us, we need to develop this expectation. As Johnson says, “the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to require that our thought life work in tandem with His goodness.”[2]

This does require work. And risk. And it’s not without controversy.

Being Guided by the Highest Revelation of God

In the seventh chapter of God Is Good, Johnson describes a study project he did years ago. He read through the New Testament and listed the reasons given for the coming of Christ. His list was long, but what really struck him was what he had left off the list:

“I had studied this subject from cover to cover, yet I missed the primary reason for His coming. Jesus came to reveal the Father. Every point I had on my list was actually a sub-point to the primary reason. Jesus came to a planet of orphans to reveal what we needed most—the Father.”[3]

Jesus gives us a greater revelation of the Father than we find in the Old Testament. So we have to read the Old Testament in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ. If we don’t see God working toward that revelation the entire time, we are missing the point.

Johnson again explains from his own experience:

“I remember growing up thinking that God the Father was angry, and it was Jesus who calmed Him down. The stories of the Old Testament only seemed to confirm that misguided idea.”[4]

We can’t just see Jesus as a nicer version of God the Father. On the contrary, “everything that we love and admire about Jesus is actually a precise and calculated manifestation of the Father.”[5]

The judgments we read about in the Old Testament are so severe. They can overwhelm us. Yet if we are really going to “require that our thought life work in tandem with His goodness,” we must hold fast to the highest revelation of God that we have.

As for the Old Testament judgments, Johnson shares a wise approach:

“We live in a world where we celebrate judgments all the time. But for some reason, if the judgment comes from God, it’s considered cruel and unloving. My friend Mike Bickle made a statement on this subject that really helped bring clarification for me in this issue: ‘All of God’s judgments are aimed at whatever interferes with love.’”[6]

The Gospel of Responsibility

One reason Johnson gives for our weak grasp on the goodness of God is that we have watered it down with our theologies:

“There is a vast difference between the goodness of God seen in the life of Jesus and the goodness of God revealed through the belief system of the average church in the Western world….At the root of the confusion is the difficulty of reconciling the difference in the life of Jesus and the experience of the everyday believer. To cover the discrepancies we often create theology that keeps us comfortable, but also locked in perpetual immaturity. It has become easier to change our interpretation of Scripture by finding out why something didn’t happen than it is to seek God until He answers with power.”[7]

The solution to this problem is an emphasis on our responsibility.

Johnson points to the one time in the Gospels where we are told that the disciples of Jesus failed to get results in their ministry to others. They were trying to cast a demon out of an epileptic boy. Their response was to ask Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” (see Mark 9:28, Matthew 17:19)

Why would we have a different response than those disciples?

I call this the gospel of responsibility. I don’t mean to imply that it’s a different gospel, but that it is a way of presenting the message that highlights our responsibility to pursue breakthroughs in prayer.

And this is still the gospel of grace. One objection to this approach is that if will put undue guilt and pressure on people. The reasoning goes something like this: Christian are already under enough pressure without going on a guilt trip because a sick person they prayed for didn’t get healed.

According to Johnson, this kind of guilt is not the fruit of true gospel responsibility-taking:

“Shame and guilt are efforts of the enemy to get us to take unnatural responsibility for what God has called us to do—heal the sick, etc., as though it were in our ability to do so.”[8]

According to Johnson, this kind of “unnatural responsibility” will lead to frustration and unbelief. Biblical responsibility, on the other hand, will only ever lead us to Jesus.

The alternate to the gospel of responsibility is the gospel of excuses. Johnson sees excuse-making as bad theology, and he pulls no punches:

“I wonder how often people leave our churches after receiving prayer without a breakthrough and assume their problem is somehow the mysterious will of God. Or worse yet, the one who is doing the ministry assumes the problem is in God’s plan for their lives and then creates a theology around what didn’t happen.”[9]

And later in the same chapter:

“The reality of Jesus’ success in ministry doesn’t change because not everyone I pray for gets healed. He is the standard, not me. He is the leader, and I’m learning to follow. Any discrepancies are on my end, not His.

“It’s a theological crime to change the intent and message of the Scriptures in order to make me feel comfortable with my ministry experience.”[10]

Charismatic and Pentecostal theology is often criticized for being based more on experience than on Scripture. In the following quote, Johnson turns the tables on that idea, pointing out that it is not only positive experiences that people build their theology on:

“It is dangerous to form a belief system around what we don’t see happening in our lives. That is an experience-based theology, not a Scripture-based theology.”[11]

Revival and Eschatology

In the sixth chapter of God is Good, Johnson points to some Old Testament prophecies that show a connection between the goodness of God and the work of God in the last days. I had not noticed this before.

An example given is Hosea 3:5:

“Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days.” (NKJV)

Here is Johnson’s comment on that verse:

“Notice that there is a connection between seeking God, God’s goodness, and people fearing Him, with the last days as the setting for the fulfillment of this promise. I suggest we use our faith to believe for what was promised here.”[12]

Jeremiah 33:9 contains another neglected prophesy:

“Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it.” (NKJV)

Here is Bill Johnson encouraging us to take these prophecies to heart:

“I don’t remember ever hearing a preacher who specialized in the last days talking about these passages, nor even the subjects they address. The promise is clear—God’s goodness will be seen upon His people. Consider this: it just might be that the most overlooked evangelistic tool of the Church is the blessing of the Lord upon our lives. We’ve seen blessings abused, materialistic kingdoms built in His name, and other self-centered expressions. But when we react to the errors of others, we are prone to create yet another error.

“The Bible says that others will see His goodness and will in turn fear the Lord. I wonder, how good does that goodness have to be for people to see it and actually tremble? It’s hard to imagine His goodness in a casual or incidental manner bringing about that response. It would have to be so clear, and in my opinion so extreme, so as to be obviously manifested from God Himself, that people tremble with fear.”[13]

Another Old Testament text in support of this idea is Psalm 67. Twice in that psalm, the psalmist teaches the evangelistic power of God blessing His people:

“God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, Selah, That Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.” (Psalm 67:1-2 NKJV)

“God, our own God, shall bless us. God shall bless us, and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.” (Psalm 67:6-7 NKJV)

Confidence in the goodness of God, therefore, is not just a disposition to be cultivated for our own personal benefit. It’s not just for more effective personal ministry, either. According to Johnson, it’s a key to something greater:

“No wonder the devil works so hard to undermine our confidence in His absolute goodness. It is that specific revelation that is key to a massive last days’ revival, where there is a harvest of entire nations.”[14]

Eschatology that Hinders Revival?

Finally, I want to share a couple of quotes that highlight the tension between the now and the not yet kingdom of God:

“We are the most useless in our faith when our confidence for transformation depends on the return of Christ instead of the work of Christ. His return will be glorious! But His work set the stage for a transformed people to transform the nature of the world they live in. It is a glorious work, being done by a glorious bride that the Glorious One will return for.”[15]

Johnson says more about this later in the book:

“When I was a young man, the rapture of the Church was a primary subject. The return of the Lord is called “the blessed hope” in Scripture (Titus 2:13). But somehow we have to learn to live in a way that looks for His return without neglecting our responsibility to bring transformation to society. And whenever revival turns its focus from being an answer to the dilemmas of life to heralding the return of the Lord, the revival ends.”[16]

That last quotation was just a passing comment. Johnson didn’t go into detail. But it got my attention. I have never heard that reason given for the end of a particular revival, much less as a general rule.

An Encouraging and Thought-Provoking Book

Those are just a few of the themes present in God Is Good. There’s a lot more where that came from. The book provides plenty of food for thought, encouragement for the spirit, challenges to the status quo, and guidelines for the renewing of the mind.

***

[1] Johnson, Bill. God is Good: He’s Better Than You Think (p. 86). Destiny Image, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] Johnson, p. 46

[3] Johnson, p. 116

[4] Johnson, p. 59

[5] Johnson, p. 117

[6] Johnson, p. 102

[7] Johnson, p. 136 (emphasis in the original)

[8] Johnson, p. 169

[9] Johnson, p.167

[10] Johnson, p.169

[11] Johnson, p. 197

[12] Johnson, p. 110

[13] Johnson, pp. 110-111 (emphasis in the original)

[14] Johnson, p. 111

[15] Johnson, p. 108

[16] Johnson, p. 174 (emphasis in the original)

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