What does it mean to be “good”? Is it doing all the right things? Never messing up? Making sure you stay useful to God?
Not exactly. Biblical goodness does involve moral uprightness, having a good character, and doing the right thing. But Jesus also tells us, “No one is good but one, that is, God” (Matt. 19:17, WEB). So when we’re instructed to do and be good, there’s also an acknowledgment that we don’t already have inherent goodness inside us. For us, becoming good is a process that happens as we become more like God.
One of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 is “goodness.” It’s the Greek word agathosune (G19), which Zodhiates’ dictionary says “is character energized, expressing itself in … benevolence; active good.” It is a more active character trait than kindness, though the two are similar. When we have God’s spirit inside us, it prompts us to do the same sorts of things that God does because He is good.
Become Good By Following God
Oh taste and see that Yahweh is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (Ps. 34:8, WEB)
Our God is good in every way. The Hebrew word tob H2896) means “good” in the broadest sense, including concepts like “better,” “beautiful,” and “pleasant.” There is no limit to the goodness of God, and “those who seek Yahweh shall not lack any good thing” (Ps. 34:10). Not only is the Lord good, but He gives goodness to those who seek Him and follow His example of goodness.
Who is someone who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies. Depart from evil, and do good. Seek peace, and pursue it. Yahweh’s eyes are toward the righteous. His ears listen to their cry. (Ps. 34:12-15, WEB)
The better our relationship with God is, the more readily we’ll follow His instructions and example of goodness. We don’t have to already be good for God to want us. We will, however, keep becoming better people the more we let Him work in us.
Created For Good Works
In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith and not by works. Immediately, he makes sure that we don’t misinterpret that truth and assume God stops caring what we do with ourselves after He saves us. Paul adds,
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:10, WEB)
One of the reasons God chooses to work with us is so we can do good works. It’s not about us having to do something to earn God’s favor — good works are just something we’ll do naturally the more we become like God. We’re to follow Jesus, and since active goodness poured out of Him that’s how we’re supposed to be as well. We must never give up doing good to all people, and especially to those in the church (Gal. 6:9-10, WEB).
The Importance Of Good Fruit
Another reason God wants to see us doing good is because goodness on the outside is an indication of goodness on the inside. He is inviting us to become part of His family, and as His children our hearts need to change and become like His heart.
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45, WEB)
The “fruit” that people bear can tell us whether or not they are trustworthy, and the fruit we bear tells God the same thing. I find it interesting that in both Matthew’s and Luke’s account, Jesus follows the passage about fruits by saying we need to actually do the things He tells us to if we’re going to call Him “Lord” (Matt. 7:15-21; Luke 6:43-46). Genuine devotion to Jesus will result in good fruit because we’ll abide in Him, love Him, and Keep His commandments (John 15:1-10).
Goodness and Judgement
It’s a hard thing to wrap our minds around that we cannot earn salvation by doing good things, and yet without doing good we won’t be saved. When our Master returns to “settle accounts with us,” He wants to find that we’ve used His precious, freely-given gifts to follow His example and commandments. If not, then we won’t be in His kingdom (Matt. 25:19-30).
For we must all be revealed before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10, WEB)
God searches our minds and tests our hearts to reward each person “according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10). He’s looking to see whether or not we’re imitating Him and developing His character. He’s never going to give up on us, but He also won’t stop us if we reject Him and choose to walk away from His goodness.
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. (3 John 1:11, LEB)
Letting God Make You Good
The instruction to do and be good is not meant to discourage us. God’s commands are neither too hard for us to follow nor out of reach (Deut. 30:11; Matt. 11:28-30). If we think that following God seems impossible, then we’re probably over-complicating things and/or not trusting Him to lead us.
He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8, WEB)
Doing “the good and well-pleasing, and perfect will of God” is simply part of our “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1-2). Bearing good fruit isn’t a burden — it’s what happens when we’re filled with God’s spirit. That’s not to say following God is easy. It requires hard work and commitment, but even more than that it requires submission, trust, and faith.
We don’t need to make ourselves “good enough” for God. We just need to let Him make us good in the way that He is good, and then demonstrate His character in how we live our lives for Him. Even Jesus didn’t claim to be good while He walked on this earth, so we certainly can’t either (Matt. 19:17). But if we’re striving to become better people by following God’s lead and abiding in Jesus, then we will develop the spiritual fruit of goodness.