How can one define goodness? Isn’t goodness just that--good? When we use a word so frequently that it loses its meaning we ought to take a moment and think about what we really mean when we say that word. For example, we say “Good day,” “Good night,” “Good morning,” “Good luck,” “Good-bye,” “Good going,” “Good job,” “Good work,” and so on. Good is kind of like the word “nice.” It really doesn’t mean anything. It certainly doesn’t help much to get to know a person just by someone telling us that he or she is good or nice. The question almost begs for itself, “Well, just what is so nice or good about them anyway?”
If we want to get to the true meaning of goodness, we need only to see how Jesus used it. In Luke 18:18-19, a rich young ruler approached Jesus and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This individual would be like today’s young successful career person who has managed to climb quickly to the top of the corporate and societal ladder; He had lots of possessions and things of this world to enjoy.
Having already climbed to the top of the ladder in this life, perhaps he wanted to be sure that he was ahead of the game in the life to come as well. Thus, he asked Jesus, referring to Him as “Good Teacher,” how he could have eternal life. Jesus’ response was, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.”
This response probably took him off guard as it might us. Jesus was going straight for this young man’s heart and conscience. Jesus pointed out that, even though this young person had kept many of the commandments, he must also be willing to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. In other words, Jesus agreed that in terms of what society said defined a “nice guy,” this young man probably was the quintessential model. Yet he wasn’t good in terms of Jesus’ definition of good. He loved his things more than God, and that was his downfall. He was unwilling to surrender all to the Lord and trust in Him for his identity, worth, and success. He wanted to be in control of his destiny. In pointing this weakness out to the young ruler, Jesus showed him that he was not good as God is good.
What we can learn from this is that when the Bible speaks of goodness as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5:9), it doesn’t simply mean that a person is a model citizen, polite, respectful, tolerant, and just nice. When the Bible tells us that God is good, it means that God is holy, perfect, morally pure, and the utter antithesis of anything bad, corrupt, evil, or inferior. In order for us to be good like God, we need to be more than nice. We need to be holy and righteous, which means that we must repent of our sins and ask God to forgive us by the righteousness that can be found through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. We need His righteousness because our niceness is not going to get us the eternal life that this young man wanted. If we want to live forever, we must share the goodness that is Christ’s and God’s by faith in Him.
The goodness of Christ is to be manifested in our lives fully day after day. Romans 15:14 says, “And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.” Some people put on a good show, yet they are not good. God calls us to be filled with goodness from the inside out, being holy in what we do and say because we have a heart that seeks goodness. We are not to be merely polished with goodness, but we are to be filled with it.
Good is a cheapened word that serves its generic small-talk purpose of politeness and niceness. Yet to plumb its real depth and meaning is to realize that goodness is akin to holiness. To experience the fruit of the Spirit called goodness is to show forth the holiness of God through a transformed heart ruled by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.