“Good” is a bit of a weak word in the English language isn’t it? It is a mundane word like “nice”. “Did you have a good day today darling?” “Yes it was good”. What does that mean? It sounds sort of average; not a “wonderful” day, just good.
If we look outside of the bible, the word “good” is a very relative term. Most people would think they were good. The ISIS terrorists in Iraq think they are doing good by wiping out infidels in the name of Allah!
As it is such a subjective term we need to find a constant, never- changing definition of what “good” is and what it looks like.
“Good” is the essence of God’s nature. Absolutely everything He does is “good”. The bible makes it clear that in our natural state before trusting in Him, we were far from good. Absolutely no-one is good apart from Him. Jesus confirmed this when the rich young ruler addressed Him as “good teacher”, replying: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone”. (Luke 18:19). The bible confirms this in a number of other places such as Romans 3:23: “….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
The temptation is to compare ourselves with others who are not as “good” as we are, but the comparison is with God and not with others. There is a tiny crack between us and others and a huge chasm between us and God.
Therefore when the bible talks about goodness, it must be referring to perfection, or the absence of sin. So being good is far from being simply “nice”. Goodness is only achievable as we put our trust and faith in Jesus. When we do this, the wonderful fruit of goodness, God’s goodness, is added to our nature as part of God’s wonderful salvation package. Our goodness comes from our identity; we are ‘in Christ’. It’s not what we do that determines who we are (doing good deeds). Who we are determines what we do.
It is almost impossible to think of goodness in the abstract. In scripture goodness always refers to particular ways of behaving. You can’t really be good by just thinking good thoughts; it involves action. God’s plan for us involves action and that is why He has pre-ordained ‘good works’ for us to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
There are various aspects to these ‘good works’, such as doing good to everyone, even those who persecute us: “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
This is why it is impossible to be good if we are not children of God and filled with His Spirit. This kind of goodness, humanly speaking, is impossible. Outside of God’s economy, why on earth would we want to do good to our enemies? But it is this very action which demonstrates how we take after our father who showed His goodness to us while we were His enemies. Doing good to someone who simply returns the favour is not pure goodness; it is little more than two people exchanging favours (which can even be quite selfish).
Goodness involves not only right behaviour, but also the avoidance of its opposite: evil. The choice between good and evil has been before humankind since the garden of Eden, the moment when Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). Since then God’s curse has fallen on “those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter“. (Isaiah 5:20)
God knows though that the true goodness He requires takes real effort in a sin-sick world; it’s far from easy. The apostle Paul said things like: “… And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10)
We can be so busy trying to be good to others that we forget about our brothers and sisters in Christ. I am reminded of that old song which says that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” There is something very compelling about a community who are good to one another and together take that goodness and love to a hurting world. This is why the Psalmist said: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). He then goes on to say: “…For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.” What a wonderful promise from a very good God.