What Does it Mean to Be Good?


If we are going to be like God, if we are going to love like God, we are going to have to people who love to do good. Love is shown by goodness.

If that is true, the next question is, “what does it mean to be good?”

Goodness is more often defined in the Bible by contrast than by definition. For instance, Amos 5:14 (NIV) Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. And Hebrews 5:14 (NIV) But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Good is the opposite of evil.

God gives another answer to this question for us in Micah 6:8 (NIV), He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. To do good is to do what the Lord requires. It means obedience to His revealed will. Jesus said in John 14:15 (NIV), If you love me, you will obey what I command. Jesus might as well have said, “If you love Me, you will do good.”

God made this connection between obedience to his Law and doing good in Deuteronomy 6:17-18 (NIV),

Be sure to keep the commands of the LORD your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers.

Jesus expressed this in what has come to be called The Golden Rule, (Matthew 7:12, NIV) So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. if we want to know what it means to do good, we can look to the Law (The Ten Commandments), we can look to God the Father’s actions, we can look to Jesus’ actions, and to the Spirit’s actions.

Paul says in Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

When we are obedient to God’s Law, we are doing good; and when we are obedient to God’s Law we are showing love.

So, when we put all those verses together, we see that goodness—doing good—is doing what God requires of us. Goodness is conducting ourselves towards others in the same way that God conducts Himself towards us. It means doing what is right and being able to distinguish right from wrong. It means conducting our thoughts, our attitudes, our words, our actions in such a way that we promote the wellbeing of the people around us. Goodness is learned by being faithful and obedient to God’s Law. To be good means to be kind, to be helpful, to be faithful, and to want the best for people, regardless of how we are treated by them. Jesus says in Luke 6:32-36,

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

James Hamilton said, “Goodness is love in action, love with its hand to the plow, love with the burden on its back, love following his footsteps who went about continually doing good.” Goodness is how God wants us to conduct ourselves towards others.

God makes it clear that a sure sign that His Spirit is savingly at work in us is by the presence of good works. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:8-10 (NIV) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.

Jesus uses the same metaphor of light and darkness to describe good and evil in Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

The light that we are to be shining into the world is our good deeds. It is the absence of light, the absence of goodness that Jesus says distinguishes His followers from the crowd. Jesus says very plainly in Matthew 7:15-27 (NIV),

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

Man! If that does not give us incentive to be good, to seek good, to pursue good, I don’t know what will! If our love does not show itself in acts of goodness towards others, then the love we have is built on a foundation of sand, and when the waters rise and winds blow against it, it will come crashing down.

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