Over the summer, I taught a Bible study at our church on the fruit of Spirit. We did a little exercise in the beginning where we listed them out, these qualities that Paul defines in Galatians as evidence that we are living as people connected to Christ. I asked those who had come which ones they longed to grow in their own lives.
Not surprisingly, most people wanted more patience or recognized a need for deeper self-control. But when it came to “goodness,” only 2 lonely hands went up. Maybe it’s because everyone else is already exceeding in goodness, but I suspect it might be that while most of us have a handle on what it means to be loving and patient and kind, goodness is less obvious. It’s meaning is obscured to us because the word ‘good’ is used 100 times a day in our everyday lives and seems to be so subjective.
Still it’s an important idea, this notion that we need to be good, to practice goodness. Paul (and Moses, Solomon, David, Micah, Isaiah and Jesus before him) challenged us that our lives ought to be full of goodness.
As Christians, Christ followers, we believe we were created by God. We were made by Him to bear His image. The Imageo Dei, the image of God, is what makes us human in our essence. As His people, his representatives, his image bearers, there are certain things that we were created to do. One of those things is to be full of goodness. So what does it mean to be and to do good?
To bear the fruit of goodness is to first seek to live lives that God calls good, to be good at what he says He created us for. In addition, goodness is an invitation to fill our lives with good things.
In order to serve our purpose, we have to know what is required of us to be good. Coming together for worship, spending time relating to God, sharing what we know to be true, we learn these and all of the other instructions on what it means to be a good human from Scripture, it is our lesson book.
If we forget what we were created for, we could end up being good at a lot of things. A good employee, a good wife, a good athlete, a good cook, but we might miss out on being a good human, a good person, a good image bearer. And that’s what we were created to do.
I love Micah 6:8 –
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
The second way to think about goodness is pursuing what’s right & avoiding evil. If we were philosophers, this is where we might talk about moral excellence or seeking virtue.
Too often we get sidetracked one way or the other. Either we are really good at doing good—volunteering, going to church, being nice to people but then we’re drunker than skunks on the weekend and choose to entertain ourselves in ways that Jesus would find repulsive. Or we become the holiness brigade, our Christian life defined by what we’re not, “I don’t cheat, I don’t party, I don’t sleep around” but those choices to abstain aren’t accompanied by the practice of the good, helping the oppressed, pursuing God’s truth by studying his Word, endeavoring to serve others. We can’t just be good because of what we don’t do and we can’t let the good we do be an excuse to indulge in evil.
The two must be hand in hand; practicing moral excellence, doing what we know is good and abstaining from that which is evil.
When we put this kind of living together with a heart that seeks to be good at what God defines as good, we can be the kind of people Jesus talked about in Matthew 12:35: good people who out of our good treasure bring forth good things!
Lindsey Smallwood works and writes in Boulder, Colorado, where she hopes to leave a legacy of good relationships and bad dance moves. After careers in campus ministry, special education and circus arts, she's currently chasing her little boys and serving on staff at her local church. Follow along with Lindsey on her blog at www.songbirdandanerd.com