People have always had difficult defining goodness. But whereas philosophers may struggle to define the abstract, the Bible talks about the concrete. It helps people understand goodness not by discussing the concept of goodness, but by pointing to people or things that are good. When a young man questioned Jesus about moral goodness, Jesus replied by referring him not to a concept, but to a person – God. The way to understand goodness is through the person who is good and whose works are good (Matt 19:17). God’s character reveals his goodness.

It is a character that combines love, mercy, patience, faithfulness, justice, holiness and wrath in perfect balance (Exod 33:19; 34:5-7; Ps 86:5; Rom 11:22). The biblical words translated ‘good’ contained a range of meanings, such as pleasant, beneficial, fitting, beautiful and honourable (Gen 1:4; Deut 6:18; Job 2:10; Eph 5:9). The added meaning that the words acquire in the Bible is largely because of their association with God.

The goodness that the Bible teaches is the goodness that exists perfectly in God (Ps 100:5). This goodness was demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus (Acts 10:38), and the Holy Spirit wants to reproduce it in the lives of Christians (Gal 5:22). All that God does is good (Ps 119:68; 136:1; Acts 14:17; 1 Tim 4:4). His people should recognize this, even when they meet hardships and difficulties (Job 2:10; Matt 7:11; Rom 8:28; Heb 12:10; James 1:17; see also CHASTISEMENT). God desires the welfare of all, and therefore he wants people to do good (Isa 1:17; 5:20; Gal 6:10). Though good works will not earn them salvation (for salvation is the gift of God and is received by faith), once they have received salvation they have an obligation to produce good works (Eph 2:8-10; Titus 2:14; see GOOD WORKS). Likewise, although the law of God is good (Ps 119:39; Rom 7:12,16), obedience to the law will never produce a satisfactory standard of goodness (Rom 7:18-19). The reason for this is the sin that still infects human nature (Rom 7:13-14; see FLESH). But the believer can produce goodness through the power of the indwelling Spirit (Gal 5:22).

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