Goodness seems like such a generic term. It’s often used to describe things that weren’t great, but also weren’t terrible. As in: it was good, but I’ve enjoyed better. So, when Paul describes one of the Fruits of the Spirit as goodness, it can feel a bit insignificant. The other fruits seem to have more weight to them: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, even self-control. The weight for this term comes, however, when we consider more clearly that within Scripture God is called “good.” The fruit of goodness carries the weight of God’s perfect integrity.
Integrity is the key word here. Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright says that goodness has a “transparent quality” to it. He writes:
I think one key thing would be integrity – an absence of any kind of guile or deception. Truly good people are WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). They are in reality all they appear to be. Their words and behavior on the outside matches what is going on inside. There is no sham or pretense. When they do good, it is not just some kind of playacting to get a good name, or a good photo-op, or a good sound bite. Good people do what they do simply because it is the right thing to do. (Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, 98)
Good people are reliable, trustworthy, honorable, commendable, people of integrity. They can be counted on to do the right thing, even when it’s tough. All of this stems from the character of God, who is the moral standard of goodness.
God’s goodness is His compliance with His own ethical standards. God’s integrity is His meeting of His own standard of moral perfection and competence. God is good and does good. The Bible repeatedly states this outright:
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you. (Ps. 86:5)
For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations. (Ps. 100:5)
Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Ps. 106:1)
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (Ps. 107:1)
You are good and do good; teach me your statutes. (Ps. 119:68)
In other cases God’s goodness is clearly stated in different terms:
The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (Deut. 32:4)
As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tested; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. (2 Sam. 22:31)
Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding. Far be it from God to do wickedness, And from the Almighty to do wrong. (Job 34:10)
God is good. In fact His goodness is axiomatic, according to Wright:
This means, like an axiom in mathematics, it is an affirmed truth that is foundational to all the other deductions and calculations you make. No matter what the circumstances are or appear to be, God is good and God does good. (99)
God’s goodness is the source of all other goodness in the world.
We see the same is true of Jesus, who in his earthly life did good. He refers to himself as the “good shepherd” in John 10, in contrast to the poor shepherds who feed themselves at great cost to the sheep. In Acts 10:38, Peter describes Jesus saying He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and went about “doing good.” And on the point of integrity, Jesus demonstrates His goodness pointedly. He always does what is right, even at great personal cost. The cross is the greatest evidence of His goodness, for there He was “obedient to death” (Phil. 2:8).
As we grow in our Christians faith and walk the outcome is that we will look more and more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29), and so we too should increasingly display goodness. This is the Fruit that naturally produces on the vine of those whose hearts have been transformed by Christ. As we are transformed by the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit we become “good trees” which bear “good fruit” (Luke 6:43-45). But this fruit can only come in relation to Jesus Christ; we must be connected to the vine to produce goodness.
There is an important tension within the Scriptures regarding goodness, which reveals the source of our goodness must be God Himself. The Bible, after all, tells us clearly that we are not good. “There is no one righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10),” and “no one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). So, the Bible makes clear that our efforts at being good do not amount to anything of value before God. So, Paul regularly asserts that we are not saved by our good works:
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5).
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)
We are not good and cannot, no matter how much we try, earn God’s approval through our efforts at being good. Yet, when we come to Christ goodness becomes a means of pointing men and women to the true source of such integrity and uprightness. So, despite asserting our inability to do good apart from Christ, each of these verses above also speaks to the call of God upon us to do good once saved. We are saved, these texts tell us for good works:
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph. 2:10)
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. (Titus 2:8)
Goodness becomes, then, a missional fruit, which attracts people to our good Father (Matt. 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12). Goodness does not come innately from the human heart, but rather is put there by the Holy Spirit. Such a realization can become a compelling evangelistic tool.
Goodness, then, carries a great deal more weight when we see it in connection to the goodness of God almighty, and the goodness of Jesus Christ our Savior. As it manifests in the life of the believer it becomes a point of contact for others to encounter the living and good God. This is a missional fruit, and it is also a weighty fruit.