No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
What do the words you’ve spoken in the past day or week reveal about what’s in your heart?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22–23
At funerals, people often say that the deceased was a good person. What do we base that on? Maybe they were a loving parent who worked hard for their family. They were compassionate, loyal, always willing to help others; honest and humble. These are admirable qualities. But what does ‘goodness’ mean according to the Bible?
In Galatians 6, Paul expands on this theme, saying ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers’ (Galatians 6:9-10).
What is Goodness?
a. Goodness is practical.
Goodness requires action. We are told to ‘do good’ at every opportunity. Paul doesn’t let us off the hook by making goodness a personality trait, or something we practice occasionally. Rather, goodness is a consistent decision to serve others at our own expense. It can be costly, as Paul suggests it can weary us if we don’t have the right perspective.
b. Goodness is objective.
Surely our definition of goodness cannot be subjective. This world calls many things good that aren’t good at all. We must look to God to know what is good — whatever pleases him, reflects his character, and displays his goodness to others.
c. Goodness is indiscriminate.
We can’t be content with doing good to our family and close friends. Or distant needy people who we send a cheque to without personal engagement. No, we must do good to all, but especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Once you’ve been involved in a church for a while, you realise how hard it can be to offer consistent, self-sacrificial good works. But that is what we are called to.
The Root of Goodness
Even though goodness is practical, it’s not merely an action. It’s not an outward act we can put on to impress others — or worse, to impress God. We can’t fake it for long.
Our reading from Luke 6 says that words and actions come from our heart. We live in line with who we are. And our lack of real goodness is obvious every day — in our selfish decisions, our willing blindness to injustice, our harsh words and thoughts.
The Fruit of Goodness
So we need help. Relying on ourselves is a dead end because we can’t change our own hearts. The whole point of Galatians is that salvation is by faith not works. Self-made goodness cannot save us.
Instead, we must rely on God to change our heart. That’s precisely why Paul lists goodness among the fruit of the Spirit. When the Spirit dwells in our hearts, we’ll produce the fruit of goodness in our lives — as the Bible repeatedly commands us to do (e.g. Ephesians 2:10, Titus 3:8, 1 Timothy 6:18).
How does the indwelling Spirit change us? He is the Spirit of truth (John 16:13) who helps us to accept the truth about God and what he has done for us. Through his enabling we see the steadfast, everlasting goodness of God (Psalm 100:5, Psalm 86:5, Nehemiah 9:20, Lamentations 3:25, and more). God is not just the prime example of what is good, he defines good.
Our goodness springs from knowing more and more of God’s goodness towards us. What better example could we have than what we celebrate at Easter? Jesus taught us to love our enemies as well as our friends (Luke 6:27). Then he lived that out: ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). This demonstration of goodness drives us forward, by the Spirit, to do good to others. He captivates us with thankfulness for what Jesus has done and forms us into his image.
So when we see a beggar on the street, the Spirit moves us to compassion by reminding us that we are beggars before Christ. When our family leaves dishes piled up in the sink again, we wash them without complaint because Jesus humbled himself to serve us. When we’re tempted to snap at somebody who has annoyed us, we think of Jesus’s gentle forbearance and hold our tongue.
All through the Spirit’s work in our hearts, not our own efforts.
Questions for Reflection
1. How has God been good to you? Does this motivate you to do good to others?
2. What generally keeps you from doing good — is it busyness, self-centredness, apathy? Bring those excuses before God and ask him to change your heart.
3. Think of at least one person from each sphere of your life: family, friends, co-workers, church, neighbours, the wider country or world. What specific actions can you take this week to point these people to Jesus by doing good to them?
Almighty and perfect God,
who alone is good and worthy of all praise:
flood our hearts with thankfulness for what you have done for us in your Son,
helping us to love and do good to all we meet, especially other believers,
that we may display your goodness throughout the whole world,
and that many might come to trust in Jesus Christ our Saviour,
in whose name we pray,