Have you heard this meme circulating around the American church? “The gospel does not make bad people good, but dead people alive”? Yes, it makes dead people alive, but it also makes now-living persons better.
Goodness is a fruit or produce or result of living in the Spirit. It should be growing naturally-supernaturally out of your heart and soul and mind. Here’s what the reality behind the word means in your life.
The key verses and the nine-fold fruit:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23, NIV).
“Fruit” is singular, which means each fruit grows together and feeds from the same life source. They are united, one collective. Yet it is okay to enumerate them one at a time, so nine fruits (plural). Just don’t separate them by highlighting one and ignoring another one in your life. They all grow equally strong together, as a unit, by the indwelling and power of the Spirit.
Now let’s define the term and then see how it looks in the New Covenant Scriptures in context.
The noun agathōsunē (pronounced ah-gah-thoh-soo-nay and used only 4 times in the NT).
The LXX is the 3rd to 2nd century Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and pronounced sep-too-ah-gent, and it translates Hebrew tob as “good,” which is linked to God. He is good. And we get our goodness from our relationship with him (DNTT, p. 3).
BDAG is the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it defines the word thus: “Positive moral quality characterized especially by interest in the welfare of others … goodness … generosity.” That’s an excellent definition because goodness is not static, but kinetic; it moves. Goodness does no good if you don’t give it away.
Its main adjective is agathos (pronounced ah-gah-thos and used 102 times). Since it appears much more frequently than its abstract noun, the adjective has a broader definition.
BDAG again: “pertaining to meeting a relatively high standard of quality, of things—useful, beneficial (Luke 8:8; Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13; Eph. 4:29). In the plural of things: “good things, possessions” (Luke 1:53; 12:18f; 16:25); possessions of a higher order (Rom. 3:8; 10:15; Heb. 9:11; 10:1). Singular: good treasure (Matt. 12:35; Luke 6:45).
A related definition: “pertaining to meeting a high standard of worth and merit, good” (Matt. 10:17b; Mark 10:18b; Luke 18:19b); “good in the visible world” (Mark 10:17, 18a; Luke 18:18, 19a);
Of humans other than Jesus (Matt. 12:35; Rom. 5:7); “become better, kind, generous” (Matt. 20:15; Mark 10:17f // Luke 18:18); “benevolent” (1 Pet. 2:18; Matt. 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17).
Another related definition: good “of things characterized especially in terms of social significance”: spirit (Luke 11:13); commandment (Rom. 7:12); kind or pleasant memories or remembrance (1 Thess. 3:6); dependable (2 Thess. 2:16); better part (Luke 10:42); clear (Acts 23:1; 1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 1 Pet. 2:19; 3:16, 21); admirable Christian conduct (1 Pet. 3:16) good heart (Luke 8:15); a good deed (2 Cor. 9:8; Col. 1:10; 1 Tim. 5:10; 2 Tim. 2:21; 3:17; Tit. 1:16; 3:1); benefactions (Acts 9:36); persistency in doing right (Rom. 2:7).
In the substantive usage or form, “the good” or “the good thing”: do what is good or do the good (Rom. 2:10); the generous thing (Gal. 6:10); socially good work (Eph. 4:29); to do the good (Matt. 19:17a; Rom. 7:13; 12:9; 13:3b; 16:19 1Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:13).
In two instances the word is turned into a compound verb: agathoergeō (pronounced ah-gah-tho-air-geh-oh), it literally means, “good working” (1 Thess. 6:18; Acts 14:17). It seems Paul and Luke wish to drive home the truth that goodness must be worked out.
Then it is compounded to mean the same in a different verb: agathopoieō (pronounced ah-gah-tho-poi-eh-oh and used 9 times). It literally means “doing good.” It is the antonym or opposite of doing evil or sinning (Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9; 1 Pet. 2:14, 20; 3 John 11). So BDAG’s definition: “to do that which is beneficial to another, do good, be benevolent, be helpful” (Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9; Acts 14:17), such as doing good to someone (Luke 6:33); and “to meet a high level of exemplary conduct, do what is right, be a good citizen” (1 Pet. 2:15, 20; 3:17; 3 John 11).
1 Pet. 4:19 says that when we suffer for the Creator, we should keep doing good, and the word is agathopoiia, (pronounced ah-gah-tho-poi-ee-ah and used only here). Once again a NT author equates goodness with action.
Goodness ultimately flows out of God’s character. It is a key attribute. Judaism teaches that it is the most important one for us, based on Exod. 33:19, which says the Lord will cause his goodness to pass in front of him. Christianity says that God is love, but let’s not get into a contest about the best attribute. God is each one with all perfection and completeness.
See my post Do I Really Know God? He Is Good
What the New Testament Says
Let’s return to the noun agathōsunē, goodness, since it is the form used in Gal. 5:22.
Paul is confident in the Roman Christians. They themselves were full of goodness and filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Rom. 15:14). So goodness and knowledge are linked. Teachers must have good character. This reminds me of James 3:1, which says teachers shall incur a greater judgment by God, and Heb. 10:17, which says leaders must render an account to God. Without goodness, leaders can become abusive. With it, they can do a lot of good—get good fruit or results in the people they lead.
Paul writes in Eph. 5:8-9 that we used to walk or live or conduct ourselves in darkness, but now we are in the light in the Lord. We are to live as children of light. But how do we know when we are in the light, and not just our own self-generated lamp (or flashlight or torch)? Once again Paul uses the word “fruit” or product or result. “For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth” (v. 9). It’s not just “regular” goodness, but all goodness. It must cut a wide swathe and encompass all sorts of good attitudes and actions for all sorts of people.
Finally, 2 Thess. 1:11 is particularly rich. Paul constantly prayed for the Thessalonians, that God would make them worthy of his calling and that by his power he may bring to fruition their every desire for goodness and their every deed prompted by faith. Let’s go on to the next verse. Why does he pray this? So the Lord may be glorified in them, and they in him, according to the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 12). Our every desire must be for goodness, and our works are prompted by faith, so that God may be glorified. If our desires stray from goodness, we are on the wrong path. If our works are motivated from our own souls, then we may help people, but in the end, it is not God working through us. Faith in him first, then good works for him and others.
So how does this post help me grow in Christ?
As noted throughout this brief study goodness does no good if we do no good. In other words, goodness must be active and kinetic. It must move outward to others, or else it just sits in our soul, perhaps, and is useless, except for our own moral superiority.
Finally, as noted in the other posts in this series, the fruit of the Spirit should flow out of you, like grapes grow from the branches that are connected to the vine (John 15:1-8). Some teachers say that fruit comes from the vine without effort, and that’s true, but Jesus also said that every branch that does not bear fruit gets pruned, so that it may bear more (and better) fruit. The Father must prune you, or else your fruit will be substandard, sour maybe. Pruning can be painful, but it has to be done. The fruit of the Spirit needs his tending and divine management. Accept it from your loving Father; he knows what you need.
Goodness is not gooiness. It flows from love, yes, but it may not flow from good feelings, not from loving sentiments. Love does and acts, yes, but goodness also does and acts.