But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23)
It’s quite natural that goodness follows after kindness as a characteristic of spiritual fruit. At first glance, the two may seem synonymous. Kindness, goodness – what’s the difference? Aren’t people who are kind always good? And aren’t people who are good always kind? Let’s consider. Ending someone’s suffering with death may be kind, but not good. The person, while suffering, may need time to say good-byes. Their Creator may have plans for them still – time for repentance, time to witness of God’s goodness. On the other hand, making your kids do their chores might not seem kind to them, but it is good. Parents know that unless they learn certain skills, children will be unprepared for the world of adulthood.
In his book, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, author Christopher J.H. Wright suggests that truly good people live transparently – WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). There is no hypocrisy. Their authentic goodness has no desire for praise or selfish gain.
Throughout the Bible (especially the Psalms), God is shown to be good, and to do good. He is described as just, merciful, faithful, upright, and good. His goodness is foundational to the biblical story. In fact, He turns evil or difficult circumstances upside down, to good conclusion, as he did in Joseph’s tumultuous life. After experiencing rejection, abandonment, false accusation and imprisonment, Joseph has an opportunity to have the upper hand. Yet he addresses his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20). Wright asserts that evil must still be seen for what it is – inexcusable, and not without consequence. But God, in his goodness, can bring redemption to every situation, for his glory. As a good Father, He shapes and corrects us through discomfort, anguish and even danger. God’s priority is not our comfort, but our maturity and wisdom.
We’re reminded of this in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in which C.S. Lewis depicts Jesus as the mighty lion, Aslan. When Susan finds out that Aslan is a lion instead of a man, she becomes afraid to meet him.
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Commitment and righteousness
Wright says that goodness includes a commitment to doing the right thing to the point of sacrifice. Daniel was a prime example of this – continuing with his daily prayer habits against the king’s edict – an action that Daniel knew would land him smack-dab in the midst of the lion pride.
The other word closely related to goodness, says Wright, is righteousness. Righteous people act not to earn God’s favour, but in thankful response to God’s goodness to them. Psalm 15 describes the good person as one who “keeps an oath even when it hurts; and does not change their mind.” The righteous person doesn’t look for a way out of their promise or doing the right thing. Jesus is our perfect model of this sacrificial goodness, resisting the temptation to take an easier way out when accosted by the devil in the wilderness, at His arrest and trial, and even during his crucifixion. He who had legions of angels at his disposal, followed through on his mission to the end, for the good of the world.
As the fruit’s goodness grows within us, “we draw the water that will irrigate the fruit of the Spirit, by being good in our thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions, and by doing good – not as ‘do-gooders’ (interfering busybodies), but as ‘good-doers’,” explains Wright. It also allows us to see the good in others and encourage them further. Barnabas was such an encourager. On arriving at Antioch to check out what was going on with the church there, his first response wasn’t to tell them what they were doing wrong; rather, “When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (Acts 11:24).
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His followers that they are salt and light. Salt preserves food, keeping it from rotting. Light exposes hidden dark places. As salt and light, our good actions (not just words) resist evil, exchanging it for hope. Wright explains, “The word translated as ‘good’ is kalos, which also means “beautiful”, not just morally upright. That kind of practical goodness will draw people to Christ and ultimately to know and glorify God the Father.”
Cultivating goodness is largely dependent on our attitude. It encompasses our entire being, as we surrender our lives to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, ever paying attention to God’s goodness in Christ. It is a way of life. We lean into it each and every day.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:9)