I am skipping from 2 Peter 1 to Galatians 5. I thought it would be useful to talk about goodness while we were still mulling over the idea of virtue. A question comes to mind when looking at these two words side by side. Can a person be virtuous without being good? Can a person be good without being virtuous? It seems to me these two words are very closely related, almost like two peas in a pod. Each one is distinctly its own thing, but they are two parts of a larger entity, which I will call morality. Can we truly have morality without having virtue and goodness?
Websters Online Dictionary defines the noun goodness in this way:
1 - the quality or state of being kind, honest, generous, helpful, etc
2 - the quality or state of being useful or effective
From a philosophical perspective, the word goodness and the word virtue are two distinctly different things. A person can be virtuous, meaning they have the qualities of courage, diligence, chastity and so on without being a good person. A person can also be virtuous, but not necessarily good at it. For instance, if a person bravely runs into a burning building to save someone, we would say he has the virtue of bravery, but if he trips and falls and dies in the fire and never saves the person, we would also say he wasn’t very good at following through on that bravery. Even though, I am married to a philosophy professor, I have no desire to go any deeper into the intricacies of virtue and goodness, other than to point out they are two distinct things and one does not necessarily depend on the other.
For this post, I want to stick to the idea of what goodness looks like as a state of being and as a state of doing.
1 - Goodness as a State of Being
It is my personal opinion that in order to be good and express acts of goodness, we must first be good inside. Think about acts that we would deem good: things like kindness, helpfulness, honesty and generosity typically grow out of thoughts that revolve around kindness, helpfulness, honesty and generosity.
Of course there are people who are deceptive and are not truly doing things out of goodness. They are manipulating the world around them by being good, in order to get something, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling like a good person. For this series, I am speaking to people who truly desire to be good and do good things for the sake of the gospel, or for the sake of doing good.
Let me interject here, that the Bible is clear on our goodness:
Paul was writing to the Jews at the church in Rome, however, he included everyone in this group, both the Jews and the Greeks, or in other words, Gentiles. Anyone who wasn’t a Jew was a Gentile. So, you see, we are all sinners. No one is righteous. No one is truly good. Sure lots of people do good things and live their entire lives with honesty, kindness, helpfulness and generosity, but for the sake of this study, the trait of a Godly person is that it is a trait that makes him/her Godly, or in other words, more like Jesus. The only one who can truly make us more like Him, is Jesus Himself. That is part of why Galatians 5 lists the fruit of the Spirit. This goodness is His fruit. In order for us to live in a state of goodness, we must immerse ourselves in Jesus; in His words; in His spirit.
You might be asking yourself, “How in all of creation, then, are we really supposed to be this goodness? How are we supposed to live in a state of being good?”
I am so glad you asked, and I am even more glad that Jesus, through His spirit and His inspired Word, gave us a clue. Let’s look two more verses.
God has given us clear direction on how to get our mind going down the goodness track. Every word and action begins in our minds. What we spend our time thinking about will show in our actions. If we think about how many things are wrong with the world, with other people and even with ourselves, we will be anxious and frustrated. If we think about past mistakes and wrong choices, we will be consumed with guilt. However, if we think on these things, as Paul encouraged us to do, we will be more likely to be good people.
2 - Goodness as a State of Doing
Frankly, what good does it do to be good and not act on it. If we are truly good, this should lead us to take action. Those actions will include three areas: goodness towards our God, goodness towards others and goodness towards ourselves. Let’s look at each of these briefly.
Goodness Towards Our God
How is it that we can be good towards God? Just as we choose to commit wrong, we also can choose to commit good. Doing good towards God, would be refraining from choices to sin, committing time to prayer, study of His word and worship. In addition, doing good towards God would include the simple act of thankfulness. Have you ever tried to worship or pray when you are angry and upset? It does not work. However, as soon as we humble ourselves and begin to nurture a thankful heart we change and we bring honor and glory to our God.
Goodness Towards Others
It is easy to be good to people who are good to us, but what about people who are negative, ungrateful and demanding? Does that sound like anyone in your life? I think we all have at least one person in our lives like that. It is easy to hold a grudge; to begin to not like that person, and eventually to not do good to and for that person. God’s Spirit in us, is able to produce good acts, even when we don’t feel like it or want to be good, but we have to choose to let Him have his way and bring to mind verses like those in Philippians and others. A big chunk of exhibiting all of these Godly traits we have been talking about is yielding to His Spirit in our lives and in our circumstances. As we think on good things, acting with goodness towards others, the choice to be and do good will become more natural and Spirit driven.
Goodness Towards Ourselves
In all honesty, this is probably one of the areas I struggle with the most. For me, it is easier to be good to others: customers at work, my family, friends, and others, but when it comes to myself, I am my own worst critic. My husband has this problem too. I have definitely softened towards myself over the years as the Spirit has brought me light on the topic of who I really am: created in His image, a royal priesthood, beloved and other wonderfully descriptive words. I still have days where I look in the mirror and am convince I am a cartoon character and should be residing in a comic book. I also have days where I feel so completely inept and unworthy, but these thoughts are not from God. (See my fiction piece The Tower, for a look inside my own struggling soul).
It is important that we give ourselves grace on a regular basis. We are not perfect. We are on a journey, just like everyone. It is also important to treat ourselves with goodness. Look in the mirror and thank yourself for getting rest the night before, showering to get clean and drinking lots of water. Make a mental list of your good traits; those beautiful eyes, pretty collar bones or shapely legs. Give thanks to the One who made you with an incredibly creative mind that desires to please Him.
There can never be enough good in the world, so let’s be sure we are doing what we can to make goodness, not only a state of being, but a state of doing.
Have a great day!