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October 17, 2019

What’s the Difference Between Being a Good Person and Goodness?

What’s the Difference Between Being a Good Person and Goodness?

Everyone knows it’s good to be a good person. They know they should watch for opportunities to do good deeds. Even children try to be good—if only for treats or to avoid losing screen time.

Goodness is one of those things we know a lot about, and talk a lot about, but never seem to master. And we’ve been talking about it for a long time.

Playwright Sophocles, who died in 406 BC, once said, “To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.”

In William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, believed to have been written between 1596 and 1599, it declares, “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

And transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote in his 1854 book Walden, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

Of course, the Bible has a lot to say about goodness as well. Over and over in the Psalms, King David writes about the Lord’s goodness and unfailing love. In Romans 14:17, Paul says the Christian life amounts to “living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” And Galatians 5:22-23 names goodness as one of the Fruits of the Spirit.

What is goodness?

In simple terms, goodness is a moral virtue. Other terms used to describe goodness are “kindness” and “generosity.” Goodness is expressed through good deeds and kind acts. These actions are charitable and bold, seeing a need or an injustice and making the situation right.

Where does goodness come from?

True spiritual goodness is a gift from the Holy Spirit and becomes an expression of who we are in Christ as we grow closer to Him. Galatians 5:22 says the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives and goodness is one of those fruits—proof of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.

If we have the Holy Spirit living in our hearts, and anyone who has received Jesus as their Saviour does (1 Corinthians 3:16), then we’re capable of goodness. Not because we’re so great and naturally gifted, but rather because the Holy Spirit guides us towards goodness and teaches us what to do.

How to become a good person

The first step is realizing we can’t become a good person. Not on our own strength.

No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one. (Romans 3:10-12)

We’re not by nature good people. All the good deeds and kind acts in the world don’t make us good on the inside, only God can do that by the Holy Spirit working in our hearts and minds, refining us and making us more like Him.

The second step is recognizing there are layers of goodness. We start by acting good because we should, and doing good because it’s the right thing to do. After a while, we find some personal benefit from acting or doing good so we continue. But at some point, likely due to the Holy Spirit’s influence on us, we start wanting goodness to be something we become—not just words or actions. It goes deeper. We stop doing it because of selfish motives and start being good for goodness’ sake.

The idea of sincere goodness is explored in the 2019 Netflix movie Good Sam. Without ruining the film with spoilers I’ll just say it deals with someone anonymously leaving money on people’s doorsteps and the question of whether it’s still a good deed if you’re doing it for personal gain. It’s a good question. Of course, the deed itself is generous and kind but is the result of the Holy Spirit inspiring you to do more for others? Tough to say. Goodness has layers.

Why being a good person isn’t enough

The Apostle James says faith without good deeds is dead in James 2. He goes on to point out how ridiculous it is for a Christian to tell people in need they’ll pray for them but not do anything about their physical need (this is a very loose paraphrase of James 2:14-16). His thesis: “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless,” (17).

But good deeds aren’t enough either. Sometimes people get stuck here, thinking if they do enough good in the world and behave properly they’ll earn enough points to get into heaven. That’s not how it works.

While good works are a critical piece of the Christian life, they’re not what save us. We are saved by grace through faith and not by works. No amount of good works could ever get us there.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

So let’s make sure we have this straight—being a good person or doing good deeds doesn’t make us a Christian and it doesn’t get us into heaven. Because no one is good on their own merit. The Bible is clear about that. Also, good deeds should come from a desire to serve God and be a blessing to others—not as a ruse to earn our way into heaven.

Circling back to James, he’s calling out Christians who are already saved but are coasting. He says there needs to be evidence of Christ working in them. Fruit, if you will. Where’s the fruit of their faith? It should be obvious by their good deeds. Stop telling people you’ll pray for them and go help them.

What else does the Bible say about goodness?

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9)

Here are additional references about goodness for further study.

  • Ephesians 5:6-9
  • Matthew 6:1-4
  • 2 Samuel 9:1
  • Ephesians 4:26-32
  • 2 Peter 3:17-18
  • Matthew 5:44
  • Luke 6:31-35
  • Matthew 25:21
  • Acts 11:23-24
  • Romans 3:23
  • Luke 18:19
  • Mark 12:29-31
  • Acts 4:36
  • John 3:16
  • Luke 1:23
  • John 14:15
  • Psalm 33:4-5
  • Psalm 52:1
  • Romans 5:5
  • Colossians 3:12-17
  • Ephesians 2:4-7

Goodness is one of those things we need to choose every day. When we get busy or stressed, or life is hard, it’s so much easier to look inward and focus on our own needs rather than watch for ways to help others. But the more we practice, the more we choose to love and serve others, the easier it becomes.

My aunt lent me a fantastic book first published in 1897 called The Minister’s Restoration. It follows a pastor who spends all his time and energy doing the right things and saying the right words. On paper, he was the perfect man but everyone who gets close to him sees right through him. He had no depth. His kind acts were empty.

It was a compelling look at how easy it is for us to stay at surface-level good deeds and not allow the Holy Spirit to penetrate our hearts, teaching us what true, deep, God-inspired goodness can look like.

Spirit-inspired goodness is not easy, but it’s really good.

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Robyn Roste

Robyn Roste is a professional writer with blogging, marketing and tourism experience. She also has a bachelor of journalism and diplomas in media and communications and biblical studies.

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