Word Study – ‘Good’

201 word study dictionary thumbAre some people good? Do some people do good things? Do good people go to heaven? What does Jesus say? Does Jesus say he is good? What does Paul say? Should God’s people do good? Why?

“Good. The Hebrew word is ṭôḇ (‘pleasant’, ‘joyful’, ‘agreeable’), signifying primarily that which gratifies the senses and derivatively that which gives aesthetic or moral satisfaction.

The LXX renders ṭôḇ by agathos the regular Greek word for good as a physical or moral quality, and sometimes by kalos (lit. ‘beautiful’; hence, in classical as well as biblical Greek, ‘noble’, ‘honourable’, ‘admirable’, ‘worthy’).

The NT reproduces this usage, employing the two adjectives interchangeably (cf., e.g., Rom. 7:12–21). Paul, following the LXX, uses the noun agathosynē for the Christian’s goodness, with the accent especially on his beneficence (Rom. 15:14; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9; 2 Thes. 1:11, RV: for the translation, see the commentaries). He also uses chrēstotēs (‘goodness’, AV, RV; ‘kindness’, RSV) for the merciful beneficence of God (Rom. 2:4; 11:22).

The common element of meaning in the many applications which the word ‘good’ has in every language is that of approbation, either for inherent value, or for beneficent effect, or both.” (Packer, J.I., 1996. Good D. R. W. Wood et al., eds. New Bible dictionary, pp.423–424.)

This word study has been created by looking at all instances of the words ‘good’ and ‘goodness’ in the ESV translation of the New Testament. <Insert exegetical fallacy defense here> I realise concepts related to the word can also exist where the word is not used. I have listed all the relevant passages and then grouped them according to various categories. But I believe the main body of truths is covered by this search.

The scriptures define what and who is good in different ways than might be expected by today’s society. As we step through these texts, let the scripture slowly build a picture of how it defines ‘good’.

Contents

God is Good (2 Cor 9:8; 1 Tim 4:4; Jas 1:17)

5 For the Lord is GOOD; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Ps 100.5)

“The acknowledgment of God as good is the foundation of all biblical thinking about moral goodness. ‘Good’ in Scripture is not an abstract quality, nor is it a secular human ideal; ‘good’ means first and foremost what God is, then what he does, creates, commands and gives, and finally what he approves in the lives of his creatures.” (Packer, J.I., 1996. Good D. R. W. Wood et al., eds. New Bible dictionary, p.424.)

8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every GOOD work. (2 Cor 9:8)

4 For everything created by God is GOOD, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, (1 Tim 4:4)

17 Every GOOD gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (Jas 1:17)

3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is GOOD. (1 Pet 2:3)

God is good, the things he creates are good and his work is good.

What does it mean for you to say God is good?

God’s behaviour is good (Acts 14:17; Rom 8:28; Gal 5:22; Phil 1:6; Eph 2:10)

17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did GOOD by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for GOOD, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, GOODNESS, faithfulness, (Gal 5:22)

6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a GOOD work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6)

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for GOOD works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)

God is always doing things. Everything he does is good because he is good. His work in his people is good and for their benefit.

What good things has God done for you recently?

The scriptures say some people are good

I’ve divided this section into people of good character and people who do good things.

Good Character (Mt 5:45; Lk 23:50; Rom 5:7; 1 Pet 2:18)

Scripture commonly makes a distinction between the good and the evil. Not all people in the scriptures described as good are actually Christian believers. It will be helpful to bear this in mind.

45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the GOOD, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Mt 5:45)

50 Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a GOOD and righteous man, (Lk 23:50)

7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a GOOD person one would dare even to die (Rom 5:7)

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the GOOD and gentle but also to the unjust. (1 Pet 2:18)

Have you ever described someone as good like Jesus did?

Salt is good (Mk 9:50; Lk 14.34; Acts 11:24; 1 Tim 4:6; 2 Tim 2:3; 1 Pet 4:10)

salt

Salt was an ancient food preservative. Jesus uses the metaphor of ‘salt’ to describe his people’s positive influence in the world. I’ve grouped a number of passages which describe christian ministry as good.

50 Salt is GOOD, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mk 9:50; Lk 14.34)

24 for he [Barnabas] was a GOOD man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. (Acts 11:24)

6 If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a GOOD servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the GOOD doctrine that you have followed. (1 Tim 4:6)

3 Share in suffering as a GOOD soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 2:3)

10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as GOOD stewards of God’s varied grace: (1 Pet 4:10)

Would you describe ‘salty’ christian ministry as good like the early church does?

Good trees (Lk 6:43-45; Mt 12.33-35)

forest trees

Jesus uses other metaphors like trees to describe people.

43 “For no GOOD tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear GOOD fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The GOOD person out of the GOOD treasure of his heart produces GOOD, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk 6:43-45; Mt 12.33-35)

Jesus’ statements reflect his belief both good and evil people exist and he is telling people how to discern one from the other. Notice Jesus says the heart is capable of producing both good and evil.

What is the good treasure Jesus is referring to?

Good soil (Lk 8.4-15; Mt 13.8,23; Mk 4.8,20)

plants soil

Jesus also uses various soil types as a way to describe people.

4 And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. 6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. 8 And some fell into GOOD soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the GOOD soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and GOOD heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Lk 8.4-15; Mt 13.8,23; Mk 4.8,20)

The good soil represents people have responded well to the word of God. They hear the word and hold it fast in an honest and good heart. So they are described as good and so are their hearts. Jesus is speaking about Christians here.

Jesus says those who hold fast to his word have good hearts. Have you heard anyone say this about a person’s heart like this before?

Good morals and conscience (Acts 23:1; 1 Cor 15:33; Eph 6:7; 1 Tim 1:5,19; Tit 2:10; 1 Pet 3:16,21)

fabric love hearts

23 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all GOOD conscience up to this day.” (Acts 23:1)

33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins GOOD morals.” (1 Cor 15:33)

7 rendering service with a GOOD will as to the Lord and not to man, (Eph 6:7)

5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a GOOD conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1:5)

19 holding faith and a GOOD conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, (1 Tim 1:19)

10 not pilfering, but showing all GOOD faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Tit 2:10)

16 having a GOOD conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your GOOD behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Pet 3:16)

21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a GOOD conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Pet 3:21)

A fair number of these verses speak about having a good conscience. Our consciences can be guilt stricken with constant reminders of things we need to set right. A person’s conscience is good, not because they have always done the right thing. Rather because when they have done the wrong thing they have gone and set it right. Repented and asked for forgiveness.

Can you say the same as Paul? Have you lived in good conscience to this day?

Buttering up (Rom 15:14; Phm 14)

Paul on occasion likes to butter up his audience and say nice things to them. He does this with a purpose to get them on his side or to do something he wants.

14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of GOODNESS, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. (Rom 15:14)

14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your GOODNESS might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. (Phm 14)

Good Behavior (Lk 6.43-45; Acts 9:36; Rom 9:11; 13.3-4; 14:16; Eph 2:10; 1 Tim 5:10; 2 Tim 2:21; 3:17; Tit 1:16; 2:7,14; Jas 3:13)

penguin

Good people do good things.

43 “For no GOOD tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear GOOD fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The GOOD person out of the GOOD treasure of his heart produces GOOD, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk 6.43-45)

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of GOOD works and acts of charity. (Acts 9:36)

11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either GOOD or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls (Rom 9:11)

3 For rulers are not a terror to GOOD conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is GOOD, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your GOOD. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13.3-4)

16 So do not let what you regard as GOOD be spoken of as evil. (Rom 14:16)

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for GOOD works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)

10 and having a reputation for GOOD works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every GOOD work. (1 Tim 5:10)

21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every GOOD work. (2 Tim 2:21)

17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every GOOD work. (2 Tim 3:17)

16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any GOOD work. (Tit 1:16)

7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of GOOD works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, (Tit 2:7)

14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for GOOD works. (Tit 2:14)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his GOOD conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. (Jas 3:13)

17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and GOOD fruits, impartial and sincere. (Jas 3:17)

17 For it is better to suffer for doing GOOD, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet 3:17)

The early christians had a reputation for good works? Normally that involved caring for the poor and needy.

Encouraged to do good (Mt 5:13-16; Lk 6:33; Rom 12:2,9,21; 16.19; Col 1.10; 1 Thes 5:15; 2 Thes 2:17; 3:13; 1 Tim 2:10; Tit 3:1,8,14; Heb 10:24; 13:21; 1 Pet 2.12-20; 3:6; 4:19; 3 Jn 11)

The early Christian’s were constantly encouraged by Jesus and the apostles to do good.

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your GOOD works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:13-16)

33 And if you do GOOD to those who do GOOD to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. (Lk 6:33)

2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is GOOD and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2)

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is GOOD. (Rom 12:9)

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with GOOD. (Rom 12:21)

19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is GOOD and innocent as to what is evil. (Rom 16:19)

10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every GOOD work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col 1:10)

15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do GOOD to one another and to everyone. (1 Thes 5:15)

17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every GOOD work and word. (2 Thes 2:17)

13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing GOOD. (2 Thes 3:13)

10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with GOOD works. (1 Tim 2:10)

3 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every GOOD work, (Tit 3:1)

8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to GOOD works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Tit 3:8)

14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to GOOD works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. (Tit 3:14)

Have you noticed Paul is always encouraging his audiences to do good? Encouraging his churches to do good was his standard practice.

He was not the only one.

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and GOOD works, (Heb 10:24)

21 equip you with everything GOOD that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:21)

12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your GOOD deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do GOOD. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing GOOD you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the GOOD and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do GOOD and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Pet 2.12-20)

6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do GOOD and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Pet 3:6)

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing GOOD. (1 Pet 4:19)

11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate GOOD. Whoever does GOOD is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. (3 Jn 11)

The author of Hebrews, Peter and John also follow suit. They encourage their audiences to do good.

No one does good (Rom 3:12)

In Romans 1-3 Paul is speaking to an imaginary Jew (Rom 2.17). Its a rhetorical device which should influence how we interpret the chapters. I’ve written a series of posts stepping out the implications of this. In Romans 3 Paul says to IJ.

12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does GOOD, not even one.” (Rom 3:12)

In the context of the passage, Paul is quoting from the law (Rom 3.19) in order to include [unbelieving] Jews who are under the law of Moses in the condemnation they believed was only for the Gentiles (Rom 2.1-5).

We know from other passages, Jew and Gentile sinners cannot do anything good (Rom 8.7-8). But once justified (made righteous in the sight of God) they can be described as good (e.g. Rom 5.7) and do good works (e.g. Eph 2.10).

Putting it together

‘Hang on a minute’ someone might say, ‘All people have sinned right?’ Yes thats true (Rom 3.23) and it means we need to build into our understanding that those who are described as being good are not sinlessly perfect. It means something else.

Spectrum of good

I suggest there is a spectrum ranging from totally good and sinless (like God) to totally depraved and evil (Satan?). When the bible calls people good their character and behaviour trends to God’s side of the spectrum, but never becoming as good as He is. God alone is good and sinlessly perfect.

So divide the notions of good into two categories:

  1. God who is sinlessly perfect and
  2. People whose character and behaviour is predominantly good.

In the scriptures the labels attached to people used to identify them (e.g. righteous, good, godly, sinner, wicked, etc) are not determined by absolutes. Rather they are used to describe the dominant / most practiced / most frequent mindset and behaviour of a person.

Default understanding of good

With the exception of a few verses that allude to a divine – human comparison. The primary understanding of good used in the scriptures fits into the second category.

A person’s character determines the way they behave. Good people do good things. Evil people do evil things.

While there is overlap between the two. I’ve divided the passages up into those describing people as good and those which consider their actions of good. However it works both ways. Where people are described as good, we can expect they make a practice of doing good things. Where people are described as making a practice of doing good things, it can be assumed they are good.

Apostolic mindset

Christian belief is that all people start off as evil and sinners (C1) and when they come to faith radical changes happen (C2).

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Click to enlarge

I’ve blogged on this previously. In short Christians (C3):

  • are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and have a new spirit,
  • have believed the Gospel (believing heart, enlightened mind), and
  • have turned to God and away from sin (repentance).

The scriptures assume these changes influence a person’s character and behaviour. When the scriptures describe Christians as good it’s because of what God has done for them in Christ and his work in them.

The scriptures say good people go to heaven

Again I will list all the passages and put it together afterwards.

Good people go to heaven (Mt 13.24-30,36-43,47-50; 22.1-14; 25.19-23; Lk 19.17)

clouds heaven

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed GOOD seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow GOOD seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” (Mt 13.24-30)

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the GOOD seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the GOOD seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Mt 13.36-43)

Jesus describes the ‘sons of the kingdom’ as the ‘good seed’. These are God’s people and he calls them good (Mt 13.38).

At harvest time at the end of the age, the weeds, all causes of sin and all law-breakers are burned and gathered out of the kingdom (Mt 13.42).

The good seed, the sons of the kingdom are called ‘the righteous’ and they are clearly not included in this group of sinners. They shine in the sun in the kingdom of their father. By Jesus’ definition God’s people are the good seed and the good go to the kingdom of heaven.

47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the GOOD into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Mt 13.47-50)

When fishermen throw away fish they clearly identify something as wrong with them. They keep what is good for eating. In this passage Jesus is speaking about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says at the end of the age the good (the righteous) are divided from the evil. The evil are burned and punished. The good remain in the kingdom of heaven.

22 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” ’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and GOOD. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt 22.1-14)

The original wedding guests do not come to the wedding. They refuse to come and are not worthy. The king has places to fill and so he gets his servant to invite all people both good and bad are invited into his feast which represents the kingdom of heaven. Again the good are invited into the kingdom of heaven.

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, GOOD and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, GOOD and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Mt 25.19-23; Lk 19.17)

In this parable the first two servants who served their master well entered into ‘the joy of their master’. Jesus calls them good and faithful servants. A message all God’s people want to hear when they stand before him in judgment. These good and faithful servants enter into God’s kingdom of heaven.

People who do good go to heaven (Mt 3.7-10; Lk 3:9; Mt 7.15-20; 12.33-37; Jn 5.28-29; Rom 2.6-11; 2 Cor 5:9-10; Gal 6.6-10;)

These next few passage reiterate similar things only now they point towards the good things that good people do.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear GOOD fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Mt 3.7-10; Lk 3:9)

People with no good fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire. The statement is fairly clear. The opposite is implied. Those who keep bearing good fruit are not punished. Rather they are assumed to be with God.

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears GOOD fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear GOOD fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear GOOD fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Mt 7.15-20)

Jesus is showing his followers how to tell the difference between his people (‘the healthy’) and those who are not. Healthy trees bear good fruit. They are not cut down or thrown into the fire. Again we can assume those who bear good fruit have eternal life with God.

33 “Either make the tree GOOD and its fruit GOOD, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak GOOD, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The GOOD person out of his GOOD treasure brings forth GOOD, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, son the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt 12.33-37)

Jesus speaks about the good person. The expression does not make sense if Jesus did not really believe there were some people who would be like this. Good people out of their hearts produce good things. They will be justified by their words in addition to their faith and good works. The evil people are condemned by the words that come out of their hearts.

28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when ball who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done GOOD to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (Jn 5.28-29)

Those who have done good will go to the ‘resurrection of life’. They will receive eternal life, resurrected bodies. The evil doers will be judged.

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does GOOD, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality. (Rom 2.6-11)

Paul says those who are patient in well-doing, seek for glory, honour and immortality will be given eternal life. A little later he says those who do good will receive glory, honour and peace. He draws a contrast with the evil doers. This we have seen is a constant pattern in Jesus’ sayings above.

9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether GOOD or evil. (2 Cor 5:9-10)

This is a judgment passage very similar in theme to Jn 5.28-29 above. Paul encourages his audience to do good and please God because they will receive good things in return.

6 Let the one who is taught the word share all GOOD things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing GOOD, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do GOOD to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6.6-10)

The same kind of message is reinstated here. Those who reap to the Spirit by doing good will reap eternal life.

If someone says good people don’t go to heaven you may want to ask them to interpret some of these passages.

Rewards for doing good (Lk 6.27-38; Eph 6:8; 1 Tim 5:24-25; 6.18-19; 1 Pet 3.10-12)

laurel wreath

I have previously written about the concept of rewards. These passage are interrelated with the judgment at the end of the age.

27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do GOOD to those who do GOOD to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you blend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do GOOD, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. GOOD measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Lk 6.27-38)

8 knowing that whatever GOOD anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. (Eph 6:8)

24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also GOOD works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (1 Tim 5:24-25)

18 They are to do GOOD, to be rich in GOOD works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a GOOD foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Tim 6.18-19)

10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see GOOD days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do GOOD; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. 13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is GOOD? (1 Pet 3.10-12)

Note: Job and Jesus are both interesting counter examples. Their uprightness and integrity led to their suffering. Their examples show us that GOOD is not always rewarded in this life.

Do these passages encourage you to follow Jesus and do good?

Putting It Together

I come from a reformed background. In my experience Christians in reformed churches are taught good people don’t go to heaven. Perhaps they want to counter the belief that people can get to heaven without Jesus. I get that, but the teaching itself is clearly contrary to the scriptures we’ve just read.

This means they are wrong to teach good people don’t go to heaven because the scripture says good people do go to heaven.

What we do need to consider is how Jesus understands the people he calls ‘good’ in each of these instances. When the scripture says good people go to heaven it is referring to a specific group of people.

Only to those who believe Jesus is the Christ, are actively following him and making a practice of what he commands are good. (Note I’m not saying they are sinlessly perfect.)

This will counter the mistaken belief people can be good without Jesus in their lives and go to heaven. It also affirms the need to follow Jesus and make a practice of doing good which is the consistent message of the scriptures we’ve been looking at.

I believe it’s wrong to teach good people don’t go to heaven because it’s not faithful to the scriptures and it discourages people from thinking doing good is important in life.

Jesus is good (Jn 1:46; 7:12; 10.11-14,32-33; Acts 10:38)

biblepics 16 Jesus is risen Christ

The scriptures affirm Jesus is good. Jesus at times says he is good and we see him and others point to his good works. But there are some who question he is.

46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything GOOD come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (Jn 1:46)

12 And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a GOOD man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” (Jn 7:12)

11 I am the GOOD shepherd. The GOOD shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is ha hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the GOOD shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, (Jn 10.11-14)

32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many GOOD works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a GOOD work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (Jn 10.32-33)

38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing GOOD and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)

Like God, Jesus is of course good and sinlessly perfect.

Why do you call me good? (Lk 18.18-30; Mt 19.16-30; Mk 10.17-31)

The following instance is interesting because Jesus seems to suggest he is not good. Only God is. I’ve blogged on this passage before. I’ve written what I have in square brackets to shorten my explanation.

18 And a ruler asked him, “GOOD Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me GOOD? No one is GOOD [sinlessly perfect] except God alone.

20 [This is what you need to do to inherit eternal life] You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ”

21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.”

22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

24 Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?”

27 But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

28 And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.”

29 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Lk 18.18-30; Mt 19.16-30; Mk 10.17-31)

Jesus responds to two parts of the rulers question. He responds to being called ‘good teacher’ and he responds to the question ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Jesus’ answer to the man’s question what should he do to inherit eternal life is to keep the commandments he listed, give all he has to the poor, leave their families and follow him. When you see people doing this, for example the disciples, realise God is doing something impossible in their lives which they could never do by themselves.

Rich man Walks away sad. Rich Impossible with man Judgment
Disciples Keep the commandments he listed, give to the poor, leave their homes and follow him. Poor All things possible with God Rewards and Eternal life

Do you think Jesus is good? Why did he respond this way?

So how does Jesus response to being called a ‘good teacher’ fit into this? Jesus response seems to deny anyone is good, bar God. Jesus’ response makes an implied divine – human comparison. Interpreting scripture with scripture we need to affirm all that scripture says about good and make a distinction.

Remember I divided the notions of good into two categories:

  1. God who is sinlessly perfect and
  2. People whose character and behaviour is predominantly good.

How Jesus makes use of this point is open to interpretation. My opinion is that Jesus points to God as the only one as good because Jesus understood the man had not devoted all of himself to God. This is the general drift of Jesus’ response and makes sense of why the man has sought someone other than God for assurance.

Derrick Olliff provides a wonderful explanation of the kinds of wacky interpretations imposed on this text in the name of combating merit theology.

Opposition to good works (Mk 3:4; Lk 6.9)

Jesus met opposition when he did good.

4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do GOOD or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. (Mk 3:4; Lk 6.9)

He questioned their underlying understanding of what it meant to be lawful. Doing good and helping others in need is law abiding.

Sometimes those who instruct people to do good can be opposed as well.

Other

The last remaining set of concepts overlap to some degree.

Good Quality (Lk 5:39; Jn 2:10; Gal 4:17-18; Eph 4:29; 5:9; 1 Thes 5:21; 2 Thes 2:16; 2 Tim 3:3; Tit 1:8; Phm 6; Heb 5:14; 13:9; 1 Pet 2:3)

This set is the biggest, but it varies to large degree. I’ve tried to group all the expressions that use good in the sense of describing the quality of something other than a person.

39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is GOOD.’ ” (Lk 5:39)

10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the GOOD wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the GOOD wine until now.” (Jn 2:10)

17 They make much of you, but for no GOOD purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always GOOD to be made much of for a GOOD purpose, and not only when I am present with you, (Gal 4:17-18)

29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is GOOD for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29)

9 for the fruit of light is found in all that is GOOD and right and true, (Eph 5:9)

21 but test everything; hold fast what is GOOD. (1 Thes 5:21)

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and GOOD hope through grace, (2 Thes 2:16)

3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving GOOD, (2 Tim 3:3)

8 but hospitable, a lover of GOOD, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. (Tit 1:8)

6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every GOOD thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. (Phm 6)

14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish GOOD from evil. (Heb 5:14)

9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is GOOD for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. (Heb 13:9)

Good fight (1 Tim 1:18; 6:12-13; 2 Tim 4:7)

God’s people are involved in spiritual warfare. That’s how Paul sees it.

18 This charge I entrust to you, Tim, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the GOOD warfare, (1 Tim 1:18)

12 Fight the GOOD fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the GOOD confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the GOOD confession, (1 Tim 6:12-13)

7 I have fought the GOOD fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Tim 4:7)

Are you waging the good fight like Paul?

State of affairs (Mt 17:4; Mk 9.5; Lk 9.33; Rom 15:2; 1 Cor 5:6; 1 Tim 3:13; 2 Tim 2:14; Heb 9:11; 10:1; Jas 2:3)

This group describes a situation someone is in. Something that works in their favour.

4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is GOOD that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mt 17:4; Mk 9.5; Lk 9.33)

2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his GOOD, to build him up. (Rom 15:2)

6 Your boasting is not GOOD. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (1 Cor 5:6)

13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a GOOD standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim 3:13)

14 Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no GOOD, but only ruins the hearers. (2 Tim 2:14)

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the GOOD things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) (Heb 9:11)

1 For since the law has but a shadow of the GOOD things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Heb 10:1)

3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a GOOD place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” (Jas 2:3)

Course of action (Lk 10:42; Rom 14:21; 1 Cor 7:1–9,26; Tit 2:3; 1 Tim 2:3)

Sometimes people choose a course of action that is described as good. It works in favour of themselves of others around them.

42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the GOOD portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10:42)

21 It is GOOD not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. (Rom 14:21)

7 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is GOOD for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is GOOD for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Cor 7:1–9)

26 I think that in view of the present distress it is GOOD for a person to remain as he is. (1 Cor 7:26)

3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is GOOD, (Tit 2:3)

3 This is GOOD, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, (1 Tim 2:3)

What good course of action do you need to apply?

Good news is good (2 Tim 1:14; Heb 6:5)

The noun ‘gospel’ in the Greek is euangelion and it has several cognates. Sometimes the expression is rendered as ‘good news’ to describe the same thing. The Greek for all of these does not incorporate the greek adjectives we have been looking at above. But sometimes the gospel is alluded to in ways which describe it as good.

14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the GOOD deposit entrusted to you. (2 Tim 1:14)

5 and have tasted the GOODNESS of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, (Heb 6:5)

Good Gifts (Mt 7:11; Lk 1:53; 11:13; 16:25)

present gift

People in this world receive good things from God, Jesus and others. Some people don’t receive good things in this life. They wait for the next.

53 he has filled the hungry with GOOD things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (Lk 1:53)

25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your GOOD things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. (Lk 16:25)

What good gifts have you received from God recently?

You who are evil give good gifts (Mt 7.11; Lk 11:13)

Jesus once speaking about good gifts made a comparison to what man gives and what God gives. He said;

13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give GOOD gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13; Mt 7.11)

Jesus is making a divine – human comparision to highlight God gives better quality gifts in greater abundance than man does.

Like Mt 19.16-17 the statement could be exploited to argue no one is good, only God is. But again I would note the abundance of scriptures describing people as good above and make a distinction.

The notions of good fit into two categories:

  1. God who is sinlessly perfect and
  2. People whose character and behaviour is predominantly good.

Jesus is alluding to the God’s sinless perfection in order to make his point about God’s gifts contrasted to mankinds. He is not denying what he has said before about people being good in the second sense.

The law of Moses is Good (Rom 7.11-20; 1 Tim 1:8)

11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and GOOD.

13 Did that which is GOOD, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is GOOD, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is GOOD. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing GOOD dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the GOOD I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Rom 7.11-20)

I’ve posted on the passage before. Paul is defending the law of Moses against the charge of sin because of the sinful state of non-Christian Jews under it.

8 Now we know that the law is GOOD, if one uses it lawfully, (1 Tim 1:8)

Paul again affirms the goodness of the law of Moses.


Copyright © Joshua Washington and thescripturesays, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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  • Joseph Gora

    I was looking just now at various interpretations of the difference between ‘righteous’ and ‘good’ in Romans 5:7. It is a problem that still does not seem to have been adequately answered. I was wondering if the distinction could be between the one adhering to the covenant (the ‘righteous’) and the one who is ‘merely’ morally upright (the ‘good’). After all, verse 5:6 says explicitly that God died for the ‘ungodly’, which I take to mean those outside of the law or ‘non observant’ ones, rather than the ‘immoral’ per se. And it is true of course that one would hardly die for a man simply because he observed Torah, though one might die for such a man were he particularly ‘good’. Likewise, the designation of ‘righteousness’ could and is often used in the context of covenant adhesion. But this interpretation of mine seems to be my own. Does it make sense to you?

    Cheers

    Joseph Gora

    • Yeah it makes sense (e.g. Ps 1.2,5, Dt 6.25), but it needs to account for instances where people are called ‘righteous’ before the law of Moses was given (e.g. Gen 6.9; 18.22-33). Westerholm argues in his ‘Justification Reconsidered’ being righteous cannot be linked to the covenant because the law was not given prior to Gen 17, Ex 20 etc, where the term righteous still is. This is the reason why I have attempted a counter to his argument in my NPP page pointing to Hebrews 11 and how those who are righteous come under the covenant promises and inheritance none the less (Heb 11.4,7,39). Being righteous has moral, covenantal and relational overtones.

      Otherwise with respect to the difference between righteous and good I tend to think righteous takes morality as far as law obedience, but no further. A ‘righteous person’ simply does as commanded (e.g. Lk 17.7-10) where as a ‘good’ person goes beyond that and does unnecessary benevolent acts in addition to what they ought to do. In this sense both have moral overtones, but the good person is of greater value. I cant really show this, but its my 10c.

  • Joseph Gora

    I know that the word ‘righteousness’ is used in different ways, but the flow of the argument seems to work better if, as we both take it, you see it as a description of the ‘law abiders’. It’s all a question of context. At the very least, a distinction is proven between simply ‘being good’ and ‘doing the law’. I think this is important, and something that many non NPP people seem to have a hard time accepting. I’d also add that earlier Paul is stressing the very fact that Abraham was “righteous” before the law. Paradoxically, this adds to the argument that for the Judaisers at least, the word ‘Righteous’ was strictly covenantial – that it the point Paul is correcting, but also could be seen to be using against them with their own terms in 5:7.

    Cheers,

    Joseph.

    • Fair enough. Thanks Joe. God bless.