GOODNESS, The Definition

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“Goodness” is a rare word found only four times in the New Testament (and only in Paul).[1]

Thus, from our common usage of the idea of goodness I see six aspects:

I.                   GOODNESS MEANS USEFUL.

The idea of “goodness” means that a thing fulfills its purpose or the expectations for it.

Roger D. Cotton wrote in an article entitled “Goodness,” that, “The first place in the Old Testament where something is called good is Genesis 1.  As God spoke into existence each phase of creation, He saw that it was good.  What does that mean?  How could it have been bad or evil?  I believe the point here involves expected function.  God’s creation did what He intended it to do.  It accomplished its purpose.  It met His expectations!  And that is one of the basic ideas of the goodness the Spirit wants to manifest in our lives.”

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about his present result, to preserve many people alive” (NASB).  The Septuagint has agathos here.  God had a purpose, that was to save many lives.  

God’s good purpose in every situation is ultimately to save lives.  Joseph suffered some very hurtful things, but they turned out to great benefit for him and for many others.  They fulfilled the purpose of God, His redemptive purpose.


We sometimes speak of a deed done “out of the goodness of one’s heart,” which comes close to the meaning here except that, as with all nine items in the list, we are dealing with ethical characteristics produced in the believer by the Holy Spirit, not with natural qualities or personality traits cultivated apart from this supernatural dynamic.[2]

Goodness is holiness put into practice and results from knowing God.  Once you have this knowledge, goodness is supernaturally produced in you (Romans 15:14). 

Mark 10:18-ff—Only God is good.  The story regarding the rich young ruler emphasizes that goodness only comes through the bestowal of God.  There is none good, no, not one!  Every good and perfect gift comes down from above! 

Romans 7:18-21--I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.


Goodness is a quality of God associated so closely with Him that people use it as a euphemism for Him when making an interjection, such as “Oh, goodness!”

In the ultimate context of God’s expectations, goodness includes the second aspect of morality, and that is defined by God. 

The character of God defines moral goodness.  Exodus 33:19 shows this when in response to Moses’ request to see God’s glory the Lord says:  “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD [Yahweh], in your presence.  I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”  

This says that all the Lord is represented by His name, is called His goodness, and is expressed in merciful, gracious love which offers forgiveness and salvation to all who will receive it.  This association of goodness, forgiveness, and love is seen also in Psalm 86:5.  Thus, there is an overlapping of goodness with other fruit of the Spirit such as kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and, of course, love.  


Besides describing the character of God, goodness describes His acts on behalf of His people, the benefits of His salvation. 

At the end of Psalm 23 David confidently proclaims:  “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”  One of the places in the Septuagint where agathosune is used is Nehemiah 9:25 and 35.  It says there in going over the history of Israel that they enjoyed God’s great goodness, which refers to the benefits of His salvation.

Romans 15:14 says the Christians in Rome were “full of goodness [agathosunes], complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another” (NIV).  They were able to benefit and to help one another fulfill God’s purpose in their lives. They were characterized by God’s moral qualities.

Ephesians 4-5 give specific ways goodness is to be expressed in our lives.  Some of these are, beginning in 4:25, speaking truthfully, not sinning in our anger, not stealing but doing something “useful” (NIV). That word “useful” translates the Greek word agathos, usually translated good.  We are not to do hurtful, harmful things but helpful, beneficial, useful things.


Significant New Testament references must include the commendation of the servants in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (NIV). 

Good is associated with faithfulness, and it refers to conduct which goes even beyond expectations in taking care of the master’s capital.  These servants made an extra effort and even took a risk to bring their master gain and benefit, because of their commitment to him.  Goodness involves going beyond the mere requirements.

Luke 8:15 talks about good ground and then speaks about a person with an honest and a good heart who hears the Word and responds to it.  So here goodness involves the honesty of receiving God’s Word repentantly, then responding in faith and obedience, and accomplishing His purpose for one’s life.

Third John 11 says that the one who does good is of God. True goodness can only flow out of a life right with God and yielded to Him.


Goodness is conforming to the moral principles embodied in the Word of God!  

2 Timothy 3:16-17—“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

 [Source:  Roger D. Cotton;]


[1]George, Timothy: Galatians. electronic ed. Nashville : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1994 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 30), S. 403

[2]George, Timothy: Galatians. electronic ed. Nashville : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1994 (Logos Library System; The New American Commentary 30), S. 403

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