As we have learned with the other qualities in the Fruit of the Spirit, we can grow goodness by walking in step with the Spirit, by spending time with him, by asking him repeatedly, “Spirit, infuse me with your goodness.” This is what Jesus was teaching when he talked about abiding in him, remaining in him. We actively spend time with him.
When Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil,” he was teaching us about abiding or depending on him, on the Spirit. When we pray “Lead us not into temptation,” it is another way of saying, “Lord, I want your goodness to flow from my life, and I know that I need you to help me with that. Fill me with your goodness.”
We can observe other Christians who are good, who have a generous spirit to benefit others, which leads them to generous actions of goodness toward others. We can and should learn from them to be good. Who do you know that is living a life of active goodness? Invite them to mentor you.
What about people who aren’t Christians, but who are good and do good things? Notice that I am not saying that it is impossible for those who do not believe in or follow Jesus to do good. Plenty of people all over the world who believe differently do good things on a regular basis. So what is the difference between we who believe in and follow Jesus and those who do not believe in and follow Jesus when it comes to goodness? I believe there is a significant difference. Christians are people who are filled with the goodness of God, and empowered by God to be good, and do good.
What is so striking, then, is when people who call themselves Christians do things that are not good. For example, consider the abuse scandal in the Southern Baptist Church. There have been so many similar awful situations in churches of all kinds. In their book A Church Called Tov, Scot McKnight, a bible and theology scholar, and his daughter Laura Barringer, write about their families’ experience living through an abuse of power at a megachurch. What they suggest is that we who say that we are lovers of Jesus are called to create cultures of goodness in our church communities. Tov is the Old Testament Hebrew word for goodness.
The point is that we first strive for goodness in our own church family, and then allow God’s goodness to flow outward to our wider community. Goodness leads us to treat one another the way God treats us, with his goodness, his generosity of love. Goodness invites us to reflect on our behavior toward the people in our lives. Are we good to them? If not, we initiate confession and repentance to God and to the people whom we have hurt. We change. We move from bad behavior to good behavior.
Christians, we should be known for our goodness, for our lives of generous action of care and love to benefit others.