The Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness
Goodness is a word that can obviously mean upright. Think of the oft used comparison between good and evil. But the word can also point up the benefit or qualities possessed by another. We might say something like, “The teachers are good here.” Of course, by that we mean that the teachers are the best teachers. Their pedagogy, curriculum and over all style of teaching are superior to that of other teachers. But goodness is so versatile we might even say, “Fido is a good dog!” because he fetches my slippers. So, when Paul says that the fruit of the Spirit is goodness what does he mean?
Well, someone might point out that when Galatians 5 balances the fruit of the Spirit with the deeds of the flesh you have a comparison between good and evil. So, the fruit of the Spirit is something like morally upright character and that would be right in so far as it goes. But I think that Paul is doing more than pointing up the morally upright character that is formed in the believer as a result of the Spirit’s presence. But what is it?
Think about the goodness of God. How did God express His goodness to us? Paul makes one of those wonderful statements to Titus directly answering this question. He says, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the works done by us in righteousness but according to His own mercy…” (Titus 3:4). The goodness of God appeared in Christ when He came to save us from our sins by His grace. Now, that text goes on to tell us how he saved us. In other words, the text tells us how the work of Christ was applied to us. It was not according to our righteousness “but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…” (Titus 3:5-6). In other words, the saving work of Christ was brought to bear upon our lives by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God gave to us the goodness of God in Christ through the Spirit.
Now, when we think about goodness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit we might necessarily think that the goodness of God who is Christ was brought to us by the Spirit and is now being worked into us by the same Spirit. In other words, the goodness of God that saved us is now being worked in us leaven-like by the Holy Spirit. Or we might say it another way, Christ-likeness is the fruit of God’s goodness expressed to us in Christ. But how might we describe this goodness manifest in us as a fruit?
Think about the goodness of God that saved us. It was the kindness of God extended to undeserving sinners in their time of greatest need. With that as a model perhaps the fruit of goodness is just that. It is kindness. But more than kindness it is kindness extended to even our enemies. Let me sharpen this point by distinguishing it. I am not talking about niceness. Too often niceness can be equated with untruth. For example, when you just choked down the worst meal in the world and your host asks you, “How was it?” The temptation is to lie and say something nice, “Oh, just wonderful!” Goodness is not niceness because goodness has a moral backbone. So, what is this goodness? It is having the ability to say the right thing in kindness.
But it’s more than that. Goodness is reaching out in kindness to those undeserving of our kindness. It is being like God who offered us His kindness and goodness in Christ when we were undeserving of such an offer. The fruit of goodness is Christ offered through our lives. Niceness will wither when offered to God’s enemies. Goodness will not wither because goodness has an Christological fortitude that cannot be shaken by the sticks and stones of the world. To put it another way, this goodness is the fruit of the kindness of God that overcame our own opposition.
Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is also an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and has published academic articles and book reviews in various journals. Jeff is the Senior Editor of Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.