What is good?

In my previous article, I made a pretty open admission about my own failures.
In going forward, and in light of this there are a few questions I’d like for you to think about and what answers may have:

  • What makes us good? Is it from our good works, deeds and actions that categorise us as good or is it something else?
  • What then is “good”? What is your definition of goodness and what characterises it?

All too often I hear corporate buzzwords thrown around the workplace such as “trust, integrity and honesty!” for example – words which are presumably meant to reflect the good values of a company and how well it may conduct itself … however I feel these can quickly become empty words especially if they aren’t upheld.

From a personal level, when people have caught wind that I’m a Christian, I’m asked a multitude of questions. “Do you follow the Sabbath?”, “Do you follow the Ten Commandments?”, “Does that mean you practice no sex before marriage?” not to mention the rest!

It’s from these questions that people will then see whether my actions line up with what I say. If they do, then that’s a tick – he checks out and is a good person by his own standards. He does what he says and isn’t a hypocrite (something Jesus certainly does talk about extensively, e.g. Matthew 5:37). Fair enough, although as I previously wrote about it’s not so clear cut, particularly if I do fail with my words and with my actions – something which we’re all prone to doing.

Continuing with this religious example – What if someone pertains to a certain religion, does that then mean they then have to follow all of their associated rules unwaveringly? Do they have to do at least 51% of good by their standards to get a pass grade? I know this is a bit of a flippant and simplistic generalisation however, more often than not I find people have gross misconceptions of what Christianity is about.

With these above points discussed you may see a problem arise, particularly if people’s definitions of good do differ. We see this in society all the time where different groups clash over their opposing views on a subject. With something such as good and bad surely you’d think it’s something that’s black and white? Although for the most part I have no doubt you’ll get a wide range of different definitions and standards from different people, cultures and religions.

Let me try and give you a wholesome answer. There’s a particular scripture that greatly influenced my views on this topic of “goodness”, a standard set by Jesus and should be pursued by all Christians. In Luke’s Gospel account, a rich young ruler addresses Jesus with an interesting question (in green) – one which we all might also have asked of Him:

And a ruler asked him, Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 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.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
(Luke 18:18-23) (ESV)

Jesus doesn’t initially answer the young ruler’s question, but asks another question in return. It almost comes across as a rebuke, as He calls the bluffing flattery of the young ruler: “Why do you call me good? No one is good, except God alone.” Here, Jesus is raising the issue of goodness and sets the standard by creating this comparison between us and God. Compared to God, we aren’t good even despite our best efforts and we’d be kidding ourselves to think otherwise.

Coming back to the main question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is actually a side issue. Thinking about it, there are at least two possible reasons why the young ruler asks this question: either he knows the answer and wants to be validated by Jesus (for his rigid Commandment following), or the young ruler genuinely doesn’t know the answer (despite following the Commandments).

Of course this is something Jesus sees behind, so with His previous answer it sets the foundation for the young ruler and his inevitable response. As Jesus starts to list off the Commandments it isn’t an exhaustive list – and interestingly enough doesn’t mention the First Commandment, that is, “you shall not have any other gods before Me” (Deuteronomy 5:7). Arguably the most important Commandment and presumably from the young ruler’s response we know the reason why Jesus didn’t mention it…

The problem with the young ruler is that he’s created a parallel with following the Commandments equating to goodness, and as a result removed God from the equation. This is why Jesus doesn’t initially cut to the chase, but reveals to us a greater dimension to this otherwise black and white question. That greater dimension is our motives, or the condition of our heart. Something which a set of rules can’t particularly capture the essence behind. Not even to mention that we can’t ever perfectly follow all the Commandments, we’ve all fallen so short!

What is the point in following the Commandments set by God, but when God Himself came to the young ruler in the flesh (as Jesus), and asked Him to sell everything – he wouldn’t? Why even follow the Commandments at all, if he doesn’t truly love God, is obedient or even believe in Him for that matter? (John 15:14). The young ruler here is setting himself up as a good standard, by his own standards and seemingly chuffed about it.

But this is why Jesus is addressing that goodness isn’t characterised by outward appearances or actions. Jesus shows us with this example that there is an issue with following the Commandments when there’s a disconnect of our hearts towards God.

The conclusion of this story shows that the young ruler becomes saddened, or in some translations walks away from Christ’s offer to follow Him. It is from this reaction, that speaks volumes. Despite his lip service and Commandment following, the young ruler doesn’t seem to love God at all. He just wants to get into heaven, to just cross over the line so to speak. What’s even the point? Why do all this, to get to a place with God but separate from God?

I’d like to point out here a side issue that is sometimes brought up. It’s not that the young ruler was rich, but that his wealth and renown took precedence over his worship of God. In the Gospel narrative, there were other times where Jesus would ask people to follow Him, and they would (see Matthew 4:18-22). Although this may not always look like giving up our professions and life completely, we must be sensitive to what God wants of us individually. The theme of wealth and riches is indeed a can of worms and perhaps something I’ll cover in the future!

So bringing it back. What is your definition of good? What is your standard?

Overall this is a huge topic, and I could almost write a thesis on it! But I hope this may have been able to challenge your perspectives!

God bless


One thought on “What is good?

  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful mindful and spiritually enlightened research and drawing attention to the nature of the rich ruler. This highlights the question of “what kind of love?” as loving is a very complex function of the whole body. Jesus walked in agape love which is hard to attain at all times but is what keeps our heart and mind pure. Willing to love no matter what is different from the works of love.
    Did Jesus write in the sand that day some sins that his accusers had committed? Did Jesus list only the sins that the ruler had committed and not all of God’s commandments? That would have freaked him out. He walked away as did the accusers of the woman’s adultury.


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