When I was growing up, my parents frequently commented on how “good” I was. It’s true that I tended to be obedient—and when I wasn’t, well, I was pretty good at not getting caught! But this isn’t the kind of “good” that Peter means.
While “good” can mean “satisfactory,” God has higher standards. I was a satisfactory child, but I certainly wasn’t good in the Biblical sense!
A more useful definition might use words such as “moral excellence,” “righteousness” and “virtue.” From a Biblical perspective, goodness is being morally perfect… like God.
Mark 10:17-18 reads:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.
A quick search through a concordance bears out Jesus’ theology. Every single Old Testament reference to “goodness” ascribes that quality to God, and only God. Yet, in 2 Peter 1:5, we have Peter telling us that we are to be good. Really?
It’s only in the New Testament, starting with Romans 15:14, that goodness is applied to mere humans. Paul writes, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness….” So how is it that we, as believers, can possess goodness, when it was clearly impossible beforehand?
Galatians 5:22 provides the answer: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Goodness comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (What a relief—we’re a bit off the hook here.)
It’s clear why faith must precede goodness. We must have the Spirit living in us before we have any hope of being truly good. In fact, Paul writes, “…[We] constantly pray for you, … that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11, italics mine.) And as Peter points out in 2 Peter 1:3-4, we participate in God’s divine nature, His goodness. Sure, we can fake it for a while, but just as in every other moral endeavor, without God’s help we’re doomed to ultimate failure.
It all sounds so fuzzy. Yes, God is good and we are not. But what does it mean, to be good “by his power”? How do we participate in God’s divine nature?
It all comes back to spending quality time with God. The more we hang around our friends (or our spouse), the more we become like one another. That’s true here. The more we relate to God, the more we allow Him into our life, the more we submit to His authority—the more we abide with Him—then the more we conform to His image.
As God’s goodness becomes part of who we are, we’ll find we’re working with God, not against Him. It’s another step in becoming effective and productive in His kingdom.