What is good?

I hear the word “good” a lot.

Good person. Good husband. Good wife. Good father. Good mother. Good friend. Good neighbor.

Good movie.  Good idea.  Good meal.  Good mood.  Good save.  Good day.  Good luck.  Good deal.  Good weather.  Good try.  Even good bye.

So what exactly is good?

Good this, good that: I use the word like I write it on name tags and stick them to all the stuff I like.  Doesn’t mean much.  Doesn’t mean much even to me, if I’m honest with myself.  What I liked ten years ago in movies sure isn’t what I like today.

I don’t think about it, but, really, I’m slandering the word “good”.

I wouldn’t go around and say everything I like is “brave”.  That was a brave cinnamon roll. 

I wouldn’t go around and say everything I like is “thoughtful”.  That was a thoughtful pancake.

I wouldn’t go around and say everything I like is “compassionate”.  That was a compassionate corn dog.

So . . why do I go around saying things are “good” . . just because I like them?

The word good has been used subjectively, carelessly, and cheaply for about 2,000 years at least.  Because, about 2,000 years ago, an important man in government walked up to a poor teacher and called him “good” and got an answer he did not expect.

I don’t know why the government ruler called the teacher good.  Maybe he thought the poor teacher would be overwhelmed by a compliment from such an important person.  Maybe the ruler was trying to flatter him to get in good with God.  Maybe the ruler had in mind to trick the teacher into letting his guard down–others had been trying to think up ways to do that.  Maybe the ruler wasn’t even thinking about what he was saying.

I don’t know what he was thinking, but we do know what he said:

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18b, NIV)

And here is the answer he got:

“Why do you call me good?” (Luke 18:19a)


“No one is good–except God alone.” (Luke 18:19c)

Sadly, the important ruler totally missed out on what the Son of God was telling him.

Here’s how it went down:

A certain ruler asked him [Jesus], “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. (Luke 18:18-23, NIV)

Had the ruler understood what Jesus said about good, he would not have completely missed the boat on what Jesus was teaching.

Jesus did not, and does not, want a casual label of “good” on His teaching.  He wants a wholehearted commitment to the logical acceptance that if He is good, then He is God.

And if the ruler had really been listening, he would have heard that there was no way he had been keeping the commandments since he was a boy.  After all, the ruler wasn’t claiming to be God.  And if he wasn’t God, then he was not good.

The Bible gives us a different definition of good than one that pairs with words like “weather” and “luck”.  The Bible says,

Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3, NIV)

At creation, man and woman were good.  The Bible tells us after God created Adam and Eve:

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31a, NIV)

So how did we get to where we are now?

We chose not to be good.

We can laugh at that concept, we can scoff, we can be offended, we can glower, we can despair . . but the truth is still there:

there is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:3b, NIV)

If the ruler had understood, he wouldn’t have started bragging about what he thought he’d done.  He would have realized that everything we do is utterly spoiled by our motives, our thoughts, and our hearts.
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:10, NLT)

There is an answer to this question: Jesus.

Jesus knows how bad the human heart is, not because when He became a man His heart was ever bad, but because He became a man to die to save the hearts of the desperately wicked.

He came to save us not through our boastful claims about commandments we’ve kept, but by His real keeping of the Commandments.  He came to save us from deceiving ourselves into walking straight into Hell.

I want to stop sticking my label of “good” on everything I like.  Because me liking something and its holiness in God’s eyes are not the same thing.  I want to start going by God’s good.

Because God’s good saves me from my sins.  God’s good brings Him to a willingness to die on a cross for a world that scorns him, curses him, lies about him, and pretends to commit to Him in the same manner as the wealthy ruler who went to see Jesus to get his own ego boosted and reassurance that he was a good person.

Jesus is never going to tell us we are good by our own works.  Because we are simply, clearly, and unmistakably not.

I don’t want people to call me good.  I want people to meet the Person who really is good: the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me.” (from Jesus’ prayer, John 17:25, NLT)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17, NIV)



A GPS is my Going Places Solo machine.  Without my GPS, I Gotta Phone Somebody or Gotta Petition Strangers.  I need my navigator to direct me to where I want to be.

But if I believed in the relativity of truth I would be more hopelessly lost than ever!  Not only would I not know how to get where I was going, but I wouldn’t even know where I was going . . . or where I came from, either!  (I don’t think my GPS could handle that!)

On the other hand, if I step into the Christian worldview, the Bible instructs me in absolute Truth.  This worldview reveals to me the definition of right and wrong.  (A little like how my GPS tells me what street to turn on and when.)

As a relativists, I can’t get directions, because I have no absolutes . . . and with no absolutes, I can’t even be absolutely certain there are no absolutes!  (That reminds me of when my GPS says, “lost satellite reception”.  Without absolute coordinates, I might as well put a tent up in the middle of the street, because I’m never getting home!)

So many religions claim to have the absolute truth that I could see all these different claims as evidence that no religion can be right.  (But even if a million different GPS’s tell me a million different streets to take to arrive at my house, there is still only one street that connects to my driveway.  The fact that all but one of the GPS’s must be wrong doesn’t mean that the one telling me the correct street can’t take me to my house.)

And anyway, even a relativist has absolute truth . . . in a very different way.

If I’m sure there is no absolute truth, then I’m banking on the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth . . . which is absolutely uncertain . . . or not, because I can’t know that there is an absolute uncertainty about the absence of an absolute truth in a belief of no absolute truth!  (If I input that kind of data into my GPS, I think it would be so confused it’d just give up and start playing radio music.)

. . . . How could I even know I’m a relativist if I’m a relativist, if everything is relativist? (Now not only do I have no GPS, I have no car, either!)

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NLT)


See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.