In an encounter recorded in the Gospels, a wealthy man met Jesus on the road and, addressing Him as “good teacher,” asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 NET). Jesus took hold of the word “good” and would not answer the man’s eternal life question until He explained goodness: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus said in reply, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18 NET). Like the wealthy man, we tend to use the word “good” without much thought for what it really means. Jesus defines “good” as the character of God and wanted the man to understand he was speaking to someone who really is good: God Himself.

The Greek word translated “good” in this passage is the adjective ἀγαθός (agathos). It has a synonym in the adjective καλός (kalos); these two words are used almost identically in the New Testament, though sometimes καλός tends to emphasize the attractiveness (“beauty”1 ) or observable quality of good. In Matthew 7:17, these two terms for “good” appear together: “every good (ἀγαθός) tree bears good (καλός) fruit.”

The wealthy man was concerned with what he could do to acquire eternal life. But the Bible tells us God saves people not by works but for “good (ἀγαθός) works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:9–10 NIV).

God redeems believers to represent Him as His special people who are “zealous for good (καλός) works” (Titus 2:14 ESV). These good works God has ready for believers to do are meant to bring others to Him, as Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good (καλός) deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV).

God’s goodness overflows to meet physical needs as Christians serve one another by working, “doing good (ἀγαθός)… to share with the one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28 NET). Likewise, God’s goodness works through us to meet spiritual needs when our speech is “good (ἀγαθός) for building up” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV).

God has good works for us to do, and He works all things for good for us. When the Bible says, “in all things God works for the good (ἀγαθός) of those who love him” (Romans 8:28 NIV), we must not imagine that it means everything will go our way. Rather, it is God who—through the adversity and opposition we face in this life—is doing His good will for us to “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29 NIV).

Let us, therefore, be transformed by our good God. And may we be ready to do the good works God provides, so that the world will see how glorious our “good teacher” is.

About the Contributors

J. William Johnston

Before Dr. Johnston was a believer he doubted the accuracy of Scripture translations, and therefore the integrity of the Bible. After coming to faith he decided that the only way to find out whether the translations were reliable was to learn the original languages. After majoring in the classics at the University of Texas, he came to DTS and discovered that teaching was his passion. His research interests are Greek grammar, syntax and Johannine studies.