It seems goodness would be a choice. A clear distinction between good and bad. An unmoving line delineating what is good from what does not make the cut. Many things can be nice, but to reach the label of “good”, there remains a higher standard.
Scripture draws this line pretty clearly.
“I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My nam, ‘The Lord,’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” –Exodus 33:19, ESV
“…and they blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad of heart of all the goodness that the Lord had shown to David His servant and to Israel His people.” –1 Kings 8:66, ESV
“And now arise, O Lord God, and go to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your might. Let Your priests, O Lord God, be clothes with salvation, and let Your saints rejoice in Your goodness.” –2 Chronicles 6:41, ESV
Throughout the Old Testament, goodness is ascribe to the Lord alone. Though His leaders and His people benefit from that goodness, goodness itself comes from God. The Psalmist describes this relationship well:
“Oh, how abundant is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in You, in the sight of the children of mankind!” –Psalm 31:19, ESV
We can see goodness. God brings it before the eyes of mankind that we may see His glory. But goodness is not ascribed to anyone but Him. This continues into New Testament times as well:
“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.'”–Mark 10:18, ESV
This shatters the notion that people can be good. For thousands of years, through the Old Testament and into the New, goodness could only be assigned to God. And in the times since Jesus spoke these words, people haven’t changed. We are still sinful people. We are still unworthy. Until…
Until there is a shift. Later in New Testament books, goodness is ascribed to people. Paul describes the people of the church of Rome as “full of goodness” (Romans 15:14). And when Paul wrote what would become the book of Philemon, he explained his actions in this way:
“I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.” –Philemon 1:14, ESV
Where goodness could only be held by God, it now could be a choice of the people. It is listed among the fruit of the Spirit, which is something that should be growing in its expression through our lives. So where did this shift happen? For thousands of years, only God could be good. Seemingly suddenly, the people of God could also be good. How could that be?
The answer lies in the very study we are doing. Goodness is still only attributable to God. It is a fruit of the Spirit. And it was after the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the hearts of people through Pentecost (Acts 2), that we suddenly became capable of goodness. But goodness is still only attributable to God. It is only, still, a fruit of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we still cannot be good. We might be nice, pleasant, and polite. But goodness still only comes from God. The fruit of goodness in our lives still stems from the only One that is good–God alone.
If you want to live a life of goodness, you can only do it if the Spirit dwells in you. If you aren’t sure if that is true in your life, let’s go back to Peter at Pentecost–because you aren’t alone in your question:
“Now when (those hearing Peter at Pentecost) heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'” –Acts 2:37-38, ESV
You can live a nice life. You can be polite and respectful. But goodness comes from God alone. A truly good person is the product of repentance, forgiven sin, and receiving the Holy Spirit. Do that, and you will see goodness begin to flow from the Father of all goodness through you.