God’s good is not the good things we usually envision, of comfort, health, affluence, fame and success—especially success.

“He’s too good to succeed as a politician.”
“She’s too good to understand a man like that.”

Goodness has fallen into disrepute. Calling a person good may be no compliment if we mean that he or she is incompetent, naive, inexperienced, unable to live in the real world.

We Christians have problems, then, when we read the New Testament, because Jesus said we should be good. He said a good man, out of good treasure, generated good actions. Was he putting a premium on otherworldliness or untried innocence?

Fortunately, he didn’t just call us to be good; he repeatedly described goodness as well (see, for instance, Matt. 5:43ff, and Luke 6:27ff.). Negatively, he defined goodness as a refusal to repay hate with hate. He defined it also as forbearance and forgiveness, a nonretaliating passivity that absorbs evil instead of multiplying it by repetition. Jesus further defined goodness as a positive concern, even for enemies, that issues in self-sacrificing action: a dogged determination to give and to help. It is a nonmanipulative, nonexploiting love that asks for nothing in return—in fact, expects nothing in return. Goodness is redemptive love lived out undramatically in the whole range of everyday relationships.

So it follows that goodness is really Christomorphic: to be good is to be like Jesus. To be good is to reduplicate, however imperfectly, Christ’s lifestyle as incarnate love. Romans 8:28 is a key test in any biblical study of goodness: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

What is the good Paul has in mind when he affirms it as God’s goal for his people? Obviously, not the good we usually envision, of comfort, health, affluence, tranquility, fame, longevity, friendship, and success—especially success. Undeniably good as these may be, they are not the good Paul has in mind. He states God’s concept in verse 29, which ought never be severed from verse 28: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” God’s goal for his people is conformity to the model of personhood that Jesus lived out. God directs his saving activity toward having a family of brothers and sisters like Jesus. Goodness is to follow Christ’s lifestyle in the present world, and sustained by the assurance of ultimate Christlikeness in the future world.

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Conformity to the model of personhood Jesus lived out—that is Scripture’s unique concept of goodness.

This conformity, however, is not primarily eschatological, true only after death. Rather, we are to attain it here and now. 1 John 4:17 rules out any ambiguity: “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” We are to be like Jesus now. We are to be like Jesus here. We are to press tenaciously toward the goal.

Suppose this becomes our controlling ideal and functional dynamic. How will it affect our behavior? It will motivate us to struggle to do good as Scripture defines goodness and as Jesus embodied it. Peter told Cornelius, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil: for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

I see six elements in this. If like Jesus we go about doing good, we will carry on a ministry of healing, teaching, feeding, exorcism, liberation, and prayer.

First, we will carry on a ministry of healing. We will be concerned about sick bodies, minds, spirits, marriages, families, churches, communities, institutions, and sick nations. This means that within the limits of our powers and with no messianic pretensions, we will be prayerfully concerned about healing.

Second, if like Jesus we go about doing good, we will carry on a ministry of teaching. We will share the truth of the gospel, to be sure. We will do that primarily and incessantly. But we will also fight illiteracy, ignorance, prejudice, falsehood, irrationality, and blind traditionalism, and do it in the confidence that all truth is God’s truth. Within the limits of our powers and with no messianic pretensions, we will be prayerfully concerned about teaching.

Further, we will carry on a ministry of feeding. We will remember that as he looked at hungry people he was moved with compassion and fed them. To his disciples he said, “Give them to eat.” We will remember that in his vision of judgment he declares, “I was hungry and ye fed me not.” In season and out, while sharing the Bread of Life, we will not be so absorbed with empty souls that we ignore empty stomachs. Within the limits of our powers and with no messianic pretensions, we will be prayerfully concerned about feeding.

And we will carry on a ministry of exorcism. We will be aware that reality has a dimension that science and skepticism as a rule treat as myth. We will be aware of evil forces which, in ways that baffle our reflection and research, try to destroy life. Sometimes exorcism as a literal expulsion of demonic beings may be necessary, though few of us, perhaps, will have the calling and enablement to meet this challenge. More often, we will be called on to expel from our churches, our societies, and relationships influences that block human fulfillment—those dark, elusive, intangible, anonymous, insidious forces; those -isms and -ologies of militarism, mammonism, racism, sexism, collectivism, traditionalism, and fascism, which seek to frustrate the redemptive purposes of God’s grace. Within the limits of our powers, and with no messianic pretensions, we will be prayerfully concerned about exorcism.

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Also, we will carry on a ministry of liberation. We will be gripped by the implications of his kingdom manifesto in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.” Deliverance to the captives; liberty for the bruised; freedom spiritually, emotionally, and, we may hope, politically—this will be the objective we hold steadily in view. We will often reflect on our Lord’s affirmations in John 8:32 and 36: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.… If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Within the limits of our prayers and with no messianic pretensions, we will be prayerfully concerned about liberation.

Finally and foundationally, if like Jesus we go about doing good, we will carry on a ministry of prayer. Whether he was healing, teaching, feeding, exorcising, or liberating, Jesus ministered under the anointing of the Holy Spirit; his human nature was God enabled with supernatural effectiveness. How can we hope to do the same without the power of the Spirit who “God enables” us to minister despite our frustrating finitude and crippling sinfulness?

Our lord once cautioned his disciples after an exorcism, “This kind cometh not out except by prayer and fasting.” Another time he said, “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:23, NIV). We must remember what Jesus teaches about the primacy of prayer.

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Further, we must never forget our Lord’s practice of prayer, the secret of his God enablement. In the Gospels we read again and again that he prayed. Sometimes he spent all night. Sometimes he rose at daybreak and went out to a desert place. Continually, but particularly in hours of decision and crisis, he prayed. Without the God enablement that comes only through prayer, we will be ineffectual do-gooders rather than Spirit-anointed disciples. Only a ministry energized and decontaminated by prayer will do good as Jesus did, reduplicating his lifestyle of incarnate love.

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