What does it mean to be good?

September 6, 2018

“Be good.”

How many times did I say it as I walked out the door, leaving my kids in the care of another? Spoken in that context, it expressed a parting wish that the little one to whom it was spoken would, at bare minimum, not do anything bad, and at best, be a source of help and joy to the caregiver in charge. When the kids were small, it was hard to find sitters brave enough to take on all four of them. It was harder still to find money to make it worth the sitter’s time and still be able to afford dinner out. When I told the kids to be good, I needed them to be. It was code for “Please don’t drive off this teenager, whom I really need to have a positive experience.” You know the rules. They are for your good. For our sake, please abide by them. Until your parents return, be good.

Jesus spoke a similar word to his disciples on a mountainside: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14–16).

Good = generous

Be good. Others will see it. You’ll be a light causing others to glorify the Father of lights.

But what does it mean to be good as his children? As those who are the recipients of the good and perfect gifts of God, goodness toward others means generosity. It means we recognize that God gives us good things not so that they might terminate on us, but so that we might steward them on behalf of others.

The tenth commandment forbids coveting because doing so denies the goodness of God. Jesus speaks against hoarding because doing so denies the goodness of God. Coveting implies a lack in God’s present provision and hoarding anticipates a lack in God’s good provision in the future. Neither mindset will translate into generosity. Generosity flourishes only when we do not fear loss.

Possessing the good and perfect gift of Christ, we can count all generosity as affordable loss. God gives good things to us generously, risking no loss in doing so. We, too, should give good things to others generously, recognizing that we, too, risk no loss in doing so. We can be generous with our possessions, our talents, and our time on behalf of others because we see these good gifts as a means to bring glory to their Giver instead of to us.

Generosity is not strictly for those who have material abundance. Because Oseola McCarty recognized this truth, the world is a better place. Born in 1908 in rural Mississippi, she quit school after sixth grade to support her ailing aunt, spending the rest of her life as a washerwoman. She never married, lived quietly in her community, and attended church regularly with a Bible held together with Scotch tape. Throughout the years, the people of Hattiesburg paid her in coins and dollar bills to keep them looking freshly pressed. She found immense dignity in her work, noting that hard work gives life meaning. “I start each day on my knees, saying the Lord’s Prayer. Then I get busy about my work.”[1]

In 1995, at the age of 86, she contacted the University of Southern Mississippi to let them know she would be donating a portion of her life savings to fund scholarships for African-American students to receive the education she had missed— a sum of $150,000. “More than I could ever use. I know it won’t be too many years before I pass on,” she said, “and I just figured the money would do them a lot more good than it would me.”[2]

Oseola McCarty, child of poverty and child of God, wanted to do good, and generously so. Praise God. Those who know good awaits them in heaven can afford to be generous on earth. They lose nothing in the giving of what has been given to them.

Generosity is the hallmark of those who are determined to be lights in the darkness as children of their heavenly Father. It is the calling card of all who are recipients of the generous good news of salvation through Christ.

Be good for God’s sake

Be good. Be the person who seeks the welfare of others. Be the person who gives without counting the cost. Be the person who serves joyfully with no expectation of thanks or recognition. Be good employees, good next-door neighbors, good parents, good children, good musicians and public servants and artists and volunteers and caregivers and bankers. If you are, you’ll draw attention like a city on a hill at midnight in the desert.

But don’t expect that others will necessarily flock to your light in glad acceptance. The somewhat surprising thing about doing good is how often it meets with a negative reaction. Others may see your good deeds and give glory to God, but they may not. Cynics call the chronically benevolent “do-gooders.” Their exceeding goodness is indeed a light, and to those who love darkness, it’s also exceedingly unwelcome. It has a similar effect to that of sunlight hitting the crawly critters exposed under an overturned rock in the garden. Exposing the goodness deficit of others, the do-gooder meets with reviling.

Take, for example, the ultimate do-gooder, Jesus himself. “He went about doing good. . . . They put him to death by hanging him on a tree” (Acts 10:38–39). Peter’s words to the Gentiles about how evil responds to good instruct us. If we are to walk in the light as he is in the light, we will strive to be good and do good, and we should prepare to be treated as he was treated. There is no room among the children of God for any goodness aimed at securing favor with God or others. Only a goodness aimed at expressing our gratitude to a good God will do. Only a goodness seeking to reflect him will suffice. Only a goodness bent on loving our neighbor will store up treasure in heaven. If our neighbor rejects us, so be it. We have done as Christ would have done. If our neighbor accepts us and glorifies God, we rejoice with the angels.

It will not do to “be good for goodness’ sake”—we must be good for Goodness’s sake—for God’s sake, whose goodness we daily enjoy. And we must persist in being good. Paul encourages us that goodness may be wearying, but that it yields a harvest: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). The fight for goodness is one that will take time and effort. We may grow weary of our own internal resistance to growing in goodness, or we may grow weary of the resistance of others to our goodness lived out. But steadfastness in doing good will yield fruit in season. As it ripens, it will mark us out increasingly as the sons and daughters of the Father of Lights.

Content taken from In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.


  1. ^ Karl Zinsmeister, “Oseola McCarty,” The Philanthropy Roundtable, “The Philanthropy Hall of Fame,” accessed June 27, 2017, http://www .philanthropyroundtable.org/almanac/hall_of_fame/oseola_mccarty/.
  2. ^ Rick Bragg, “All She Has, $150,000, Is Going to a University,” The New York Times online, August 12, 1995, http://www.nytimes.com /1995/08/13/us/all-she-has-150000-is-going-to-a-university.html.

Jen Wilkin

Jen Wilkin is an author and Bible teacher from Dallas, Texas. She has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. An advocate for Bible literacy, her passion is to see others become articulate and committed followers of Christ, with a clear understanding of why they … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24