Posted in theology

If only God is good, how can we be called a ‘good’ servant?

By Elizabeth Prata

In Luke 18:19, a certain ruler approached Jesus and asked him a question starting with “Good Teacher…” Jesus replied,

“Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.

Goodness is an attribute of God, one that is called a ‘communicable’ attribute, in that God chooses to ‘communicate’ or deliver to us, certain attributes. Incommunicable attributes are the attributes of God reserved for Him alone, such as omnipotence, or omniscience. But other attributes such as patience, goodness, etc, are given to us after salvation as we work out His salvation, obey His law, and develop fruit of the Spirit.

The only good there is comes from God, because He is the only Good. Let’s look at this attribute a bit closer. In Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, he writes the definition of good,

The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good, and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval. (Ps. 100:5; Ps. 106:1; Ps. 34:8; Ps. 119:68; Rom. 12:2; Jas. 1:17).

This raises the question, "worthy of approval," approval by whom? Because we are mere creatures, we are not free to decide for ourselves what is worthy of approval and what is not. Ultimately, therefore, God's being and actions are perfectly worthy of his own approval. He is therefore the final standard of good. Jesus implies this when He says, "No one is good but God alone." (Luke 18:19). We can therefore understand the meaning of "good" as being that which God approves, because there is no higher standard of goodness than God's own character and his approval of whatever is consistent with that character.

In imitation of this communicable attribute, we should ourselves do good (that is, we should do what God approves) and thereby imitate the goodness of our heavenly Father. Paul writes, "So then, while we have opportunity, let’s do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith." (Galatians 6:10).

So if only God is good, how can it be that in the Parable of the Talents, the Master calls two of the three servants “good”? Can WE be good?

In Matthew 25:21, the parable of the talents, the Master told the servant, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.’”

The word in Greek in the verse is agathos, from Strong’s, defined as intrinsically good. It is the same word as the one used when Jesus said only God is good! But we are not intrinsically good. So how can we be called so? John Calvin writes in Co-operative or Effectual Grace,

"Now Christ simply means that we are dry and worthless wood when we are separated from him, for apart from him we have no ability to do good. The first part of a good work is will; the other, a strong effort to accomplish it; the author of both is God. Therefore we are robbing the Lord if we claim for ourselves anything either in will or in accomplishment. If God were said to help our weak will, then something would be left to us. But when it is said that he makes the will, whatever of good is in it is now placed outside us. But since even a good will is weighed down by the burden of our flesh so that it cannot rise up, he added that to surmount the difficulties of that struggle we are provided with constancy of effort sufficient to achieve this."
"Therefore the Lord in this way both begins and completes the good work in us. It is the Lord's doing that the will conceives the love of what is right, is zealously inclined toward it, is aroused and moved to pursue it. Then it is the Lord's doing that the choice, zeal, and effort do not falter, but proceed even to accomplishment; lastly, that man goes forward in these things with constancy, and perseveres to the very end."

When God created light, He said it was good. When He finished creating the world, he said it was very good. Just the same as the world is His creation, we are His creations. He lifts us from the refuse and mire, cleans us by His Son’s blood, transforms our mind by the washing of the word, and gives us a new heart. He sets us on the path of the work He had laid out for us since before the foundation of the world, and perseveres us in it. He sustains us to the end, and in the end, He glorifies us. Our work for Him is for Him, yes, but it is by Him. So when he looks over His trophies of grace, HIS work, He says, ‘It is good.’

Therefore when the Master says to the servant, “Well done good and faithful servant,”He is ultimately commenting on His own good. It will be no less of a magnificent moment of worship and joy when we hear those words, because we can praise Him who is Good, the only good, and all good.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.