Finding Goodness

Smiling little girl
Miroslav Ferkuniak/iStock/Thinkstock

Growing up, my sister and I often went to our grandmother’s house for sleepovers. As our parents dropped us off, they would warn us, "Now you kids be good."

How often have you said that to your kids (right before you offer up that desperate prayer that your children won’t embarrass you ... again)?

As a counselor, I see parents try almost anything to get their children to "be good." One of the most common tools parents use is to punish bad behavior and reward good. Although this approach may produce obedience, is it enough to instill in our children the goodness described as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22)?

Jesus told a rich young ruler, "No one is good — except God alone" (Mark 10:18). The young ruler had followed all of God’s commandments, trying to become good through his moral behavior. Yet Jesus said it wasn’t enough.

The "goodness" described as a fruit of the Spirit is not merely moral behavior, but an excellence of character. It combines our attempts to do good with God’s character of being good. This goodness is only attainable through God’s divine power at work in our hearts (2 Peter 1:3).

This means that simply teaching our children to do good can look very much like legalism. The rich young ruler was trying to do good to earn his way into heaven, yet he was lacking the most important thing — an underlying love for the Rule Maker. This love is what compels us to follow the rules in the first place (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Goodness begins by obeying the greatest commandment of an all-loving God with all our heart, soul and strength. As we love God, He works His character of goodness into our lives.

—Dr. Joshua Straub

Key Points

  • Goodness is not merely moral behavior, but an excellence of character.
  • We cannot attain goodness through our own efforts, but only through God’s power.
  • Goodness begins with a love relationship with God.

Family Memory Verse

Philippians 2:13
"For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

Scripture Study

For a more in-depth look at TOPIC, read these Bible passages:

  • Deuteronomy 6:5-9
  • Luke 6:45
  • Ephesians 5:8-10
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:11


Preschool Activity
School-Age Activity
Tween Activity
Time With Your Teen


Preschool Activity

Since goodness is a "fruit" of the Spirit, use food to illustrate how your preschooler can reflect God's goodness to others.

Remind her how your family says grace, thanking God for providing your meals. Then help her feed and water the family pet, paying attention to how the pet reacts. If you don't have a pet, help your child fill a bird feeder, and hang it where she can easily observe her new feathered friends.

Wagging tails, squawking beaks, flashing fins — these responses from animals mean, "Thank you for being good to me!" Praise your child for mirroring the goodness of God.

—Cheryl Gochnauer


School-age Activity

School-age ActivityGoodness can’t be determined by outward appearances. A fun way to demonstrate this idea is by making two types of sugar cookies with your child. Make the dough using your favorite recipe or a store-bought mix. Stir a generous amount of salt into a small, separate portion of dough.

Bake the salty and sweet cookies, and put a sample of each on a plate. Ask your child if both types of cookies look good. Can he tell the difference just by looking at them? By tasting them?

Taste the cookies, explaining how the salty ones look good on the outside but don’t taste good because of what’s on the inside. In the same way, we may try to look good by doing all the right things, but if our hearts are not good, we won’t be pleasing to God. Since only God is truly good, He is the “ingredient” that creates true goodness in our hearts.

As you eat the good sugar cookies, ask your child if he can think of situations where he may act more like a salty cookie — appearing good on the outside, but not pleasing God with his heart. Remind your child that we can ask God to give us His goodness, so that we are pleasing to Him.

—Teresa Simon


Tween Activity

Give family members a banana and a ballpoint pen or permanent marker. Ask them to decorate the banana peel with a creative design. Display all the uniquely decorated bananas in the middle of the table, and hold a banana auction. Use available props, such as a hairbrush as a microphone and a meat tenderizer or a small rubber mallet as a gavel. Give each family member 20 pieces of candy, such as Skittles, so they can bid on their favorite bananas. As auctioneer, write down the winning bids by each family member’s name.

When the auction is over, have everyone peel his or her banana and take a bite. Talk about how good the bananas are on the inside. Explain that even the banana with the lowest bid is as good as the one with the highest bid.

Explain how the bananas’ exterior appearance is not an indicator of the goodness within. In the same way, how we look or act may not show who we really are on the inside. Our inner character determines true goodness, and it comes from God’s power at work in our hearts.

If someone peels a lovely-looking banana only to find ugly bruises inside, discuss what this could represent in someone’s life. Talk about how a person can look good and do a lot of good deeds yet still have a heart that does not please God.

—Kathleen Grimm Welty


Time With Your Teen

My daughter Leslie wanted to make a cake for her friend Michelle. Because Michelle could not have gluten, this endeavor involved more than just whipping up a store-bought mix. Leslie gathered all the ingredients and thoroughly cleaned her work surfaces so her cake would not be contaminated with gluten. Once the cake finished baking, my daughter and I watched as Michelle tasted the final product.

"So thoughtful," she said, forcing a smile.

When I took a big bite, I immediately wanted to spit it out. The cake was bitter. Instead of three teaspoons of baking soda, Leslie had used three tablespoons. So close … yet so inedible. My daughter's best intentions weren't enough to create a good gluten-free dessert.

Often our teens are told to be good — and they give it their best. They may attempt to model goodness by following our lists of do's and don'ts. Sadly, even with the best of intentions, many teens fail to realize that goodness comes from God alone. Doing everything "right" only produces true goodness when it's God's goodness working in us. It's not about making a good presentation; it's about excellence of character.

To highlight this truth, work with your teen to compile a list of qualities that describe a good person. Discuss the difference between doing good and being good. Review Mark 10:17-18 and Ephesians 5:8-10, and conclude by writing one word across the list: God. Goodness is only attained through God's Spirit. Whenever we struggle with goodness, we don't need more do's and don'ts. We just need more of Him.

—Tricia Goyer

"Finding Goodness" first appeared on ThrivingFamily.com in 2011. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
"Finding Goodness," the compiled article, is copyrighted © 2011 by Focus on the Family; "Finding Goodness," the first article, is copyrighted © 2011 by Dr. Joshua Straub; "Preschool Activity" © 2011 by Cheryl Gochnauer; School-Age Activity © 2011 by Teresa Simon; "Tween Activity" © 2011 by Kathleen Grimm Welty; "Time With Your Teen" © 2011 by Tricia Goyer. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: Reflecting God's Faithfulness

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