Why does Jesus say only God is good when he is called good? It seems like he is deflecting the question, saying that he is not good because he is not God. I was raised to believe Jesus is God. Please help!
In Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19, Jesus says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Jesus then goes on to discuss the commandments, implying that if one was good then they would have to have not broken any commandments and they would have done so because they were in lock-step with the will of God. There are a few things going on here.
First, these questions are questions for all of us. One of the reasons Jesus talks in the Sermon on the Mount about our thoughts being equal to sin in the body in some way is because our thoughts and our actions come from our hearts. Just because someone, such as the rich young ruler Jesus is speaking to in this narrative, might be able to keep themselves from breaking the statutes of the covenantal law (if indeed that was even true), that did not mean that they were actually pure or unblemished. As Jesus went on to show, the person saying he was willing to do anything to inherit eternal life was actually not so willing when it came to relinquishing his wealth, even as an act of charity. He was willing to do some sacrifice, but he was not willing to sacrifice all. And we must not forget that the supreme ethic in all of the Law is love. We fulfill the Law in, through, and for love. And the type of love Jesus calls us to is the sacrificial kind (John 15:13).
Furthermore, In Matthew 19:17 Jesus explicitly states that to be good enough to enter into eternal life, one must keep the commandments completely. So then, to be “good” and enter eternal life, one must be perfect. But no one is perfect because all sin (Romans 3:23).
Second, Jesus’ question about why the ruler calls him good, though, is not meant to say he should not be called good. It is meant to question the beliefs of the questioner. Jesus means to say, on one level, that the ruler’s idea of “good” is all wrong – it isn’t just keeping commandments, but why we keep them. And on an even higher level, Jesus is basically asking Him this: Who do you say that I am?
So, in regards to all of the above, how does the Bible answer concerning who Jesus is? Scripture often refers to Jesus as being without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 1:19, 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Jesus came to fulfill the Law in its proper sense, not in the way it had been interpreted by various groups (Matthew 5:17). He came to fulfill it by keeping its commands in the way they were meant to be kept: in love, desiring mercy over sacrifice. Jesus desired only to do the Father’s will, even unto death (Luke 22:42; John 5:19, 10:30). Jesus did everything, even keeping the commandments, out of the love for his Father and for us (John 15:9-17). This all seems very good . Jesus would agree – perhaps this is why he calls himself the Good Shepherd; he is a good shepherd because he lays down his life, voluntarily, for his sheep, and his Father loves him for it (John 10:11-18).
There are two Greek words most often used for the word “good” in the New Testament. The first term, used for saying God alone is good, is the Greek agathos, which speaks of a certain inherent quality, whereas the other term, kalos, speaks more to a moral quality. Jesus is good because he lays down his life for us out of love in order to show us the good and guide us into the good life in him, which guides us to the good God. Jesus seems to be goodness Personified. The conclusion, then, is simple: Jesus is – in both senses of the word – good, and he is intrinsically and morally perfect! We, too, can become good and perfect, not because we are gods , but because we are God’s (Romans 4:22-25, 5:1, 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:4; Hebrews 12:1-3; Jude 1:24). He renews our hearts and minds, sanctifies us, and will one day raise us as glorified conquerors.
Why did the rich young ruler call Jesus good? Probably because he considered Jesus a holy man whose actions did not break the commandments. Why should he have called Jesus good? Because only God is good in all ways, and Jesus is God.