Question: "What does it mean to cling to what is good (Romans 12:9)?"
Answer: Romans 12:9–21 contains a series of short appeals in which the apostle Paul urges Christians to live together as Christ’s body by putting sacrificial love into action. He begins with this plea: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Paul points out that true believers love genuinely, without hypocrisy, and overcome evil with good.
The term for “good” in the original language speaks of “moral excellence.” The verb translated “cling to” means “to stick or hold together and resist separation, to join, unite, or embrace.” Some Bible versions say “hold fast” (ESV) or “hold tight to what is good” (NLT). When Paul told the Roman Christians to “cling to what is good,” his desire was for them to embrace moral goodness with all of their beings or, in other words, to love it.
The godless of the world “hate what is good” (2 Timothy 3:3, NLT). But God’s children are lovers of good. We hate evil because it is the enemy of all that is good. God Himself is good and the source of all goodness (Mark 10:18). Everything God creates is “very good” in every aspect (Genesis 1:31).
Our goodness as believers, our righteousness or moral excellence, starts by being made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Psalm 14:3; Romans 3:22; 10:4). God has made Jesus Christ our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Peter 1:1; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Once we are made right with God through the blood of Jesus and our faith in Him, we continue to seek, hunger, and thirst for His righteousness by clinging to what is good (Matthew 5:6; 6:33).
When we hold tight to God, He works His righteousness in us. When we cling to what is good—when we love God and stick close to Him—we can trust that He is transforming us from within, teaching us His good and perfect will, and working everything in our lives for good (Romans 8:28).
Early church father Augustine of Hippo said, “It is good for me to stick close to my God. This will constitute the perfect and eternal wisdom, as it will constitute the truly happy life, because to attain it is to attain the eternal and supreme good, and to stick close to God forever is the sum of our good” (Letters, 131—164, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 20, R. J. Deferrari, ed., W. Parsons, trans., The Catholic University of America Press, 1953, p. 314).
Paul advised the Thessalonians to test all things by God’s moral standard and only “hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21–22, NLT). He told the Roman believers, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2, NLT).
God warned the people of Israel to turn away from their corrupt behavior and “do what is good” (Amos 5:14, NLT). If they would go against the prevailing corruption by hating evil behavior and clinging to what is good and righteous, if they would defend justice instead of trampling on it (Amos 5:10–12), the Lord would stand by them as their defender rather than as their judge. Similarly, Paul asserted that to those who “keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers,” the Lord will give eternal life. “But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness” (Romans 2:7–8, NLT).
God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is “the good shepherd” who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). His life and death are ultimate examples of what it means to put sincere, sacrificial love into action. Jesus “gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds” (Titus 2:14, NLT).
By doing good deeds and showing kindness and sacrificial love to others, we prove that we are the children of God: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:11; see also James 3:13). Clinging to what is good draws us into a closer relationship with Christ, which in turn results in Christlikeness of character: “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21, NLT).
We cling to what is good by clinging to the Lord. Jesus Christ in us is all the goodness we need to be wholly good.