Friday
Nov212008

Godliness Is of Value in Every Way

Godliness is not necessarily behaving just like God, for certain of his actions are impossible to replicate, but it is instead an attitude and behavior that display his influence upon the human spirit.

Godliness is “Reverence for God and a life of holiness in the world” (Elwell). Godliness invites several synonyms to itself – goodness, righteousness, holiness, sanctification. Godliness is a religious determination to carry out God’s will in every aspect of life, regardless of the consequences and costs. It is a most precious and rare mindset.

Godliness naturally depends upon cultivating a certain knowledge of just what God’s will is (Titus 1:1, Ephesians 5:10, 17). It is not solely a matter of feeling pious or having honorable intentions, but is rooted in fact and execution. Godliness requires studious attention to the word of God, sober reflection upon his character and designs, and diligence in obedience. Peter writes, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (Second Peter 1:3).

To some, godliness sounds like an impossible ambition or a dangerously excessive devotion to an ambiguous and unalterable standard. Both conclusions usually result in diminished holiness, either from frustration or frivolity. Unable to match God’s standard or uninterested in trying, the disciple throws up his hands in defeat and resolves to go along to get along. 

Godliness, though, is possible, especially when the disciple comprehends that it is not a synonym for sinless perfection, but for sincere effort. The apostle says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (First Peter 1:14-16).

No Christian is destined to live perfectly, but the one who does not even try will usually end up far more imperfect than he ever imagined. Godliness is about dedicating the attempt to a sovereign God, a sacrificial savior and a Holy Spirit, without making excuses for coming up short.

Our objective, then, is a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” for “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (First Timothy 2:2-3). A godly life does not descend into carousing and debauchery, no matter how acceptable or alluring such a prospect might become in today’s hedonistic culture (First Peter 4:1-5). Women who profess godliness will demonstrate it by dressing modestly and living respectably (First Timothy 2:8-10). Men who buck the trend and choose godliness will exercise self-control and humility (First Timothy 4:6-8). As Paul wrote, “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith” (First Timothy 6:11-12).

In its simplest manifestation, godliness is just goodness as defined by God. Beware: His definition does not always accord with that of men, who teach that a noble end justifies even very ignoble means. King Saul surely thought that nothing could be more religious than imitating Samuel’s priestly duties, but he lost his crown when he did. Surely, Nadab and Abihu were seeking to be godly innovators when they offered the Lord strange fire, but it swallowed them alive. Even poor Uzzah was only acting by religion when he sought to catch the tumbling ark of the covenant with his hand, but he too was suddenly struck for his error.

Godliness, when defined by the Lord, will make no provision for the flesh, but will couch sincerity in the realm of submission (see Second Corinthians 1:12). Sincerity alone is insufficient to qualify for godliness as are pious emotions and selfless intentions. Godly sincerity is content to abide within the revealed will of God and is too reverent either to go beyond or stop short of it (Second John 7-11). 

Godliness is no means to great financial gain; in fact, it can be quite costly (see First Timothy 6:6-10). One may have to suffer the slings and arrows of unbelievers and fellow disciples who sometimes feel that strict adherence to God’s word gets in the way of certain good works. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (Second Timothy 3:12). Stephen was stoned by the most religious people in town and Lot was threatened by his neighbors who thought that he “came to sojourn [among them and had] become the judge” (Genesis 19:9)!

While it is a holy lifestyle, it is not one that expresses a holier-than-thou attitude. Condescension toward those whose hearts are still in the world is unlikely to prove effective as evangelistic outreach. A really godly person remembers that he himself was once an enemy of goodness and someone reached out to him that he might be saved (Romans 5:10). 

A godly outlook involves a life that is sanctified, or set apart, for God’s purposes. As “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him,” so no disciple allows himself to get tangled up in the practices of sin. When he errs, he is chastened, corrected and forgiven, so that he might return to duty (Second Corinthians 7:9, First Corinthians 6:11). Saints are not just the really exceptional Christians. They’re not just the few, the proud, the martyrs. Saints are sanctified people and every Christian should qualify if he is dedicated to pursuing godliness (see First Corinthians 1:2, Second Peter 1:5-7).

Godliness is the goal and discipleship is the means, “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Godliness is no quixotic pursuit of sinless perfectionism, but a matter of sincere, dedicated effort and obedience, submission to God’s will to the best of our ability. Godliness is not only possible; it is required.