Put simply, godliness is living a fruitful, obedient Christian life. It is one of seven qualities we are instructed to add to our faith after we become Christians. There are sixteen references to godliness in Scripture. All of them are in the New Testament, and most of them occur in 1 Timothy and 2 Peter. Let’s examine what it is, what it’s not, its prerequisites, its barriers, and its potential influence in our lives. Then we’ll consider how to grow in godliness through personal application.
Characteristics of Godliness
Characteristic #1: Godliness is the proof of our faith.
Godliness is being faithful to our calling by doing the good works for which we were saved. First Corinthians 4:2 says, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” Our good works demonstrate our salvation, and they help our faith continue to grow.
The initial act of faith and the proof of faith are different, but related. The book of James explains this relationship through the example of Abraham:
Abraham was justified by faith alone, but his faith did not remain alone. True faith is always accompanied by works. When he placed his son on the altar, Abraham demonstrated absolute faith in God. His obedience did not make him righteous, but it proved his righteousness. Godly works are the evidence of genuine faith.
Characteristic #2: Godliness is the example of our faith.
By following Christ’s example, we make Him known to a lost and dying world. Jesus prayed these words to His Father: “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:22-23, NLT). Christians who follow Christ’s example share His values.
Our commitment to godliness becomes evident in our words, our lifestyle, our relationships, our attitude, our faith, and our purity (1 Timothy 4:12). When we study Scripture, we are prepared to encourage other believers. Godliness—thinking rightly and acting rightly—is a powerful witness to those around us.
Characteristic #3: Godliness is the action of our faith.
Unless we make a choice to pursue godliness, we drift away from it like a sailing vessel that has been loosed from its moorings (Hebrews 2:1). Even mature Christians battle the temptation to drift. Our natural desires and the Holy Spirit’s desires are contrary to each other, so we are instructed to follow the Spirit’s leading each day. Diligently following the Holy Spirit’s guidance is the only way to overcome sinful desires (Galatians 5:16-17).
Have you ever heard the quip, “You have to walk the walk and talk the talk”? It’s an apt representation of the Bible’s admonition to “walk in the Spirit.” Walk is a present-tense verb that indicates a way of life. It requires a daily habit of continual obedience. Here are eight specific instructions for walking our walk:
- Walk in good works—Ephesians 2:10
- Walk properly—Romans 13:13
- Walk by faith—2 Corinthians 5:7
- Walk in love—Ephesians 5:2
- Walk as children of the light—Ephesians 5:8
- Walk worthy of the Lord—Colossians 1:10
- Walk worthy of our calling—Ephesians 4:1
- Walk as Jesus walked—1 John 2:6
One of Satan’s most powerful tactics is planting weeds in the Church—not literal weeds, but false teachers who dilute the Word of God. This is the essence of Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30. The original word Jesus used to describe these weeds wasn’t as broad as our English word. The Greek word referred to a variety of worthless ryegrass that resembles wheat so closely it cannot be distinguished from true wheat until harvesttime. Through this parable, Jesus was warning His followers that false teachers can be hard to identify. In 2 Timothy 3:5, the apostle Paul described people “having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
If these false teachers are so hard to recognize, how can we avoid them? Paul offers these instructions:
False teachers deviate from God’s truth in some way. Drawing from the wheat parable, we are able to evaluate the fruit of a person’s life. Is it yielding love, joy, peace, and other fruit of the Spirit? If not, if his life is producing streams of arguments, corruption, greed, and other troubles, the Bible says we should have nothing to do with him.
God’s Word provides detailed explanations of heavenly wisdom, which leads to godliness, and earthly or demonic wisdom, which leads to corruption. The following chart compares their fruit.
|The Way of Godliness—Heavenly Wisdom||The Way of Corruption—Earthly Wisdom|
|Teaches Christ’s death and Resurrection (2 Timothy 2:8)||Speaks profane and idle babblings that spread like cancer (2 Timothy 2:17-18)|
|Pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (James 3:17)||Bitter envy, self-seeking, boastful, deceitful (James 3:14)|
|Submits to God, draws near to Him (James 4:7-8)||Unrighteous, sexually immoral, wicked, covetous, malicious; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness. Whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful (Romans 1:29-31)|
|Not quarrelsome, gentle, able to teach, patient (2 Timothy 2:24)||Lovers of self and money, boasters, prideful, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:2-5)|
|Corrects unbelievers humbly (2 Timothy 2:25-26)||Always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth; corrupt (2 Timothy 3:7-8)|
|Follows sound doctrine and godly examples with purpose; lives with faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecution, affliction (2 Timothy 3:10-11)||Deceivers who are deceived (2 Timothy 3:13)|
|Thoroughly equipped for good works through knowledge of the Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17)||Secretly brings in destructive heresies, blasphemes the truth, exploits others with deceptive words; walks according to the flesh, despises authority, presumptuous, self-willed, not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries; entices unstable souls; lewd, slaves of corruption (2 Peter 2)|
|Produces the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)||Produces works of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful desires, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties (Galatians 5:19-21, NLT)|
Some characteristics of earthly wisdom are obvious—things like sexual immorality, sorcery, and murder. But other characteristics like gossiping, being headstrong, and holding grudges, are subtle. Walking in godliness requires that we guard against worldly wisdom in our own lives and in our churches. Second Timothy 3:6 commands us to withdraw from every professing Christian who strays from sound doctrine.
Prerequisites to Godliness
Prerequisite #1: We cannot live godly lives without receiving salvation through faith in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
By our standards, non-Christians do good deeds. However, it’s impossible to meet God’s standard of righteousness without professing faith in Christ. “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, NLT). Trusting in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ is the only way to wash our filthy rags clean. After we do that, godliness is one of the seven qualities we can add to our faith that will make us fruitful and effective as Christians (2 Peter 1:6-7).
Prerequisite #2: We cannot live godly lives without God’s grace.
In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul explained, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (2:11). Grace is the vehicle of salvation, and it imparts godliness to us. Godliness teaches us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (verses 12-13, emphasis added).
Prerequisite #3: We cannot live godly lives without the Holy Spirit.
When we trust in Christ, we are baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), which enables us to walk according to God’s will rather than our own (Galatians 5:16). Willpower cannot prevail against temptation. Finding our identity in Christ is the only way to “crucify the flesh,” and living in the Spirit is the only way to reap the fruit of godliness (Galatians 5:22-24).
Barriers to Godliness
Barrier #1: Our humanity keeps us from godliness.
According to Galatians 5:17, “The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” What is the flesh? The flesh is everything you are … minus God. It is everything you were before Christ became your Savior—everything that distracts you from thoughts of heaven and Christ’s return (Philippians 3:19-20).
Barrier #2: Our culture keeps us from godliness.
The Christian life isn’t compatible with the world in which we live. The world strives for glory, but our model is servanthood. The world puffs up with pride, but our response is humility. Intolerance and hatred fuel the world’s conflicts while patience and love govern our relationships. The better we understand this contrast, the closer we will walk with the Lord. We must not be “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind, that [we] may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
Barrier #3: Our enemy keeps us from godliness.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan and his demons rule this present world, and they rule our hearts until we uproot them by placing our faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of our lives. Satan’s army will stop at nothing to deceive us (Revelation 12:9), murder us (John 8:44), tempt us (Matthew 4:3), lie to us (John 8:44), and accuse us (Revelation 12:10). If we’re not being attacked, we must be doing something wrong because we’re not a threat to the enemy’s plans.
The Influence of Godliness
Growing in godliness has the power to influence every area of our lives by shaping our souls into conformity with God’s good and perfect will. We can expect spiritual growth to affect our relationships with authority, with our peers, and with money.
Influence #1: Godliness influences our relationships with authority.
The Bible instructs us to pray for all men and, specifically, for “all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2).
Earthly rulers derive their authority from Almighty God. If we don’t like the way they rule, that is more reason to pray for them! We should pray for their wise and peaceable rule, also for their salvation.
Influence #2: Godliness influences our relationships with others.
When we employ heavenly wisdom and exemplify its characteristics, we grow in unity with other believers. We serve. We give. We love. We choose humility—avoiding anything that detracts from worship (1 Timothy 2:10)—keeping God at the center of our worship and praise.
Some relationships may be broken by our devotion … and that’s okay. Insincere believers mislead immature believers, taking advantage of their weak morals and ignorance. The Bible tells us to turn away from these impostors (2 Timothy 3:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15). Believers must guard against any teaching that glorifies self and denies Almighty God. It’s less damaging to break off a relationship with one or two false teachers than to allow their teaching to flourish.
Influence #3: Godliness influences our relationship with money.
Our relationship with money says a lot about our relationship with God. True godliness means trusting God to provide for our needs while being content with what He supplies (Matthew 6:24-34; Philippians 4:11-13). When we have faith in God’s presence and provision, we experience the peace of knowing we have everything we need. The Bible says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). Being satisfied with what we have is one mark of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.
Contentment is not the unattainable achievement of elite Christians; it is God’s expectation for every believer. In fact, its opposite, the love of money, is a form of idolatry. Some people believe the Bible teaches that money is evil, and that’s not true. Scripture says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10, emphasis added). It is not wrong for Christians to have money—even a great deal of it—as long as that money does not have them. According to Paul, the real problem is greed. Materialism leads to sin, but godliness prompts us to flee from discontentment.
For the Christian, anticipating the world to come helps us keep our priorities in proper perspective.
Growing in Godliness
Spiritual fitness requires daily training in the same way physical fitness requires regular exercise. Paul says to “exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). As Christians, we should devote ourselves to spiritual fitness with the same enthusiasm body builders devote to working out at the gym. The best time to begin is right now!
- Which characteristic of heavenly wisdom comes most naturally to you? Do you find it easy to be a peacemaker? Are you passionate about teaching? How could you use your strength to encourage others toward godliness?
- If someone followed you around for a week, what would your habits and attitudes tell them about your walk with God? Are there activities that need to be cut from your routine?
- Godliness promotes unity in the Church and seeks reconciliation. Is there someone you need to forgive? Or is there someone from whom you need to seek forgiveness?
- How do you respond to authority? Is there a source of authority in your life—in your family, your church, your government, etc.—that you struggle to accept? How will you commit to praying for that person or organization?
- Life is full of distractions. What is distracting you from pursuing godliness and anticipating heaven? How could you shift that priority into a healthy perspective?
- Study the characteristics of heavenly wisdom. In what area do you struggle the most? Take a few moments right now to ask God for His wisdom. Ask Him to help you grow in that area.
- How would you describe your relationship with money? Are you characterized by contentment, or do you find yourself yearning for more? Generosity is one of the best ways to break the bondage of greed. Are you faithfully giving to your local church? How could you express faith in God’s provision through principled, sacrificial, joyful giving?
- According to 2 Peter 1:3, God’s divine power is an inexhaustible resource that gives God’s people everything they need for an obedient, godly life. Spend some time in prayer, thanking God for providing access to His awesome power. Ask Him to illuminate any barriers that are keeping you from experiencing His power and ask Him to help you overcome them.
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