A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of my wife’s aunt, who was the twin of my mother-in-law. We spent a week with our family who had gathered in Columbia, Tennessee, to comfort one another, enjoy time together, and celebrate the wonderful life of this selfless servant, the one we all called Aunt Donna. While working on a memorial card to be distributed at the funeral, I asked Aunt Donna’s two daughters what Scripture verse we should put on the card, and they responded, “Why don’t you pick something out, because our mom has soooo many verses underlined in her Bible!” This lady spent many hours praying on behalf of her children, grandchildren, and many other family members and friends. I love this line from her obituary: “She had a true servant’s heart, always caring and giving to others.”
A servant. Caring more about others than herself. Giving, loving, showing compassion. I would describe all of these as godly traits. We don’t use that word too much these days, but I would use it to describe Aunt Donna. I recently took a random survey asking some people in my church what it means to be godly. Here are some of their responses:
- “A godly person displays the characteristics that we know to be of God that we see through his Word and through his actions in our lives.”
- “To be godly means that you carry yourself in a way that is different, and when people are around a godly person, there is something noticeable about them that makes you want to be more like them.”
- “A godly person is defined by having strong moral character and integrity in the midst of an ungodly culture, like Noah, Abraham, Esther, and Joseph exhibited in the Bible.”
Si Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame said, “I go out into America, and I am literally navigating a minefield. Godliness has become abnormal.”
When we look at the landscape of America these days, when we see what is trending in the news, when we observe what is coming down the pike of the social media that bombards us every day, it may seem that Uncle Si is spot on. You may have noticed, as I have, that some churches these days are shying away from words like “sin.” Some people feel more comfortable talking about “lapses in judgment,” “indiscretions,” “choices,” “miscues,” “slip-ups”—anything but the S word—sin. And the fact that we don’t want to be honest about our sins is an indication of just how far our culture has strayed from godliness.
What comes to mind for you when I mention the word godly? Some people might think of a person such as Tim Tebow, who lives a godly life in a profession where it would be so easy not to set a godly example. It’s almost expected in the arena of professional sports today that there are more bad examples of morality than godly examples. The concept of godliness seems to be a topic most people don’t even think about anymore.
David said in Psalm 12:1, “Help, O Lord, for the godly are fast disappearing! The faithful have vanished from the earth!” (NLT).
The prophet Micah prophesied about a time when “the godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net” (Micah 7:2, ESV).
The word translated “godly” in these and many other Old Testament verses could be rendered as “loyal, faithful, devoted, or consecrated.” There are instances of people today who exhibit these characteristics, but their stories are in the minority.
If we believe that the Bible is still God’s Word and is relevant for our lives today—and I do—then there is some good news for us. The apostle Peter proclaimed in 2 Peter 1:3, 4, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires” (NLT).
Peter was writing this letter toward the end of his life, sometime before his martyrdom under the reign of Nero. He was issuing a plea to the church to be aware of the false teaching that was infiltrating the church, and he was calling on the followers of Christ to stand strong in their faith no matter the opposition. He issued this reminder to first-century Christians and to us today—God’s power has given us everything we need to live godly lives in our world! He urges us to reflect on the many promises we have received from God, to believe them, and in so doing, participate in the divine nature of God, and thus escape the ungodliness that is all around us.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not exactly. The arsenal God has provided at our disposal consists of a number of essentials. What provisions for godliness has he supplied? And how do we access them and put them into practice? He has provided his Word for us, something that is so easy to take for granted—because it is always there. He has provided his peace that surrounds us in those dark times when we simply do not have any answers to the “Why did this happen to me?” or “Why did this happen to my loved one?” questions. He has provided full access to boldly approach him any time with our prayers, thanksgivings, and petitions. He has provided answers to our prayers in a consistent manner. He has provided a place for us to be ourselves, to gather together in his name as the body of Christ that meets regularly for mutual edification, teaching, support, and comfort. All of these he has provided as a means for us to counteract the corruption (ungodliness) we face in this world.
It’s interesting that part of the definition for “religion” that James, the Lord’s brother, uses in James 1:27 includes keeping “oneself from being polluted by the world” (NIV). This is not just a passive avoidance of bad behavior but an active pursuit of good behavior. It doesn’t describe a void as much as it does an intentional presence of good—of godliness. We don’t need any special talent or equipment. God has given to each of us everything we need to practice godliness.
The apostle Paul wrote in Titus 2:11, 12, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (NIV).
God has provided all we need to live godly lives, but like anything else you want to pursue in life, it takes practice, discipline, and consistency to achieve success. In several other places in the pastoral epistles, Paul talks about training ourselves to be godly, and pursuing godliness with contentment.
In his book, The Fruitful Life, author Jerry Bridges noted, “Every day that we’re not practicing godliness we’re being conformed to the world of ungodliness around us.”
So, what do we do to achieve this godliness in our personal lives? Say yes to the right things and no to the wrong things? Is it more than that? I believe it is achievable when we realize we cannot do it on our own, but only through the “divine power” that the apostle Peter mentioned. In the church where I serve on the teaching and writing team it has been refreshing to hear pastors and worship leaders share openly about their messes, their brokenness, and their struggles, realizing that is the very path that allows us to humbly seek God’s forgiveness so that we can be more like him—to be more godly. For it is in knowing that we, in and of ourselves, are far away from godliness that allows us to pursue the godliness Christ calls us to.
The apostle Paul warns that in the last days people will be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:4, 5). If you read all five verses of 2 Timothy 3:1-5, I think you will agree with Paul’s assessment of our day. That last verse haunts me when I think about the church today, because I know there are churches and individuals who have a form of godliness but deny its power. My prayer is that it will never be said of me nor the church to which I belong, because godliness is attainable through the power of God working in our lives.
Read More About Godliness
- The Practice of Godliness, by Jerry Bridges
- The Pursuit of God, by A. W. Tozer
- A Quest for Godliness, by J. I. Packer
- Disciplines of a Godly Man, by R. Kent Hughes
- Disciplines of a Godly Woman, by Barbara Hughes
Dale Reeves is pastor of creative content at Christ’s Church, Mason, Ohio.