Steps to Success: Godliness

(Yet another installment in my study on 2 Peter 1:3, 5-8.)

Am I godly? Are you?

I’d always assumed that godliness meant “being like God,” so I was quite surprised to discover that isn’t the case. I don’t often take the time to dig in on a word or phrase, but in this case, I’m glad I did. Understanding the Greek was essential to understanding what Paul says.

Godliness is translated from the Greek word eusebia (εὐσέβεια). It is derived from a root word (εὐσεβής) meaning “pious” or “reverent.” It relates to doing that which pleases God, based on one’s heart attitude.

So many times I’ve heard other believers insist that what we do isn’t all that important—it’s what’s in our hearts that matters. We must have faith, we must believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, we mumble the “sinner’s prayer” and we can check off that box labeled “saved,” assured that we’re going to the good place when we die.

As wonderful as that sounds, that isn’t what the Bible preaches.

“Belief” in Jesus’ day meant a lot more than mere mental agreement. It required a change in our actions as well as our thoughts. James repeatedly comes back to this theme:

  • Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (1:22)
  • What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? (2:14)
  • In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (2:17)
  • You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (2:24)

Inherent in the word “godliness” is the same point. It’s not just believing, it’s putting that belief into practice.

Paul compares godliness to physical discipline in 1 Tim. 4:8. No wonder Paul places it after self-control and perseverance. It takes effort on our part to develop godliness.

Of course, actions alone cannot save us either—the entire book of Galatians is devoted to this principle. We aren’t saved by works—our works are the result of our beliefs. They’re proof that we have a new heart.

We’ve all met those who spend a lot of effort in following the rules. They may go to church several times a week, they don’t drink, they don’t chew, and they don’t go with girls who do. They carry a huge Bible filled with church bulletins, and frequently “Praise the Lord!” We might say they’re very religious. But are they godly?

“The word εὐσέβεια as it is used in the Greek New Testament carries the meaning of “godliness,” and is distinct from θρησκεία (thrēskeia), “religion.” Eusebeia relates to real, true, vital, and spiritual relation with God, while thrēskeia relates to the outward acts of religious observances or ceremonies, which can be performed by the flesh.” (Wikipedia)

This is an important distinction. (I was impressed that I found that quote in Wikipedia!) True godliness is internal. We can pretend to be godly, but it has no value. Paul describes such hypocrites:

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5)

Just reading that list brings a number of people to mind, some in the news, some at our church. But of course it doesn’t apply to me. Does it?

True godliness comes from knowing Jesus (1 Timothy 3:16). It’s the mark of a truly successful Christian, and it only comes through the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

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