The words godly and godliness actually appear only a few times in the New Testament; yet the entire Bible is a book on godliness. And when those words do appear they are pregnant with meaning and instruction for us.
When Paul wants to distill the essence of the Christian life into one brief paragraph, he focuses on godliness. He tells us that God’s grace "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives" as we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-13).
When Paul thinks of his own job description as an apostle of Jesus Christ, he describes it as being called to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads togodliness (Titus 1:1).
Paul especially emphasizes godliness in his first letter to Timothy. We are to pray for those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. We are to train ourselves to be godly. We are to pursue godliness—the word "pursue" indicating unrelenting, persevering effort. Godliness with contentment is held forth as great gain; and finally, godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
When Peter, in looking forward to the, day of the Lord when the earth and everything in it will be destroyed, asks what kind of people we ought to be, he answers that we are to live holy and godly lives (2 Peter 3:10-12). Here Peter uses the most momentous event of all history to stir us up to our Christian duty—holy and godly living.
Surely, then, godliness is no optional spiritual luxury for a few quaint Christians of a bygone era or for some group of supersaints of today. It is both the privilege and duty of every Christian to pursue godliness, to train himself to be godly, to study diligently the practice of godliness.
We don't need any special talent or equipment. God has given to each one of us "everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). The most ordinary Christian has all that he needs, and the most talented Christian must use those same means in the practice of godliness.
What then is godliness? What are the marks of a godly person? How does a person become godly?
The Bible gives us some clues about godliness in its earliest pages. Genesis 5:21-24 tells us about Enoch, the father of Methuselah. In a short three-verse summary of Enoch’s life, Moses twice describes him as one who "walked with God."
Much later in the Bible, the author of Hebrews gives Enoch a place in his great 'Faith’s Hall of Fame" in chapter 11, but he sees Enoch from a slightly different perspective. He describes him as "one who pleased God."
Here, then, are two important clues: Enoch walked with God, and Enoch pleased God. It is evident from these two statements that Enoch’s life was centered in God; God was the focal point, the polestar of his very existence.
Enoch walked with God; he enjoyed a relationship with God; and he pleased God. We could accurately say he was devoted to God. This is the meaning of godliness.
The New Testament word for godliness, in its original meaning, conveys the idea of it, a personal attitude toward God that results in actions that are pleasing to him. This personal attitude toward God is what we call devotion to God.
Devotion to God, then, is the mainspring of godly character. And this devotion is the only motivation for Christian behavior that is pleasing to God.
This motivation is what separates the godly person from the moral person, or the benevolent person, or the zealous person. The godly person is moral, benevolent, and zealous because of his devotion to God. And his life takes on a dimension that reflects the very stamp of God.
Godliness is more than Christian character: It is Christian character that springs from a devotion to God. But it is also true that devotion to God always results in godly character. The essential elements of devotion must express themselves in a life that is pleasing to God. So godliness can be defined as devotion to God which results in a life that is pleasing to him.
Enoch walked with God, and Enoch pleased God. His walk with God speaks of his relationship with God, or his devotion to God; his pleasing God speaks of the behavior that arose from that relationship.
It is impossible to build a Christian behavior pattern without the foundation of a devotion to God. The practice of godliness is first of all the cultivation of a relationship with God, and from this the cultivation of a life that is pleasing to God. Our concept of God and our relationship with him determine our conduct.
We have already seen that devotion to God consists of three essential elements: the fear of God, the love of God, and the desire for God. Think of a triangle representing devotion to God, with these three elements as each of its three points.
The fear of God and the love of God form the base of the triangle, while the desire for God is at the apex. As we study these elements individually, we will see that the fear of God and the love of God form the foundation of true devotion to God, while the desire for God is the highest expression of that devotion.
Only the God-fearing Christian can truly appreciate the love of God. The apostle John says, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). And he explains, "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10).
If God’s love for us is to be a solid foundation stone of devotion, we must realize that his love is entirely of grace—that it rests completely upon the work of Jesus Christ and flows to us through our union with him. Because of this basis his love can never change, regardless of what we do. In our daily experience, we have all sorts of spiritual ups and downs—sin, failure, discouragement, all of which tend to make us question God’s love. That is because we keep thinking that God’s love is somehow conditional. We are afraid to believe his love is based entirely upon the finished work of Christ for us.
Deep down in our souls we must get hold of the wonderful truth that our spiritual failures do not affect God’s love for us one iota—that his love for us does not fluctuate according to our experience. We must be gripped by the truth that we are accepted by God and loved by God for the sole reason that we are united to his beloved Son. As the King James
True godliness engages our affections and awakens within us a desire to enjoy God’s presence and fellowship. It produces a longing for God himself.
The writer of Psalm 42 vividly expressed this longing when he exclaimed, "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and I meet with God?" What could be more intense than a hunted deer’s thirst for water? The psalmist does not hesitate to use this picture to illustrate the intensity of his own desire for God’s presence and fellowship.
David also expresses this intense desire for God: "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple" (Psalm 27:4). David yearned intensely for God himself that he might enjoy his presence and his beauty. Since God is a spirit, his beauty obviously refers not to a physical appearance but to his attributes. David enjoyed dwelling I upon the majesty and greatness, the holiness and goodness of God. But David I did more than contemplate the beauty of God’s attributes. He sought God himself, for elsewhere he says, "Earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you" (Psalm 63:1).
The apostle Paul also experienced this longing for God: "I want to know Christ" (Philippians 3:10). The Amplified Bible forcefully catches the intensity of Paul’s desire in this passage: "For my determined purpose is that I may know Him—that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His person more strongly and more clearly."
This is the heartbeat of the godly person. As he contemplates God in the awesomeness of his infinite majesty, power, and holiness, and then as he dwells upon the riches of God’s mercy and grace poured out at Calvary, his heart is captivated by this One who could love him so. He is satisfied with God alone, but he is never satisfied with his present experience of God. He always yearns for more.