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The title of this article is likely to be rather unappealing to many people. It suggests discipline; restrictions on the freedom to please oneself. Godliness is defined as ‘the quality of being devoutly religious, pious’. How off-putting is that? There are many religions in the world, all of which have devout adherents and pious followers. But human beings are prone to follow their devotions only as far as it suits them.
A blunt piece of advice
We begin with this sentence from the Bible: ‘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’.
This is quite a forthright statement to start with! Bodily exercise is highly recommended today as a healthy lifestyle choice. The aim is to increase our lifespan and to avoid life threatening diseases. Yet the Bible says that ‘bodily exercise profits a little’! So it is at loggerheads with the current wisdom of this world! But it is actually telling us that exercise is worth something, but not much. On the other hand, godliness is profitable for all things. If it is so important for us, would it not be sensible to weigh up the pros and cons? What then is the value of being devoutly religious or pious? The Bible says that it has ‘promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.’ God is giving the reader a great incentive. He is saying ‘It will be very much to your advantage to become godly. It will be good for you in this life, but much more, it will gain for you the life which is to come’. Jesus said this about that life to come: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’
No wonder the benefit of bodily exercise for the present life is of little value in comparison to an offer like that! It is not just a matter of prolonging this life with all its problems by exercise, but an offer of a never-ending life. You might say, who wants everlasting life in a world full of problems and impending disasters? Thankfully, it is not in this present world that everlasting life is to be enjoyed, but in an utterly transformed world referred to in the Lord’s prayer: ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’
It is also described in the Bible as ‘new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells’
Or again we read: ‘Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear’ * Hebrews 12.28
Those words ‘serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear’ define godliness concisely.
The advantage of godliness
The Apostle Peter gives more reasons why godliness is so important. Referring to the present earth which is facing catastrophe he wrote: ‘Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens being on fire, will be dissolved, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.’
This vital and extremely serious message is available for all to read, in a book that vastly outnumbers any other book worldwide, yet few take the trouble to read it thoroughly.
The characteristics of godliness
The qualities of godliness are emerging in the Bible verses referred to above. We need to be clear what those qualities are so that we know what to aim at. Jesus speaks of belief in him. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of serving God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. The Apostle Peter wrote that we ought to live in holy conduct and godliness. Holy conduct simply means a different kind of behaviour to normal. Human behaviour is described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the believers in Rome. In Romans chapter three he referred to six passages from the Old Testament, five from the Psalms and one from Isaiah. They tell us what God thinks of mankind and it makes shocking reading!
The reason for this awful behaviour is summed up in the last of these quotations from the Psalms: ‘…concerning the transgression of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes…’
In other words, God’s instructions to humanity are ignored, and yet it is these very instructions which will lead to everlasting life. How very sad.
Ignoring this advice leads only to everlasting death which the Bible refers to as perishing, as we read above: ‘whoever believes in him (God) should not perish but have everlasting life.’
Ungodly behaviour evident in the world today
I wonder whether you think the following quotation from Paul’s second letter to Timothy is a fair description of the world of today? ‘But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, 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.’
We might say ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ is like saying that God is ‘out of sight and out of mind’ until a crisis occurs. Then we hear people saying ‘Our prayers and thoughts are with those whose homes have been flooded or a parent bereaved by knife crime etc.’ God is not content to receive such casual and occasional attention. He says: ‘But on this one will I look: on him who is poor (humble) and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word’
The one God looked on with delight was His beloved son, Jesus. God said this about Jesus long before he was born: ‘The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. His delight is in the fear of the LORD.’
Jesus is our example
Jesus is the one a Christian professes to follow. He is the one who taught his followers to pray in this manner: ‘Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.’
Notice the phrase ‘hallowed be thy name’. In other words, treat the name of God as holy. ‘Holy’ is the opposite of ‘common.’ Next, the Christian is to pray for God’s kingdom to come when His will is to be done on earth. Then the prayer goes on to acknowledge the complete dependence of believers on God, their Father in heaven. It recognises that the followers of Jesus are not perfect and must ask for forgiveness.
But notice that forgiveness is dependent on forgiving those who have offended them. The prayer finishes by acknowledging the absolute power of God. The follower of Jesus believes in the existence of God. He or she believes in God’s promise about the coming kingdom of God and responds to these words: ‘…without faith it is impossible to please him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him’
We need to be trained
Believers are people who believe God to be their Father, a Father they worship and revere. He is also a Father who wants His child to trust Him, be close to Him and love Him. He is a Father who is actively involved in training His children; patiently guiding them to be prepared for a great and everlasting future in His kingdom, as we read in Hebrews: ''‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by him; for whom the LORD loves he chastens ... Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?
For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness’''.
So, if we look to Jesus as our example, what do we see? Jesus was so close to his Father, so influenced by Him, that he could answer Philip, one of his disciples, who asked him: ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us’. The answer of Jesus no doubt surprised him: ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father’
In his ministry, Jesus reflected the moral image of God his Father. It was in this sense that those who saw him saw the Father. So, we have an example of a godly man to follow. Jesus showed mankind what it means to be different, to be holy and God-like. The Gospels are full of accounts of his wonderful acts of kindness to the poor and needy, the sick and troubled; of his preaching good news to bring great hope to a people who were oppressed by their religious leaders and the Roman occupying power. Jesus brought great joy and relief to so many and ultimately laid down his life for the salvation of all who would put their trust in God. It was tragic that despite all he had done for them, they rejected him and demanded his crucifixion. That however is not the end of the matter. God, his Father raised him to life, not a revival to mortality but to immortality. Jesus did not perish; he was not in the tomb long enough even to begin to decay. It is astounding to hear what the Apostle Peter said after Jesus had ascended to His Father:
‘“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…”’
If this teaching is new to you, then weigh it up carefully, lest you miss a wonderful offer.
Geoff Mitchell, Norfolk, UK
Source Light on a New World - Volume 31/3
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