Growing in Godliness
By Thomas Bielenberg, first published in Compass Summer issue 2023
What would you say if asked, “What is godliness?” You might think that godliness is good conduct, or bearing the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, etc. But godliness is more than that, as I thankfully discovered. “Godliness is more than Christian character. It covers the totality of the Christian life and provides the foundation upon which Christian character is built.”1 Our devotion and fear of God is the motivation for our character.
Vine’s Dictionary says that the words for godliness mean “to be devout” and “the fear or reverence of God.”2 Another definition says godliness is “the joining of devotion to God and our resulting right conduct.”3 The Old Testament idea comes from “the fear of God,” or living in obedience to God’s law.4 “The New Testament word for godliness, in its original meaning, conveys the idea of a personal attitude toward God that results in actions that are pleasing to God. This personal attitude toward God is what we call devotion to God. But it is always devotion in action….”5
Growing in godliness requires proactive training, which takes effort and time. I absolutely love playing soccer and play in the over-45 men’s competition. If I play a soccer match without regular aerobic training prior, I quickly run out of breath. So, I try and run once a week and attend weekly soccer trainings. In the same way as consistent effort and planning are required to maintain my fitness and improve skills, training in godliness also takes effort.
A key motivation for growing in godliness is God’s command to us in 1 Timothy 4 to train in godliness. Paul teaches that godliness is more valuable than bodily training: Godliness “is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (v7-8). It helps us avoid the wrong things, such as false teachings (v1-3) as well as irreverent, silly myths (v7). So, how do we train in godliness? We must have our hope set on the living God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be devoted to God. Bridges says this devotion has elements of the fear of God, the love of God and the desire for God.6 This involves walking with God and developing a relationship with him. The Holy Spirit’s help for God’s word to come alive in our hearts is vital, so be praying for that.
Fearing God is showing a healthy respect and honour for the great God who is eternal, all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere, and who made and sustains us. It is helpful to find Bible passages, of which there are many, that talk about God’s great works and deeds. Meditate on such passages and chew over what they have to say. Some passages to start: Isaiah 6 & 40, Revelation 1:10-17, 4, & 5, and Psalm 139 (one of my favourites), 1 Kings 8:22 ff, Genesis 1-2, Job 38-40, and Psalm 96. Knowing God’s awesomeness, in the true sense of the word, helps to remind us of where we stand before him, to fear and revere him more, and to desire him more. Knowing his love and what he has done for us is also important. Passages depicting his love are numerous, including Romans 5:6-11 & 8:31-39, 1 John 4:9-11, Ephesians 2:1-10, and John 13:34-35.
We must keep up with physical training or we lose the benefits. Similarly, we must continue our training and practice in godliness. 1 Timothy 4 shows us it requires toiling and striving v10, practice v15, and close examination (keep a close watch on yourself) v16. This training goes on for our whole life. But it is worth it. “Persist in this because you will save both yourself and your hearers” (4:16b). We have our hope set on the living God, who has saved us.
Understanding that godliness is not simply working hard at love, joy, peace etc, but striving to be devoted to God, who deserves our devotion, has been so helpful to me. I’m looking forward to reading the section on joy in Bridge’s ‘The Practice of Godliness.’6 I encourage you to find a copy to read, and then apply it! I have already started telling the men I disciple about this aspect of godliness and I look forward to applying and modelling it more, with God’s help.
1 Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1983, 1996).
2 W. E. Vine et al., “Godliness, Godly.”
3 F.Q. Gouvea, “Godliness,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter Elwell, A. (Carlisle, Cumbria: Baker Books, 1984).
4 Gouvea, “Godliness.” See also https://bible.org/article/whatgodliness [is.]
5 Jerry Bridges, The Practice of Godliness (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress, 1983, 1996)
6 Joy, not happiness. Joy is from knowing that God has saved us and eternity with him awaits, with no sorrow, pain or death.
Thomas Bielenberg is one of our Canberra Community Labourers. We are currently praying for more labourers to join our Canberra team – on campus, in the Defence Force and local communities. If you would be interested in joining or want more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us by emailing [email protected].Contact Us