Having the Form But Denying the Power

Clinton D. Hamilton
Tampa, Florida

Men sometimes hold to the outward appearance of religion but repudiate its reality. Paul has described those "holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3:5). Form is from a term that means an embodiment, an image or impress, an outward semblance (W.E. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 124). The same word is used in Romans 2:20 to refer to the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the book of the law and in this case the form is genuine, not merely a semblance. But in 2 Timothy 3:5, form refers to what might look genuine but does not correspond to the reality of essence.

A related term is used in Galatians 4:19: "My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you." Here the idea is that one should have a change in character and conduct corresponding to the doctrine and character of Christ. But in 2 Timothy 3:5, the term form means a semblance which does not correspond in reality to godliness that should characterize the life of God's child.

Godliness refers to the duty which man owes to God. But in the passage under study, those who appear to be religious are such only in appearance. In truth they renounce, repudiate or deny the inward power and renewing influence of true religion in the heart and life for such is the meaning of "having denied the power thereof."

These who have a form of godliness but deny its power are described by some eighteen terms, which in this article are considered under four different classifications. Keep in mind the fact that one may have a semblance of religion but this semblance might not in reality correspond to true godliness. Since we are to turn away from these, we must know what they are and how to recognize them. Hence the importance of studying the passage ( 2 Tim. 3:1-5) which forms the basis of this article.


What is the character of those who have or hold to a form of godliness but deny its power in their hearts and lives? There are three terms we study under this heading: without self-control, unholy and implacable.

"Without self-control" is translated from akrateis which means without power or strength. The idea is unrestrained. It is probably much broader than incontinent which refers to lack of sexual control (I Cor. 7:5), though some versions so translate it here. Hence we conclude that those who do not control their desires, passions arid appetites and who at the same time claim to be religious, only have an outward semblance, not the reality of true religion. When godliness is present in one's life, he restrains himself so as to conform to the doctrine of Christ.

In character those who hold a form and deny the reality are also unholy, which means profane, not consecrated, wicked. Those characterized by this term revere nothing sacred. A disrespect for things pertaining to God and an affection for unconsecrated things seems to be the idea. His heart likes the profane, not the sacred. There is no affinity to God.

That nature of heart which is implacable is another mark of character of same who hold a form of godliness but deny its power. Sponde, the root word from which implacable comes, in classical Greek referred to a truce made over an offering or sacrifice to the gods. With the addition of the negative in the passage before us, the idea is irreconcilable, not of the nature to be appeased or pacified. Such an individual is one who will not make a truce with or become reconciled to his enemy. His character is such that once he is an enemy he remains one far he will not make a truce or be reconciled.


The disposition of those holding a form of godliness but denying its power is described by four terms: boasters, haughty, puffed up and headstrong.

A boaster is a braggart. He is one who wanders about the country as a vagabond (for so the original word from which boasters comes means), with excessive or false claims about himself. Such a person makes empty pretensions about himself. We could say that it is his disposition to make excessive claims about his own importance. Such an individual does not have genuine godliness in his life; he might claim to have it but he denies its power.

One who has the disposition to brag about himself becomes haughty, arrogant and overbearing. One who is haughty ranks or estimates himself above others in importance, or ability, or goodness. He is proud. But he by this disposition repudiates true godliness.

One who is boastful and haughty comes to be puffed up, which means conceited, or besotted, or infatuated with pride to the point that his mind is clouded so that he can not see things in their true relation and value. Of himself he has such an inflated opinion that he finds it impossible to see others in their proper perspective. In fact, he can not see himself as he is in truth. Lest a novice (new convert) come to feel this way about himself, Paul forbids that such be appointed an elder in the church (I Tim. 3:6).

That person who acts on impulse without considerate and wise reflection is headstrong. He is thoughtless, reckless, rash, hasty and headlong. He rushes into an act without the reflection that should characterize a thoughtful person who is godly. That townclerk in Athens cautioned his fellow citizens to do nothing rash (same word), such as beating Alexander (Acts 19:36).

Conduct Toward Others

Those who hold a form of godliness but deny its power often mistreat their fellows. This conduct is described by these expressions: blasphemers, unthankful, without natural affection, slanderers, fierce, traitors and disobedient to parents.

Speaking evil, using abusive or indecent language is the meaning of blasphemer. Generally it is used of speaking evil against God and holy things but it is also used to mean evil speaking about things in general. Apparently in the passage before us, the reference is to all manner of railing both against God and holy things, and man. Such treatment of God and man is foreign to the conduct of one who genuinely professes the religion of the Bible.

Those who accept favors without appreciation and gratitude are unthankful. Ingratitude for kindnesses and benefits received is what is here meant. This might be reflected in our returning nothing for the favor shown, or actually returning ill. Such is another mark of one who holds a form of godliness but denies its power.

Being without natural affection means to be unloving, not' being zealously and tenderly attached to those who are near and dear to us. Obviously included in this group would be one's parents, children, wife or husband, or other relatives. There should be love and affection present which grows out of the ties that bind together. The attachment here under view is that which is natural, not necessarily moral. One who denies the power of godliness in this respect does not even have the "natural" feeling which is expressed by brute animals.

One who spreads false accusations for the purpose of maliciously injuring another is a sianderer. Satan or the devil is the great accuser or slanderer. The term slanderer in the passage before us is the one from which devil is translated. Job was accused by the devil to God of being a servant for a price (Job 1: 9-11) . To Eve the devil accused God of being selfish in not wanting man to be as God (Gen. 3:5). No wonder then that he is called an accuser, a false one, a slanderer (Rev. 12:9-12) .

Inhuman and savage behavior is the meaning of fierce. A person characterized by this term is brutal, untamed, cruel, coarse and ruled by sensual passions without that sensibility which should be in a human being. Some men so behave. "But these, as creatures without reason, born mere animals to be taken and destroyed, railing in matters whereof they are ignorant" (2 Pet. 2:12). Again, "But these rail at whatsoever things they know not: and what they understand naturally, like the creatures without reason" (Jude 10). There is no restraint but the behavior is such as would characterize a brute beast under no moral restriction. So often do we observe those who are untamed and brutist in their conduct toward others.

Traitors betray a trust and hence they are faithless to a trust. So often this desertion is in a moment of need too. Those who demonstrate such conduct toward their fellows may have a form of godliness but they certainly deny its power.

Children who are disobedient to parents mistreat their parents. One who does not regard or does not heed his parents' instruction is disobedient to them. Though receiving countless blessings and favors from parents, many children defy and disrespect them. Such is a mark of one who may hold to a form of godliness but denies its power in his life. This behavior does not grow out of the reality of godliness and one who thus treats his parents is deceived if he thinks he is godly.

These seven expressions of the way men conduct themselves are characteristic of those who only have a semblance of godliness, not its reality.

Center of Affection

What is the center of affection of those who hold a form but deny the power of godliness? What do they love? On what do they lavish their feelings, goods and works? They are lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure and no lovers of good.

To be lovers of self is to be selfish. This involves what benefits one's self in disregard, or at the expense of others. When one behaves so as to profit himself without any attention to the effect the conduct will have on others, he is a lover of self. One's own comfort or advantage is the chief motivation and what effect his conduct will have on others is of no concern. Such disregard of others is ungodly and he who thinks himself godly in such conduct deceives himself.

A lover of money is avaricious, bent on acquiring and keeping material things. To be fond of money to the point of being determined to acquire it at all costs and once having acquired it to be stingy with reference to it is to be covetous. This love really grows out of love of self for one seeks the money to satisfy what self wants. With such a disposition and with conduct growing out of it, there is no reality of godliness in the life of the person. One cannot serve God and mammon but those who love money will scoff at this teaching as did the Pharisees in response to its proclamation by Jesus (Lk. 16: 13, 14).

Those who are lovers o f pleasure rather than lovers of God give themselves over to the gratification of their desires. The idea seems to be that they practice no self denial. Whatever one prefers or desires is what he sets himself to have. That which brings satisfaction to his sensual appetites or the desires of his own mind is that which he seeks. He thus would live as the Ephesians did before conversion: "Among whom we also all once lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Eph. 2:3). A like for the pleasures of this world sought in opposition to the will of God chokes out true godliness (Lk. 8:14). Such people are not lovers of God and for this reason Paul says they are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

That which is beneficial to others and is within itself right is good. There are those who are no lovers of good and they despise not only the good but also those who practice good. Those who are godly have a liking for things good and for those who revere such enough to conduct themselves accordingly. But that person who only holds an outward semblance of piety and denies its power in his life will not be a lover of good. If one finds he has an antipathy for good things and people who display such in their lives, he is not godly.


Those who practice the eighteen sins delineated in this catalog by Paul may keep up an outward appearance of religion and godliness but they resist its influence and inward force. Christians must avoid such conduct themselves and cannot fellowship such sins. Timothy was urged to turn away from those who so act. May we be alert so as to prevent our becoming such as have the form, but not the reality, of godliness.

Truth Magazine, V:12, pp. 8
September 1961