By Mike Willis
In Paul’s description of the apostasy which would occur in the last days, he said that men would come, having “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5). Godliness has both a form and a power. We need to understand what godliness is in order to see how one could have the form of godliness without its power.
What Is Godliness?
Some have defined “godliness” as “God-like-ness,” but that is a poor definition of the word. Translated from eusebeia, godliness means “piety towards God” (Thayer, p. 262). It denotes a manner of life which shows reverence and respect for God. In pagan literature, a person showed “godliness” by his participation in the public worship of the pagan gods and by his respect for sacred things.
The opposite of “godliness” is “ungodliness.” Translated from asebeia, ungodliness is “want of reverence towards God, impiety” (Thayer, p. 79). In his Synonyms of the New Testament, R.C. Trench said that “ungodliness” is “positive and active irreligion, and this is contemplated as a deliberate withholding from God of his dues of prayer and of service, a standing, so to speak, in battle array against him” (p. 242). The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines asebeia as “complete contempt for God and his will . . . it can be used for the wicked doer in the broadest sense” (Vol. VII, p. 188).
The Power of Godliness
Godliness is reverence for God, piety. It is expressed in such verses as Habakkuk 2:20 – “But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (cf. Psa. 33:8). Recognition that one is in the presence of God becomes a motivating force in one’s life. B.C. Caffin expressed the idea this way:
A godly man sets God always before him; the thought of God controls his whole life; his effort to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, to live unto the Lord, to seek his glory only. This holy reverence for the felt presence of God can only be maintained in the life of faith and self-control; in the worldly fife of mere pleasure and business it cannot flourish. God is the center of the devout life, the life of godliness (The Pulpit Commentary. 2 Peter, pp. 13-14).
The power of godliness can be seen in Joseph’s resistance of Potiphar’s wife’s advances. He said, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9) His awareness of the presence of God kept him from committing adultery. This is the power of godliness?
Some hold the forms of godliness but do not have its power. They express piety with their lips and go through the motions of reverencing God in worship, but commit deeds of ungodliness. Jim Bakker is a good example of one who manifested the forms of godliness but lacked its power. His television shows expressed love for God and men. He spoke frequently about the Holy Spirit and prayer, all the while being guilty of adultery, bribery, cover-up, fraud, and other forms of wickedness. This is the form of godliness without its power.
Applications of Godliness
1. In attendance of public worship. One should show enough reverence for God to be present in the worship assemblies (Heb. 10:25). The man who willfully absents himself from the worship assemblies manifests these attitudes: (a) lack of thankfulness toward God (we who receive go many blessings from God should feel thankful toward him for his grace toward us); (b) lack of interest in the study of God’s word; (c) lack of interest in the spiritual welfare of other Christians (Heb. 10:24). How can a man claim to be godly while withholding from God his worship?
2. In his conduct at worship services. Ethan the Ezrahite said “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the ai , saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him” (Psa. 89-7). How much reverence is shown to God when a person disrupts the worship assembly by whispering, talking, passing notes, sleeping, playing with babies, etc.? How much reverence is shown to God by not participating in singing? How much reverence is shown to God by being present in the worship assembly but looking upon it as a burdensome chore (Mal. 1:13-14)?
3. In dress at the worship assembly. There is no standard of dress which must be worn when assembling with other saints to worship God. God does not legislate a coat and tie for men or high heels and dress for women. However, there is a degree of respect shown by how we dress. A preacher who showed up to perform a wedding wearing blue jeans, a T-shirt and tennis shoes would be condemned for his manner of dress. He would be showing a lack of respect for the occasion.
What attitude does a person show toward God when he shows up for worship wearing a shirt imprinted with an emblem of Coors beer or a picture of some rock singing group (KISS)? Has one shown a reverence for God by wearing such attire?
4. In the use of God’s name. One of the Ten Commandments was “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exod. 20:7). “Holy and reverend is the name of the Lord” (Psa. 111:9). Under the law of Moses a man was stoned to death for cursing and blaspheming the name of the Lord (Lev. 24:10-16). Our society, like that of many others before, shows little regard for the name of God, using his name for cursing men and strong exclamatory remarks. The man who uses God’s name in cursing is an impious man.
Are you a godly person? Do you have only the form of godliness or do you also have its power? Your awareness of God’s presence and your intention to walk pleasing to him manifests godliness in your life. “Exercise thyself… unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6).
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 24, pp. 738, 751
December 21, 1989