The Practice of Godliness
Since godliness is a distinctive quality of the Christian life, why do Christians seem to know so little about it? Or why do we see so little of it in practice? I know the Bible says it's a mystery, even a great mystery (1 Timothy 3.16). But, if you examine that reference in context, you'll discover it's talking about God incarnating Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Incarnation certainly is a great mystery, but what does that have to do with godliness? Especially godliness as it relates to me?
Hmmm, incarnation may just be the very key that unlocks the mystery of godliness for us. Maybe that's what godliness is, a kind of incarnation. After all, we were once created in the image of God. When Adam bit into the forbidden fruit, he brought serious damage to the image of God in us. Then Jesus came. And when we received Jesus as our Savior, He recreated us in the image of God. Or rather in His own image, as the Bible says, "whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son...." (Romans 8.28-29). Peter tells us that God gave us "His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them [we] might become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1.4). Paul further admonishes us to "put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Ephesians 4.24). In each of these passages, we see God's purpose to restore the image of God in us. And we begin to understand the mystery of godliness. As A. W. Tozer put it, "The supreme purpose of the Christian religion is to make men like God in order that they may act like God."
Godliness consists of two significant traits that will increase our understanding. The first is God-centeredness, which expresses itself in devotion to God. This trait indicates the focus of our lives--God. It reveals the standard by which we measure our conduct--God. It further reveals the goal toward which our lives are moving--God. As the poet said,
My goal is God Himself
Not joy, nor peace;
Not even blessing,
But Himself, my God.
Isn't that what Paul meant when he said, "we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3.18)?
Godliness means we focus our attention on the Lord so we might learn from Him and live for Him. Caleb, that Old Testament giant, illustrates this trait of godliness beautifully. Six times the Bible says of him that he followed the Lord his God fully (cp. e.g., Numbers 14.24; 32.12). Actually, the statement does not have to do with following the Lord so much as with his love and devotion to the Lord; because literally, the Hebrew reads, "He filled up his heart after God." It is the devotion of the heart that works its way out into the character of the life. His heart was so full of the Lord, there was no room in it for anyone or anything else. That is real devotion to God. That is God-centeredness. And that is godliness.
The second quality is God-likeness, which expresses itself in Christian character. This is the actual meaning of god-li-ness; and it describes the results of the first trait, God-centeredness. Christian character is the result of devotion to God and of fellowship with God. When we walk with the Lord and talk with the Lord and think His thoughts and meditate on His Word, before long, we begin to look like Him and act like Him. We don't just talk with Him, we talk like Him. We are men and women whom God is shaping into people like Himself, people characterized by righteous living. We desire to be holy, rather than happy. We want to see the honor of God advanced through our lives. We see everything from God's viewpoint. After all, we've spent enough time with Him to learn His viewpoint. We would rather die right than to live wrong. We make eternity-judgments rather than time-judgments. We want to see others advance and grow even if it's at our own expense. That is God-likeness. That is godliness.
These, too, are marks of godliness, like those we see in Daniel; and before long, you begin to realize how impossible it is to achieve them. How can we effectively pursue godliness as Paul admonishes (1 Timothy 6.11)? Major Ian Thomas suggests an answer. He says, "The moment you come to realize that only God can make a man godly, you are left with no option but to find God, and to know God, and to let God be God in you and through you, whoever He may be--and this will leave you no margin for picking and choosing--for there is only one God, and He is absolute, and He has made you expressly for Himself!" Godliness is the direct and exclusive consequence of God's activity in man, not the consequence of my capacity to imitate God, but the consequence of His capacity to reproduce Himself in me. No wonder "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6.6, KJV)!