The Imperative of Godliness
From Living for Eternity
Before that unfortunate afternoon in the Garden of Eden, life was wonderful for the two people who made up the entire population of the earth. Adam and Eve enjoyed every good thing in abundance. Being made in the image of God, they were intelligent, strong, and thoroughly capable of subduing the earth as God had commanded them.
Had Adam and Eve retained their original state, they never would have died. But Eve and then Adam yielded to the serpents temptation, and death came into the world. Before that moment, they were in a beautiful, pristine state. They existed on a level far above the present condition of the human race. It is difficult to imagine what man was like then by viewing him as he is now. It would require something like trying to reconstruct the original version of an aircraft from its wreckage. If we knew nothing of flying, we would hardly suspect that it had once soared above the earth. The material would be the same, the capability of flight, however, would be lost.
The Fall of man had a similar devastating effect. We have today only shattered images of the beings we were before the Fall. And as it is with man, so it is with society. Todays world is filled with violence, turmoil, and degenerationevidence of mans fallen condition. For a glimpse into the evil nature of mankind, we need only read the daily newspaper. As in the days of Noah, our world is full of people whose every imagination of the heart is only evil continually.
But is the darkness unbroken? Are there no circles of light in the otherwise black landscape? Happily, the answer to these questions is encouraging. In this world of evil, there are still glimmers, gleams, and sometimes beacons of marvelous light. Despite the darkness they shine, furnishing illumination and direction to many.
What are these lights in the world? They are ChristiansChristians who have started with faith and added virtue, knowledge, and self-control. They are those who patiently labor as imitators of the King, who rules the kingdom of light. They are those who now add to their spiritual credentials the imperative of godliness.
What is godliness? It is perfecting holiness in the fear of God. It is the call to be like God. It is to endeavor to resemble Him in speech, demeanor, appearance, conductall things. The word in Scripture is eusebeia, which means to be devout. It is a call to a life characterized by a godward attitude, a life that seeks to please Him.
There are two kinds of people in the worldthe godly and the ungodly. Each of us must aspire to the righteous, godly side of the ledger. Everyone who aspires to godliness must ask, What must I do to be godly? Notice the teaching of Scripture.
The godly man does not consort or counsel with sinners. A weak Christian will deface his testimony and ruin his reputation and spiritual effectiveness by imitating the wrong crowd and sitting in the seat of the scornful. By listening to the counsel of the ungodly he becomes a cynic rather than a pursuer of Gods will. The godly person brings forth fruit, and his activities prosper. The works of the ungodly will not stand on Judgment Day, and they will perish. Everything the sinner gains he will losehis possessions, reputation, and then life itself will be gone.
The call to godliness is the call to the only kind of success that matters. There is something worse than failure in this world. What is that? It is to succeed at something that doesnt matter. That characterizes the work of every person whose life is not committed to the will of Jesus Christ.
We can rejoice that in the pursuit of godliness, as with all things, we will have help from the Lord. God intends that every Christian become more like Jesus Christ. We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Having believed the Gospel, the Christian comes under the fashioning of the Lord Himself. God will use every circumstance, every association, every experience of life to bring His children to the point that they reflect His holiness. Tor resist this working of God is to bring ourselves to defeat. To cooperate with this working of God is the highest form of spiritual wisdom. Seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness is the wisest course we can take.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are involved in a great race that reaches through time into eternity. To win such a race, we will need strength and motivation. Where will we get these qualities? The scriptural answer is looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
The writer then says, For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds. You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin (Hebrews 12:3-4). To those who would tire in battle come the stinging words, You have not yet resisted unto blood. We have no right to complain, and it is too soon to quit anywhere short of death in the battle for righteousness.
An even stronger call to conform ourselves to Christ is given in the command Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). The mind of Christ is the gift given to every Christian and the call of conformity to that mind is extended to each of us. We should think each day about the program God has for us.
In every circumstance of life, one should ask, What is Gods plan in this? What is the spiritual principle behind this event? What new spiritual quality does God intend to develop in me through this circumstance? No event in life is without spiritual value to the person pursuing godliness.
A generation ago Charles Sheldon wrote a book entitled In His Steps. In this classic Christian work, Sheldon has each of his characters, when faced with a dilemma, ask, What would Jesus do? In the course of the book they face various questions of disharmony, dishonesty, and even disgrace. Their courses of action in light of their commitment to do what Jesus would do provides a fascinating outcome.
To do the will of God by the light that we have is the path to godliness. That lesson could be applied to each of our lives. Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ left us an example so that we could follow in His steps (John 13:15; I Peter 2:21). The Scriptures also tell us that we have the example of the prophets, the apostles, the angels, and, of course, the godly, consecrated, heroic believers whose lives are presented in the Word of God. In addition, we have the example of those who throughout the history of the Church have ministered with distinction in their service to God.
Each of us is an examplepositive or negativeto someone. How tragic that the life of any believer should become an illustration of spiritual failure. How beautiful when we can offer a godly example.
Knowing something of this dark and unfriendly world, we find a related question coming to mind. Why doesnt God intervene in history in a more direct and powerful way? Why doesnt He give us something more reliable than the fragile lives of believing Christians? Why does He appear to leave so much responsibility to us and our own devices? There are times when we would like to cry out, God, where are You? Where is God when the darkness threatens to smother us? Where is God, who could so easily deliver us?
Some believe that these questions themselves are evidence of insufferable faithlessness. God is right here, they say. He is at your beck and call. They tell us to claim the promises and command His response, then we will instantly and abundantly have whatever we need.
This doctrine is, of course, false. It should be rejected by all who have read the Word or even lived a bit of life. Anyone who has lost a child in an accident, seen a beloved wife endure cancer, failed to prevent a sons divorce, or watched a loved one die will reject the false teaching that promises Gods intervention in all situations.
If not by His personal intervention, how then does God work in the world? Let us not forget the personal intervention of Jesus Christ into history. Anyone who would argue that God has not done enough should take another look at Christs death on Calvary. In this one event, the love of God was demonstrated irrefutably and forever. The argument that God does not care is forever proved false. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the evidence on which God rests His case. He is the loving Intervenor in human history. In dying for us Christ worked the great external work. He died in space and time, in flesh and blood, for all the world to see and believe. He arose and declared Himself alive by many infallible proofs and before many witnesses. This is the message He has sent to the world.
How then does He plan to give that message? He does it by calling godly witnessesnot magicians. A magician is one who creates illusions. Spiritual magicians pervert the Gospel with their fanciful illusions. Seldom in Christian history have so many foolishly paid so much for so little. The Lords program is different. He calls witnesses whose testimony is verified by godliness. These witnesses know the blessing of sins forgiven; they have believed in the Christ of Calvary. We must recognize that God, having spoken through His Son and His written Word, is now silent as to new, verbal revelation. He has called others to speak for Him and has appointed them His ambassadors in this world. How do we know these witnesses to be true? The testimony is their godliness. They are like God. They become living Bibles for the world to read.
Anyone who believes that godliness is not essential to Christian living should take another look at the increasingly godless society in which we live. One of the strongest descriptions of the world in which we live is given in conjunction with the coming of Jesus Christ in judgment. Jude says, Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him (v. 14b15). The word ungodly is used four times in that single verse of Scripture. Can anyone doubt that this is the way God sees this world? Can anyone doubt that the godly life, lived in the midst of such ungodliness, will be set apart? Godliness is imperative to service for Christ. As we move toward the end of the age, this imperative may become the single most important credential of those taking the message of Christ to a darkening world.
Finally, who are these witnesses? They are you and I. You are my witnesses, said our Lord Jesus. This He said to His disciples and to each one of us. What credentials do we have? We are to have godliness! We are to be as much like Godlike our Lord Jesusas we can possibly be. The godliness Peter advocates is established only through steadfastness. The steadfast Christian will stay true to God, establish himself on the path to godliness, and be characterized by love.
There was a time when I sought to discover the qualities essential to godly living and to learn what I must do to achieve them. It soon became clear to me that these qualities are developed slowly and progressively. They do not appear suddenly but are acquired as we attempt to perform the will of God. Neither godliness nor any of the other virtues is achieved in an instant. They do not come about as a result of one traumatic experience. There is no breakthrough that takes us suddenly from a low to a high quality of living.
Yet Peter tells us, Add to your faith... godlinessand we know that it can be done. This is to be our great credential. Without this credential our words are empty. We must respond to this call. It promises great gain, both in this world and in the world to come.
Living for Eternity