Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Today’s Topic: Godliness is an Attitude
Today’s Text: 2 Peter 1:6 …and to perseverance, [add] godliness…
Our first instinct when we read that we are to add godliness to perseverance is probably to think in terms of activity. That would be a mistake. The development of character in our lives is not first about deeds, but about the heart. Every action we take is only recognized by God as righteous if it originates in a heart that is righteous.
For many people, godliness means the external activity of good deeds. However, the Greek word used here and elsewhere in the New Testament means literally to have reverence and respect towards God. Godliness is not our activity towards others – it is our attitude towards God.
Jesus addressed this issue with the Pharisees. They had developed all sorts of rules to regulate human behavior so they would appear godly. Their focus was on the exterior. Jesus spoke specifically to them in Mark 7. Here’s the story:
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles. )So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Did you notice the word worship? Jesus said that the Pharisees were worshiping in vain. The word worship is the root word that becomes the word translated godliness in 2 Peter. Godliness is worship. Godliness is the attitude of the heart towards God. Godliness is not first an action, but first and foremost a condition of one’s heart toward God.
How quickly we fall into the trap of the Pharisees. We tend to move rather easily to the exterior appearance as our means of rating our godliness or the godliness of others. But the character of Jesus Christ is built first in the heart, not in the flesh. Worship of God always precedes activity for God. True worshipers worship in spirit and in truth, not in activity. Yet if the heart is right and godliness is the attitude of one’s heart, activity will follow. Lifestyles will change. Not to earn godliness, but as a product of it.
Having the proper attitude of reverence and respect for God has great value for every part of our lives. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul tells his young pastoral trainee to “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Then a little later he adds, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)
The focus of godliness must be on the person of Jesus Christ. Many religions and religious people claim that they can be godly simply by having the external appearance of righteousness and good deeds without a transformational experience with Jesus. But that notion is refute in 1 Timothy 3:16 which reads Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. It is only in relationship with Jesus Christ that true godliness can be experienced.
One more thing, godliness is not something we do for ourselves. It is not in our power to be godly. Our attempts at godliness have no power. Peter knew this from his own personal experiences. In Acts 3, Peter and the Apostle John have just told a crippled beggar to stand up and walk. Here’s what happens next – When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?
We do not have the power to become godly. Any godliness we think we have achieved is powerless. It is only through the indwelling power of the life of Jesus granted us through the Holy Spirit that we can produce any righteous activity. And that activity always – again I emphasize ALWAYS – originates in a heart that worships, reveres, and respects God in every area of life. That’s godliness.