Over the past year there appears to be a resurgence among Pastors-Theologians with discussions about godliness and personal holiness.  I am grateful for these discussions as it appears that a large segment of Christianity today ignores any call to personal holiness.  Some oppose this topic, as if it is opposed to grace, labeling it moralism or legalism.  But these conversations are desperately needed to shed light onto a topic that pursuing godliness and personal holiness are not in opposition to the Gospel.  Grace is what sets in motion one’s ability to live a godly life!

 

Godliness comes from the Greek word εὐσέβεια/eusebeia that can has a sense of piety, or religious devotion to God, while holiness comes from the Greek word ἁγιασμός/hagiasmos that has a sense of sanctification.[1]  Therefore, to pursue godliness reflects an effort of a follower of Jesus Christ to be, well, a follower of Jesus Christ striving to observe all that the Lord taught (Mt 28:18-20).  Sanctification, on the other hand, is the supernatural work of God, coupled with His Word, transforming the believer more into the image of His Son (Jn 17:17; Rom 8:29).  The supernatural work of God does not stop at conversion, but continues to change a believer throughout their life as they grow spiritually from little children, to young men, to fathers (1 Jn 2:12-14).  Sanctification and godliness move along in the same stream of Scripture.  Trying to divide the two is like trying to divide imperative statements (what we do in Christ) from the indicative statements (who we are in Christ).[2]  The more one learns about the Lord through His teachings, the more one should love the Lord.  And the more one loves the Lord, the more one desires to follow His teachings.

 

The problem that all of us face is that we are not born godly or holy.  We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23) with Scripture describing man as the sons of disobedience, the children of wrath (Eph 2:2-3).  Our fallen and natural state does not comprehend Christian godliness, or even the spiritual things of the Lord (1 Cor 2:14).  Therefore, every one of us are desperately in need of the spiritual rebirth that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about (Jn 3:3).  And that spiritual rebirth can only be brought through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.  Without being born again one’s life does not take on any different and new qualities.  One might grow in wisdom, or even become more humble over time, but this is not an indication of salvation and walking in the newness of life (Rom 6:4; 8:4).  This newness of life is brought about through the work of the Holy Spirit who is now abiding in every believer.  The work of sanctification, positional and progressive (Rom 5:1; Jn 17:17; 1 Thes 4:3; 2 Thes 2:13), is of God alone and continues throughout a believer’s life until glorification (1 Cor 15:52-53). Without the abiding Spirit of Jesus Christ and His power in our life, no one would pursue godliness or experience the work of sanctification.

 

Godliness and sanctification has nothing to do with one’s former life, since one is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1), but from the renewed life that one now has in Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear in Titus 3:3 that, “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (ESV).  Yet, continuing in Titus 3 verses 4 through 7 we learn a wonderful reality of one’s new position in Jesus Christ through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit.  There is a change supernaturally brought about by God.  Think about the Apostle Paul for a moment… missionary, church planter, and Pastor to Pastors, and he describes himself as once foolish, slave to various passions, and disobedient to the ways of God.  But through the Lord’s saving grace Paul’s identity, his character, his very nature as a person was changed.  While every Christian will not have a Damascus Road experience like the Apostle Paul, there should still be a change.  The regenerative work of God changes one’s identity, character, and their very nature.  They are no longer the children of wrath walking in darkness but the children of God.  Does this mean that a Christian will be sinless, perfect?  No.  Scripture is quite clear on that too, but that is another discussion.

 

Pursuing godliness should be a present reality for all Christians.  A brief summation of this biblical reality can be seen in just a few passages of Scripture that Christians are to renew their mind (Rom 12:1-2; Col 3:2), put away the things of their former life (Eph 5:15-21; Col 3:5-17), and walk according to the Spirit of God (Gal 5:16).  To follow Jesus, to be His disciple, means that we are to be focused on the things of Jesus in mind, body, and spirit.  Pursuing godliness is not because a Christian believes it will earn them favor before God, but because they are growing spiritually in Christ.  When one grows spiritually they will naturally pursue godliness as a child of God who is now walking and growing in the Spirit.  One cannot separate the two biblically.  Again, to separate the two presents a lopsided view of the Gospel that one can be positionally in Christ and yet continue to live for their own desires.  But caution is needed here too.  Just because one appears to be pursuing godliness does not necessarily reflect the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.  Pharisees were notorious in looking religious before others.

 

Yet, Scripture is clear that godliness can be pursued in this life (1 Tm 6:11) and that we can train ourselves for godliness (1 Tm 4:7).  This is not in opposition to grace.  This is because of grace!  And to anchor this point there is one more text that needs to be addressed.  This text comes from the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus as he addresses the topic of teaching sound doctrine.  It is an amazing reality when one thinks about it because through salvation the grace of God is now training us (Ti 2:11-12)!  The Spirit of the Lord, who has taken up residence inside us, is now training us to pursue self-controlled, upright, and godly (εὐσεβῶς/eusebos) lives in this present age (Ti 2:12-14)!  And when you connect this biblical truth with the fact that that Christians are not left as orphans, but have the promised Holy Spirit of God now abiding in and with us, there is a sudden realization of where our strength and our guidance to pursue godliness comes from!  Jesus!

 

To close this down, let us reflect upon the inspired words of the Apostle Peter who wrote, “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness…” (2 Pet 1:5-10).  And the Apostle Paul who wrote to the church in Colossae to, “set you minds on things that are above” (Col 3:2), “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” (Col 3:5), and “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col 3:12).  I could go on, but that is not the point here.  Scripture is very clear that all Christians, especially men called to the work of the Gospel ministry, should be actively pursuing godliness, empowered by and through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, in this present day.  As a Christian, as a minster of the Gospel, there should be no question as to whom you belong!

 

 

 

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), Logos.

 

[2] Heath Lambert, “Using The Epistles In The Personal Ministry Of The Word,” in Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word For Life In A Broken World, ed. Bob Kellemen and Jeff Forrey (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 372.

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