What on earth is godliness? Is anyone interested in it any more? I have been studying 2 Peter 1 in preparation for teaching at Warrenville Bible Chapel this Sunday. Godliness is listed as a key step in achieving spiritual maturity. However, I don’t think many Christians in the West are very interested in being mature.
Christianity has not often been presented as a way to growth and when it has it has often been slammed. That Christians would claim that they have a path to better living would be elitist or hypocritical. It is elitist in our culture to claim any monopoly on truth and to be godly implies a better way of living than being ungodly. So in our ‘participation award’ culture, either everyone is godly or no-one is. When ‘godly’is equivalent to ‘good’ in the minds of many people, the current belief is that everyone is basically good. If everyone is good enough, why break your back trying to be better than anyone else? In this line of reasoning the foundation of the problem can be seen. We are, even in the church, ungodly in our approach. The emphasis in our reasoning is often focused on ourselves and others, but the reasoning of a biblical faith is focused on God. Godliness has two major facets. One facet is that a person who is godly sees that God permeates all reality and that all of life is subject to the pursuit of God. The second aspect is that when you live in the pursuit of God bad things don’t fit. You will become better and better as you pursue God.
An obvious example of this is in the 2016 Rio Olympics where two divers, David Boudia and Steele Johnson were asked how they maintained their composure. They said that they realised that their primary identity was in Christ and not in their achievement at the Olympics. This did not make them the best in the Olympics, they won silver, but it did make them better versions of themselves. In being the best versions of themselves, they became better divers than most other divers in the world.
The hypocrisy in the church is well documented. Pastors too often fall from grace, having an affair with the secretary or running off with the funds. Those who demand others cease sinning are often found to be malicious gossips or self-righteous bigots. So when they might talk about godliness the perception is that they are pronouncing judgment from on high about what their self-righteousness affirms in them and sees as lacking in everyone else.
Another point is that godliness is not really an issue for atheists. Atheists believe there is no God and so they have no reason to orient their lives toward him (it is ironic that many orient their lives against Him – that would seem like me orienting my life against Big Foot which might be a waste of time). Agnostics don’t really care. However, it is Christians and Jewish people in the Bible who are warned against ungodliness and encouraged to cultivate godliness. So, while we know that most of the world continues in ungodly living, we must ask how the church is in danger of being ungodly.
Ungodliness is not just the condition of being antagonistic of God, it also describes the mind that forgets God. When we acknowledge this we see that we have far to travel. I know that I am mindless of God, but through apathy, rebellion, pleasure seeking, and forgetfulness my mind often wanders far from God. I don’t believe I am worse than most people in this area, but most people are so consumed with achievement, a fast paced life, their own worries, and protecting their frail egos that they miss experiencing God. We sell a version of the faith that gives salvation from hell, but we don’t call people to a life filled with God. Subsequently people have a diminished view of what God requires of them because they are afraid of linking works with salvation. Our watered-down gospel makes a sinful Christian life too much the norm. By sinful, I mean that it falls short of the glorious existence for which God set us apart.
The greatest maturity often requires the greatest hardship or sacrifice. Many people do not attain much godliness because they choose ease and comfort. The easiest path does not require growth or adaptation, but it doesn’t lead to such great victory, either. In fact, those who choose the easiest path often sneer at those who choose a path that is anything but easy. Part of ungodliness in the church is an attitude that those who have joy in spite of their circumstances, or who communicate God’s goodness in trials are Pollyannas. A surer grasp on reality, it would seem, only finds ecstasy in entertainment or coffee shop conversations. So, our churches entertain more, chatter more, and stand in awe of God less. We seek not so much to understand but to be understood. We seek to receive. We seek to grow solely by looking to ourselves and then we find that we aren’t up for much. Then we form a group and affirm ourselves despite what little we have.
Godliness calls us into ministries that are beyond us. Godliness calls us off of the highway and along winding roads. It is like the drive Kelli and I had through the Rockies in order to get back to Denver from Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. We drove directly from Keystone on Highway 6 over the Loveland Pass. As we drove there were a surprising number of trucks on the highway, making their way over the 11, 990 ft pass. Truckers might grumble that this route is harder than traveling on I-70, but I-70 goes through a long tunnel at Loveland and The Colorado Department of Transport has said that a truck carrying hazardous waste, having an accident in the tunnel, would cripple the economy. I am not sure if the truckers appreciate the privilege of making a sacrifice for the Colorado economy. I hope though, that they are not too busy grumbling to miss the views.
God requires more from some than others. The reward is that he gives us more of himself and builds us up. We may feel like God has directed us up over a mountain pass carrying a heavy load. However, if we take the focus off of ourselves we will see the beauty more clearly of what God is doing through and around us. That is the road to godliness.