By Pastor Glenn Pease
Feodore Dostoevski in The Brothers Karamazov brings Christ back to earth in imagination to a 16th century setting in Spain. It was during the terrible Inquisition when so-called heretics were being burned at the stake in great number. Jesus began at once to heal the sick, make the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to rise. When the Cardinal of Seville, the Grand Inquisitor, entered the square in front of the Cathedral he observed what Jesus was doing, and ordered Him arrested.
That night the Grand Inquisitor came to see Jesus in prison, and warned Him that if He did not cease to hinder the work of the church He would be burned at the stake. "The masses," he said, "want bread and not freedom. Why have you come to disturb them?" Jesus did not answer, but approached the old man in silence and kissed him, and that was His only answer. The old man shuddered, went to the door, opened it, and said, "Go and come no more, come not at all, never, never." He let him out into a dark alley and the prisoner went away.
The story could be repeated in a thousand ways in every age, and it would always be the same, for Jesus is always the same, and people and society are always the same. That is why Hunter Blakely wrote, "Jesus Christ is life's Great Disturber. He is the most revolutionary character whoever set foot upon this planet. He disturbs everything everywhere. There is no area of life which he does not enter. He came into a world where men were nowhere in complete accord with the will of God, and until God's will is done on earth as completely as it is done in heaven, Christ will always be the Great Disturber."
Jesus would not fare any better in the 20th century than He did in the first. His godliness would again bring upon Him the wrath of man. Godliness is too disturbing to man. They must either destroy it, or conform to it. What is it? According to the Interpreter's Bible, "...it is strong awareness of the God-relatedness of all life. It is that attitude which sees all things in their relation to God." The Greeks used the word to refer to reference for, and loyalty to God. In the New Testament it is basically an absolute loyalty and devotion to God. This is a quality to life that leads us to great favor with God, but great disfavor with society in general.
The greater ones godliness, the greater the chance of ending up on a cross. This is why Jesus would be crucified in every age. He would refuse to conform to any part of the sinful systems of men. He would denounce all prejudice, and refuse to accept rationalizing cooperation with any form of evil. He would not respect our social, educational, and racial walls. He would trample them under His feet, and stir up a storm of opposition. He would refuse to limit His followers to any denomination, and so He would be despised by many in the church as well as those in the world. Jesus was, is, and every shall be to the end of the world, the great disturber of men.
Jesus could have exhibited all of the virtues that we read of in Peter's list and been well received. All men admire a bold man; a man of keen intellect, and abundant knowledge. All people recognize the value of self-control, and patient endurance. In the abstract these are acceptable to all and universally honorable. The problem comes when all of these virtues are directed toward a definite objective. If is to be a great soldier, sportsman, musician, or business man, you will have your envious enemies, but the majority will applaud. However, if you use all of these virtues to do the will of God, you run into a wall of majority opposition. The ungodly consider it a crime, and waste of life and talent. The superficially godly are put to shame by superior devotion, and they demand a return to mediocrity so that they are not disturbed.
If Jesus had not insisted on being so God-centered and God-controlled, He could have easily worked out a program of peaceful coexistence with the Pharisees, but He was determined to make godliness primary, and that led to the cross. This says something about where we have arrived in this list of essential spiritual weapons for the battle of life. It says we have reached a new plateau of spiritual experience when we add godliness to our equipment. All the others are used by wise pagans, and servants of the devil. There can be no doubt that Satan himself has a good measure of boldness, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance. But with godliness we come to a great divide which separates the heroes of Satan and the heroes of God. Godliness followed by brotherly love and love lifts us into the unique realm of Christian virtues which cannot be matched by the natural man.
The fact that godliness is a virtue that is to be added to the Christian life indicates that it is possible to be saved and still not possess godliness. Non-Christians cannot have it, but Christians even may not have it. This simply means that one can be saved by faith in Christ, and not go on to become totally God-centered and God-controlled. This ought not to be surprising since it is true in each of our lives. We know that we are far from absolute loyalty to God and His will. If we are honest, we know selfish motives and other values beside the will of God determine our attitudes and conduct. Godliness is not only a great divide between the Christian and non-Christian, it also is the point at which there is a great separation between the mature and the average Christian. Godliness is a virtue so seldom thought of that I doubt if one in a hundred, or possibly even a thousand, could say they have ever heard a sermon on it,
There is very little literature on the subject even though it is frequently dealt with in the New Testament. Paul uses the term most frequently. He begins the letter to Titus with these words-"Paul a servant of God and an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness." One of Paul's purposes in life was to aid Christians in growing in the knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness. The godly man is a man who knows the truth of God. Is a man whose theology is based solidly on the Word of God. Ignorance is hindrance to godliness. To add godliness to our lives we must be students of Scripture. No person can be god-centered who does not know the truth of God and the will of God. No matter how zealous one is for some truth, and no matter how he defends it with great boldness, and even dies for it, if it is not God's truth he is defending, the man has no more godliness than Satan. Godliness is totally dependent upon truth, and specifically the truth of God's revelation.
This is the foundation of godliness, but it is not the whole of it. Most New Testament references to godliness indicate it is a way of life, which includes both attitudes and actions. Let us not be so unwise as to think we can divorce the theoretical and the practical aspects of godliness. You are not likely to fall in love by reading books on courtship and marriage, for love is a personal involvement with another person, and not a matter of ideas. But one can get more out of the experience of love, and put more into it, if he has read on the subject, and knows truth relating to the experience and practice of love. So it is with godliness.
Knowledge of the Bible and God's nature are not in themselves godliness, but one can never truly be godly apart from this knowledge. If a person happens to do the right thing, but not because he knows it is pleasing to God, but simply because it seems like the best thing to do for his own welfare, he is not being godly. Godly living is that activity of the Christian which is done in direct and conscious obedience to the known will of God.
Later in this letter in 3:11 Peter, after describing the destruction of the physical world, says, "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,..." Here godliness is connected with one's manner of life. Godliness is a term referring to the whole context of one's relationship to God in mind, soul, and body. To be godly is to obey the two great commandments which sum up the whole of the law and prophets. It is to love God with your whole being, and your neighbor as your self. Godliness is that virtue that leads us to more than temporal victories, but to eternal victories. Paul writes to Timothy in I Tim. 4:7-8, "Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness, for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise of the present life, and also of the life to come."
The training in godliness includes every conceivable subject in its relationship to God. All virtues, duties, truth, and all conduct come under the subject of godliness. That is probably why it is so seldom treated, for it is so broad a subject that it is difficult to narrow it down so that you can concentrate on it, and know precisely what you are aiming at. If there is one word that can help us grasp the whole of this virtue, it is reverence. Reverence is that attitude and pattern of life which exhibits profound respect for God mingled with love and awe. The difference between the strong mature Christian and the weak Christian is the difference in the degree of reverence. Reverence means depth and strength. Irreverence means superficiality and weakness.
Thomas Carlyle said, "A man is never so noble as when he is reverent." If the church of today is weak, and often anything but noble and heroic, it is because of the obvious lack of reverence Christians have for God, His Word, and His purpose for men. Describing the scenes of a church conference George Redding said, "Church leaders milled in and out through the audience during speeches and prayers with as much reverence as that displayed by a group of politicians at a fish fry." Be still that I am God is God's advice to those who would know an experience depth in reverence and godliness, but like much advice, it is ignored. We American Christians are so influenced by the fast pace of life, and the noisy hustle and bustle of our society that we don't know how to be still and reverent.
The result of our lack of deep respect for the things of God is that the world has no deep respect for us and our message. Christians are not persecuted in our society, but are ignored as having little or nothing of relevance to offer. Christians know that their superficial allegiance to the truth of God does very little to meet the needs of today. They experience the lack of power that comes with half-hearted loyalty, and they get discouraged with Christians themselves. They either fall away from the church and become indifferent, or they develop a surface type religion that is basically mere words. These latter Christians not only make themselves immune to the deeper life, but they prevent others from finding it. Rupert Brooke expressed it in a poetic picture.
Safe in the magic of my woods
I lay and watched the dying light
Faint in the pale high solitude's,
And washed with rain and veiled by night,
And I knew
That this was the hour of knowing....
And suddenly there was an uproar in my woods,
The noise of a fool in mock distress,
Crashing and laughing and blindly going.
Of ignorant feet and swishing dress,
And a voice profaning the solitudes.
The spell was broken, the key denied me,
And at length your flat clear voice beside me
Mouthed cheerful clear flat platitudes.
In plain prose, the man who tries to be deep and reverent in his search for the presence, power, and truth of God is constantly being interrupted and distracted by the superficial saint who solves everything with a cliche, or a verse he has memorized, but has never deeply meditated upon or applied in life. So many Christians are like this, and they have no depth because they do not wrestle with every issue as to how it relates to God and His will. Godliness is what makes all of life revolve around God and His will. If we go through a week and never relate anything in life to God until we get to church on Sunday, we are not gifted with the virtue of godliness.
If you say that so and so is a godly person, you imply that the things of God play a primary role in their everyday life. They give evidence by their actions and life style that they put God, and the will of God, in a place of priority. Their resources are used to support the work of God; their time is used in the causes that please God, and their talents are dedicated to the glory of God. Eusebius, the third century church historian and theologian was named after the Greek word for godliness, which is eusebeia. He defined it as, "Looking up to the one.. God, and life appropriate to Him." He captured the two basic element of attitude and action. May God help us all to be more conscious of our need to daily add to our lives the virtue of godliness.