In the United States physical fitness has become, according to the heading of one magazine article, “a national obsession.” That particular piece, which was published in the June 16, 1986 edition of Time was subtitled, “The U.S. Turns On to Exercise.” It began with these words:
At the dawning there were isolated stragglers, determinedly circling suburban high school tracks or pacing through city parks. Most Americans did not suppose that these were the harbingers of a U.S. craze. But by the end of the 70’s joggers were everywhere, all seemingly training for the marathon.
According to that article, the United States fields at least somewhere between 10-12 million dedicated runners. And, speaking of marathons, it is now estimated that more than one million Americans have raced the Greek-inspired 26-mile, 385-yard race since the running craze began in this country three and a half decades ago.
I would guess that not everyone reading this article is into running. (I prefer a less strenuous sport, i.e., fishing). However, many Americans have plunged into other alternative activities—and with just as much fervor. Swimmers boast of laps completed; cyclists boast of kilometers toured; and weight lifters boast of pounds pressed. (Anglers like me, on the other hand, like to talk about “the one that got away.”) The Time magazine article concluded with these words, “Today Americans live in a land where (fitness) is proper, i.e., it’s okay to strut your sweat!”
When I read that, I could not help but think of 1 Tim 4:7, where Paul wrote to his young protégé, “exercise yourself toward godliness.” He elaborated further, “for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8, HCSB).
What could possibly be of more value to an individual than their physical fitness? Their spiritual fitness, or godliness.
I believe Peter would agree. I say that because that very same word, godliness, is found in the midst of a group of verses in 2 Pet 1:2-11, that we are using as the basis for this series of articles titled “Christians Under Construction.” When we began we explained that the Bible makes it clear that there is a sense in which every believer is a builder. Each one is constructing a spiritual “house,” if you please. According to Peter, we are building into our lives a super-structure of Christ-like character that rests on the solid footing of faith in Jesus Christ.
Verses 5-7 of 2 Peter 1 are essentially a Divine blueprint that identifies and specifies seven building blocks that are to be used in the framing and fashioning of Christians in and under construction. Thus far we have described four of the seven: virtue, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance. In this article we will examine the fifth building block of godliness.
Perhaps the best way for us to begin is to define the term. The Greek word Peter used is eusebeia. The prefix –eu means good, as in our English words eulogy (literally, a “good word”), and euphoria, (literally, a “good buoyancy”).
The second part of the word is the Greek root –seb. It originally meant to step back from someone or something; to maintain a distance—usually out of a sense of awe and/or fear, as one might approach, for example, that which is holy and sublime. Eventually the word eusebeia came to mean “good respect” or “well devout.” It is often defined as “reverential awe.” For example, Prov 1:7 begins, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”
When this verse was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the word that was used for fear was the Greek term eusebeia. That is because the fear that is referred to in this text can best be defined as “reverential awe.” Since our God is an awesome God—that is, because He is holy and sublime—there is a sense in which I feel I must keep my distance from Him as I stand in awe of Him. I must maintain a healthy respect for Him. I dare not minimize and trivialize my relationship with Him. He is not my “buddy buddy.” He is the creator and sovereign ruler of this universe, and I must revere Him, which should result in my obedience to Him. These are the implications of eusebeia.
This word emphasizes the kind of life one should live as the result of a profound respect for God. In short, eusebeia is a call to be like God. In 1 Tim 3:16, Paul quoted an ancient creedal hymn:
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.
The song obviously refers to Jesus, who is described as “the mystery of godliness.” Concerning Him the prophet Isaiah wrote, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear [eusebeia, LXX] of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2, emphasis added).
There is a sense in which Jesus, who is the mystery of godliness is also the epitome of godliness. That is true because Jesus is God. He came to make God known to us (John 1:14-18). A godlier person you cannot find.
Furthermore, He is not just a godly master, but He is also a godly mentor and a godly model. Therefore, if you and I would be godly, then we most certainly should follow His example, because to be Christ-like is to be God-like. That is why Paul admonished the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Godliness is essentially knowing the mind of Christ so that one might live a life like Christ. It is to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” And then, to do it!
In his book The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges defines godliness as “that devotion to God (which includes the fear of God, love of God, and the desire for God) which results in a life that is pleasing to God.” He goes on to explain that godliness is “taking on God’s character” and fleshing it out in the “totality of life” (pp. 18-20). It is becoming so much like Jesus that someone might mistake you for the Lord.
Our definition of godliness begs the question, “How can godliness be obtained?”
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul instructed his young son in the faith, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Tim 2:1-2).
Later in that same letter he goes on to say, “But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness” (1 Tim 4:7).
Two chapters later he adds, “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11).
Obviously, there can be no doubt that godliness is required of us. But why?
Here are two reasons.
The first is simply because we belong to Him. Paul explained it like this in his letter to Titus,
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14, emphasis added).
Godliness is required of us simply because those of us who believe in Him belong to Him. We are “His own special people” and He wants us to behave like Him. As Paul explained,
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
Because we belong to God, we honor Him by being like Him. It has been said that “imitation is the highest form of flattery.” That may be true. But imitation may also be the highest form of honor. We honor Him by being like Him.
Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear that if we want to act like God, then we need to learn to think like God.
For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col 1:9-10).
We discredit and disgrace His Name by ungodly living. To live our lives in a godly way is to “walk worthy of the Lord.” A second reason godliness is required of us is because He is coming soon! Based on that truth Paul exhorted Titus to:
speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine…For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:1, 11-13).
He is coming again and He is coming soon! Peter says virtually the same thing in 2 Peter 3:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? (2 Pet 3:10-12, emphasis added).
Likewise, Paul wrote in Romans 13:
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy” (Rom 13:11-13).
Revelry, drunkenness, lewdness, lust, strife and envy—a grocery list of the rotten fruit of ungodliness. But then Paul added by way of contrast in the very next verse, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom 13:14). In other words, be godly.
Godliness is required of us 1) because we belong to Him, and 2) because He is coming soon. When we are summoned to the heavenly royal dais known as the Judgment Seat of Christ, He will reward every believer for what they have done. Furthermore, the Bible says that we shall become like Him. For example, Paul wrote that when He comes He will “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Phil 3:21). Therefore, John concludes that “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). That is godliness!
How Godliness Is Acquired
But how is godliness actually acquired by us? For the most part, slowly and gradually. Growth demands both a degree of human responsibility, as well as a measure of Divine sovereignty.
Second Peter 1:5 begins with these words, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith…godliness.”
Our human responsibility is to make every effort to become godly people. That is what Paul illustrated in 1 Corinthians 9, “All athletes are disciplined in their training” (1 Cor 9:25 NLT). So is everyone who would be known for godliness. Paul explained it like this, “But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Tim 4:7-8, emphasis added).
“Exercise yourself toward godliness.” The word that the apostle Paul used that is translated “exercise” is the word gumnazo, from which we derive the English word “gymnasium.” Because so much attention was placed on human prowess and strength, nearly every town in the first century world had a gymnasium where young men spent hours training for competition. Paul acknowledged the value of physical fitness, while at the same time prodding all believers then (and now) to a far more valuable disciplined regimen of training for spiritual fitness.
What would such a training program involve?
I believe that Biblically it has both a negative and positive aspect to it.
First, we might identify the negative aspect by the slogan, “Just say ‘No’!” For example, consider the “exercises” that Paul prescribed for Titus: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). This training program for godliness involves learning to just say “no!” to ungodliness. For example, when you are tempted…
• To gripe and groan over your lot in life—just say “No!”
• To use profanity or indulge in sexual immorality—just say “No!”
• To criticize and/or ostracize another brother or sister in Christ—just say “No!”
• To give someone a piece of your mind you cannot afford to lose—just say “No!”
• To be indifferent and negligent in your walk with Christ—just say “No!”
• To be spiritually lazy and slovenly in your work for Christ—just say “No!”
• To become half-hearted and distracted in your worship of Christ—just say “No!”
• To sin in any way, shape or form—just say “No!”
If you are serious about training yourself to be godly, then there will be times when you will need to learn to just say “No!”
Second, we might identify the positive aspect by the slogan “Just say, ‘Yes’!” Consider these opening verses of Ps 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly [just say “No!”], nor stands in the path of sinners [just say “No!”], nor sits in the seat of the scornful [just say “No!”]; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night [just say “Yes!”].
In other words, when the Spirit of God prompt you…
• To read God’s Word—just say “Yes!”
• To kneel in prayer—just say “Yes!”
• To testify for Christ—just say “Yes!”
• To attend church—just say “Yes!”
• To use your spiritual gift(s)—just say “Yes!”
• To give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ Name—just say “Yes!”
• To say a kind word or perform a good deed because Jesus would—just say “Yes!”
• To love God with your whole heart, soul, strength and mind—just say “Yes!”
Blessings and Warnings
I have a word of blessing and one of warning with respect to godliness.
First, the blessing. The Bible says “now godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6). What gain is that? In 2 Pet 1:8, Peter writes that if we possess this quality in increasing measure, then we will be effective and productive for the Lord, here and now. That is gain! Furthermore, if we are effective and productive for the Lord here and now, then, as a result, we will receive a “rich welcome” (NIV) into the eternal kingdom.
Second, the warning. It comes from 2 Peter.
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Pet 3:1-5, emphasis added).
I need to warn you, first, that the world in which we live will become increasingly notorious not only for its moral decadence, but for its general ungodliness. And as a result, it will become increasingly intolerant of your personal godliness. When this happens, we need to remember this precious promise:
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified (1 Pet 4:12-14).
About three decades ago (during the 1980’s) when stair-climbing became the “craze” in America, Steve Silva, a PE instructor from Randolph, MA, decided to join the climbing generation. He shed 235 pounds in 9 1/2 months. How did he do it? He exercised. He ran 3100 flights of stairs (46,000 steps) a week. That was when he decided to attempt to break the record for the “vertical mile,” which had previously been set by Dale Neil at the Peachtree Plaza Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia in 1984.
Silva trained rigorously so that he might be able to run up and down the 1,652 steps of the Eiffel Tower 7 ½ times in less than two hours, one minute and 54 seconds, just shy of the record for a vertical mile.
When I first read about this race I could not help but think of another upward race—the one to which Paul referred when he wrote in Phil 3:13-14, “…but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
As the old gospel song says,
I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights I’m gaining day by day, still praying as I’m homeward bound, Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.