Lead a Godly Life
Based on a sermon by Chia Ming
In the preceding article, we have read about the importance of
spiritual cultivation in our pursuit of spiritual maturity. This article takes it
one step further and discusses another aspect of spiritual maturity—godliness.
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)
Paul’s reminder to the young
Timothy is still relevant to us today. Most people recognize that physical
exercise is important to help us maintain good health. Relatively however, exercising
ourselves towards godliness is even more critical, because godliness not only benefits
us in this life, but also enables us to receive the promise of that which is to
come. It is thus necessary for us to understand what godliness entails and
learn how to lead godly lives.
defines “godliness” as “the quality of being devoutly religious; piety.” Clearly
then, “godliness” is only applicable in religious contexts, and not to humans
or human activities. For example, we may hold great respect for an elder in church or a public figure, but we are not godly towards them. In short, godliness
refers to a person’s attitude towards God.
Since God is the object of our
reverence, we should seek to understand how He wants us to demonstrate our
godliness. Most people associate God and the worship of God with the place
where they think God is found. Therefore, in every religion, adherents
regard their places of worship as the place to show their godliness or profound
reverence for God.
In the True Jesus Church, children
are taught not to run up and down the aisles or talk loudly during church
services. They are reminded that not treating the chapel as their playground is
one way of showing their reverence for God and courtesy to brethren who are
there to worship God.
While encouraging appropriate
behavior in church is correct, leading a godly life is more than just what we
do within the church building. The Bible urges us to lead a godly life that is
manifested both in and outside the church. In other words, while godliness is
defined as an attitude or behavior that is directed towards God, we obey God’s command
for godliness to characterize every single moment of our lives; we live such that
we are truly accountable to God in whatever
we do and say.
LEADING A GODLY LIFE
Directed Towards God, Demonstrated Amongst Man
The structure of the cross
provides a good framework for godliness. The vertical part reminds us that
godliness is directed towards God, and the horizontal part, that our reverence
for God should be translated into how we deal with people.
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit
orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the
world. (Jas 1:27)
Elder James teaches us how to be
truly reverent before God, the Father. Pure and undefiled religion should not
be limited to a feeling of reverence for or a fear of God. Instead, God wants
us to channel our reverence into practical application in our lives; our love
for God should motivate us to love man. Thus, true religion should be
demonstrated through visits to orphans and widows in their trouble; that is, helping
those who are helpless. Godliness must be linked to our way of life.
The Lord Jesus once referred to Himself
as the True Vine, and His disciples, the branches. In other words, once we are
connected to Christ, we are also linked to other brethren. We are all members
in and of that one body of Christ. Jesus Christ also reminds us that whatever
we do for our brethren is equivalent to doing it for Him. He said, “inasmuch as
you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Mt
25:40). The “least of them” could refer to the weakest, the youngest, or those
who are generally overlooked by others. Showing these people love through
concrete actions of assistance and concern is, in Jesus’ eyes, showing Him
Another way of showing reverence
to God is to co-exist peaceably and responsibly with others. One practical and
easy application of this is to be very careful about the way we interact and
But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give
account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified,
and by your words you will be condemned. (Mt 12:36–37)
The original Greek word for “idle”
is αργός (argos), which means “thoughtless, unprofitable or injurious.”
Simply put, if we have wronged others with our words, causing them to stumble,
we will have to account for these on Judgment Day.
Established on Fear,
Remembering That God Sees
The term for godliness in Chinese is敬虔
(jingqian). The first character 敬
(jing) connotes honor and respect as well as fear and reverence. Not only do we honor
our Creator, we must revere and fear Him, because He has the power to judge us.
Ironically, people in the world today are afraid of many things—robbers, murderers,
terrorists, the supernatural, etc.—but they are not afraid of God. Jesus
Himself reminds us not to fear those who can only kill the body but cannot kill
the soul. Instead, we should fear God in heaven who can either destroy both
body and soul in hell or deliver us unto eternal life (Mt 10:28).
For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret
thing, whether good or evil. (Eccl 12:14)
Our whole life is in the hands of
God. There is nothing we can hide from Him. Hence, fearing God should be the
core of our lives, because the fear of God ensures that our faith is rooted and
our lives upright. True godliness established on the fear of God means that we
walk in His ways all the time. Even without anyone observing us, we continue to
do the right thing, because we know that God is always there and He sees and
Joseph truly understood this. His life
story was fairly dramatic. Once the favored scion living in the comfort of home,
he was sold into slavery by his own envious brothers. Later, his good work
attitude and integrity earned him his master’s trust, but his good looks led to
his mistress’ attempted seduction of him. Not many virile and ambitious young men
could have withstood the daily ego-boosting invitation—“Lie with me.” But, out
of his fear for God, Joseph refused. He knew that even if there were no human
eye-witnesses, God could see. So his adamant answer to his master’s wife was,
“How can I do this kind of thing, this wicked thing and sin against God?” His
desire to do the right thing ended up with him being thrown into jail (Gen 39).
The Bible repeatedly declares that
God was with Joseph (Gen 39:2, 21, 23). Our general impression of a person
enjoying God’s abidance is someone enjoying a peaceful and comfortable life. In
contrast, Joseph’s circumstances fluctuated wildly. On all these occasions,
Joseph could have questioned, perhaps even doubted, God. He might have wondered
why his fear of God had not only not
safeguarded him, but worse, had caused him to run up against wall after wall. But
importantly, Joseph’s faith in and fear of God remained steadfast.
Such is true godliness. It stems
from a fear of an unchanging God. The truly godly person knows when no-one else
is looking, God is looking. And even though he is not immediately rewarded for
his godliness, he knows God is there and will not fail.
Many people can be godly before
others. However, the greatest temptations, those which will clearly reveal our
faith and godliness, are those that appear when no-one is around. During these
moments, do we still firmly believe and remember that God sees? If the fear of
God fills us, even when no one else sees, we can still reject evil.
Maintaining Sincerity, Avoiding Hypocrisy
The second character of the
Chinese term for godliness is虔 (qian),
which also means reverence or
sincerity. True godliness is manifested in honesty; the thoughts and actions of
a godly person are consistent with each other.
Jesus once told a parable of two
men, a Pharisee and a tax collector, and their contrasting prayers. When the
proud and haughty Pharisee prayed, he did not humble himself before the
almighty God. Instead, he boasted of his pious acts for God, listing his
fasting and tithing, while deriding the tax collector. In contrast, the tax
collector, head bowed in guilt, just beat his own chest, saying, “Lord have
mercy on me for I am a sinner.” Unfortunately for the Pharisee, Jesus saw right
through his hypocrisy, declaring that it would be the tax collector’s sincere prayer
that would be heeded by God (Lk 8:9–14).
The Pharisees were
widely-respected for their devotion to the Law, but Jesus stripped them of this
mask of superficial religious piety. He constantly and sternly urged the people
not to be like the hypocrites, the Pharisees:
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love
to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they
may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” (Mt 6:5–6)
These hypocrites are double-faced—what
they present to the world is different from what they truly are and truly think.
Their prayers are designed to elicit not the pleasure of God, but the praise of
man. This is why they choose to stand at prominent places like street corners—so
that people can both see and hear how “devout” they are. Such prayers are
meaningless and in vain before God, because they do not come from the heart.
God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth (Jn
In contrast to the public-praying
Pharisee, Cornelius—Roman centurion and the first Gentile convert to the
apostolic church—prayed at home (Acts 10:30). He did not have to list his own
virtues and good deeds. His sincerity and his quiet charity bore testimony to
his godliness (cf. Acts 10:2,4,22). His true piety was why God chose him and
Growing Strong and Deep Spiritual Roots
Roots, Not Just Fruits
In our life of faith, we are often
encouraged to bear fruits so that others can see these fruits and glorify God
(Mt 5:16). However, before we can bear good fruits, our tree must be a healthy
tree, and a tree can only be healthy if its roots are healthy. It is the roots that
link the tree to water and nutrients, enabling it to have life. Thus, godliness
is not just about bearing fruits for others to see; it also entails ensuring
that our roots—buried in the ground and invisible to others—are thriving.
One such unseen aspect of faith is
our personal relationship with God. We may appear to be very zealous in the
work of God but is our relationship with God thriving? Are our hearts truly
filled with God? Deceiving other people is not difficult. We constantly read of
people who have fallen victim to scams; some, even repeatedly. Man tends to be
misled by the superficial. However, God is never deceived, because He knows our
very heart. This is why we must guard our hearts above all things, because out
of it spring the issues of life (Prov 4:23). It is our
hearts that will determine our value in God’s eyes.
On one occasion, Jesus observed
people making their offerings. There were many wealthy people who offered much.
No-one there knew or cared about a poor widow who gave two mites. But to Jesus,
this poor widow had put in more than anyone else; others had given out of their
abundance, while she, out of her poverty, offered her whole livelihood. The
Lord saw her heart (Mk 12:41–44). To God, it is not the quantity, but the
quality that matters.
Spiritual Depth, Not Height
A godly life must be manifested
from within, from the roots. Outward godliness without constant inner renewal
and closeness to God is meaningless. Hence, a godly person focuses on depth—enhancing
his spiritual growth through spiritual nurture; he is not interested in
pursuing spiritual “heights”—that is, visible achievements such as status in
church, eloquence, or a large base of “disciples” (cf. 1 Cor 1:12; 3:4).
In terms of buildings, height
without depth leads to a very flimsy structure. Hence in Taiwan, a skyscraper must
be constructed according to certain norms in the ratio between its height and
the depth of its foundation to prevent it from toppling during an earthquake.
Similarly, people who only pursue spiritual highs may present a false
impression of godliness. When a tremor comes along to shake their faith, they topple
In addition, from the perspective
of the church, spiritual height will not necessarily edify the church. Worse, if
the church emphasizes visible achievements, her members may compare and compete.
And for church ministers, this is an important reminder that spiritual virtue
and leading a godly life are more important than gifts or eloquence (cf. 1 Cor
The rejection of Saul by God is a
case in point; illustrating the ironies of height and the pursuit of it. Saul
was literally a man of great height. He was the tallest and most handsome man
in Israel (1 Sam 9:2). Initially, he was humble and self-effacing (1 Sam 9:21).
But after he became king, he tried to look for ways to further elevate himself.
Saul’s jealousy was first roused when
the praise accorded to David was higher than that for him. Without much spiritual
depth, he did not seek to overcome his jealousy. Instead, he sought ways to
kill David. Worse, at the close of his life, he even turned to a spirit medium.
Finally, this king who tried so hard to raise himself up was beheaded after
death (1 Sam 31:9). Most tragically, the first man whom God raised to “save
[God’s] people from the hand of the Philistines” (1 Sam 9:16) did not
strengthen the kingdom of Israel during his reign, because his spirituality was
To reiterate, godliness is about
nurturing inner virtues, not displaying a pious facade. This is especially
challenging in contemporary society.
Firstly, our world today highly
esteems attractive packaging. Grooming and presentation courses, image consultants,
and so forth, abound so that people can present their best face—literally and
figuratively—to the world. So while we know a person’s looks well, we can never
know his or her heart.
Consider Judas Iscariot. The devil
picked him to betray Jesus because of Judas’ greed and hypocrisy. When Mary
anointed Jesus’ feet with spikenard oil and wiped them with her hair, Judas
immediately commented, “Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” At that moment, Judas would
have appeared most charitable and “godly.” But in reality, he did not care for
the poor, but “he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what
was put in it” (Jn 12:6).
Secondly, we live in a society
that constantly urges us to promote ourselves and trumpet our achievements. While
such strategies may be necessary to ensure that we get our due appreciation
from our bosses, or secure the job we want, it would be tragic if these become
part of church life. For example, a believer may ask esoteric questions about
the Bible, not because he genuinely has a heart to learn and to improve, but
just out of a desire to show that he is more knowledgeable or to contend with
the Bible study leader.
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words,
even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with
godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and
arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions,
useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and
destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From
such withdraw yourself.
(1 Tim 6:3–5)
EXERCISING UNTO GODLINESS
Godliness is not just a concept we
can think ourselves into having. As Apostle Paul said, we must exercise ourselves
unto godliness. Many would consider Paul the epitome of the strong or even
perfect Christian. Yet he says, “I discipline my body and bring it into
subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become
disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27).
It is a truism that we are our own
greatest enemy. Consider the warriors in the Bible. Samson was one, if not the,
most valiant. He killed a thousand Philistines with a single donkey jawbone. But
Samson was powerless over his own lust. In this context, Delilah was superior,
for she was able to twist him and his heart around her little finger. David defeated
Goliath but was himself defeated by his own lust. The moment he saw Bathsheba
bathing, he was lost. Indeed, from ancient times, mighty warriors have been
felled by their weak hearts.
To attain godliness, we must be
able to see our own weakness and to overcome it by God’s word. The word of God
should be directed at ourselves, not others. The standard God expects of us is
clearly set out in the Bible, showing us how much we have fallen short. Our
next step is then to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us
systematically overcome each flaw. It is human nature to hide behind the excuse
that these shortcomings are part of our personality, and that others should
just accept us as we are. We must be determined to clean up our hearts,
exercising ourselves towards godliness.
Putting all these together,
godliness refers to man’s deep respect and obedience to God. Such deep
reverence is meant only for God. However, God wants us to manifest this
godliness in our lives through word and deed. Showing love to not just those
whom we love, but for brethren whom others have forgotten, is tantamount to
doing it unto the Lord. To complement shining for the Lord, we must also tend
our spiritual roots. No-one will see us undertaking spiritual nurture in order
to improve our personal relationship with God. However, deep roots are critical
because they provide spiritual sustenance. May our Lord help us to do everything
from our hearts and to deepen our spiritual roots.
Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh,
not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity
of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and
not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the
inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.