When it comes to “godliness” most Christians come up short. Though the word “godly” is only mentioned about 25 times, the whole Bible is a book about godliness. Unfortunately, most evangelical commentators want to reduce its meaning to something like “devotion to God.” I believe its more like “Godlikeness.” For example, “friendliness” is more than a devotion to a friend. It’s being a friend. “Laziness” is not a devotion to something lazy. It’s being lazy. Both words describe a characteristic of life. It’s who they are not just what they do. In fact, they act a certain way out of who they are. Godliness is the characteristic of a person who is like God.
My journey towards godliness has been hindered by two mistaken beliefs:
- That will-power is enough. I had a college professor, 6 foot 6 inches with a resonating deep voice, who often repeated this phrase: “You are spiritually where you want to be.” He may have been taking about desire. But I interpreted his saying as emphasizing the will – “You are spiritually where you will to be.” So for years I tried to will myself to spiritual growth like The Little Engine That Could – “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”
- That ministry is the answer. I associated serving God with knowing God. Being active and serving is good. But it is no substitute for a vital, experiential relationship with God. In fact, it can be the factor that hinders the journey. Oswald Chambers (1874-1917), the popular devotional author writes, “We slander God by our very eagerness to work for Him without knowing Him. Our greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him.”
Acting on these beliefs only led me to frustration. I needed to learn to walk a journey of participation in the life of God in faith, grace, and…effort. This is the path to godliness.
Tom Landry, one of the best coaches football has ever seen, said, “The job of a football coach is to make men do what they don’t want to do in order to achieve what they’ve always wanted to be.” Something similar could be said about St. Paul’s instruction to “train yourself to godliness.” To become godly you need to engage in practices you may not want to do. But eventually, these practices become the enjoyable means to godliness.
Exercise is Necessary
The Church for centuries has encouraged its people to engage in ascetical practices that actually help them become more and more like God. These practices are not for the purpose of punishing the body. They are engaged for a couple reasons:
- To manage the fleshly passions, directing them to a positive end.
- To open the heart to know God and experience His life, love, and light.
It’s fascinating that many so-called Christians spend thousands of dollars and hours focused on their physical well-being while spending little or nothing on their spiritual well-being. These dear folks are barely Christians in the full sense of the word let alone walking the journey to be like God.
But this is not you. You’re reading this because something inside you desires to know God and become more like Him. You’re simply looking for good ways to have that happen. You recognize that physical exercise is good as far as it goes. But, exercising yourself to godliness is good for this life and all eternity. You know that you don’t drift into godliness. You know that you must do something about it in the grace of God.
Training is Good
The word translated “training” that St. Paul uses in 1 Timothy 4.7, is the word from which we get our word “gymnasium” – in modern usage, “gym.” “I’m going to the gym” usually means I’m going to work out, exercise, or engage in some activity that will benefit me physically. You know what a “gym” class at school means. Kids practice or play basketball or volleyball, train or wrestle in a gym. A gymnast works hard on various apparatus and floor exercises to hone his or her skills. Usually this “training” involves a coach, coaching, and a team that helps in the training.
Much effort goes into this physical training. Similarly, much effort needs to go into your spiritual training. Going to church, sitting in a pew, listening to sermons, and singing a few songs is not going to do it. Your church is not a gymnasium though it could be. You need to “exercise yourself for godliness” in ways that make all of life a gymnasium.
In my next post, I will present a few simple means you can practice to help you become more godly. These are ancient practices taught by the Church for hundreds of years. They are not your usual practices. But as the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.”
How are you doing on your journey towards godliness? Moving forward? Stuck? In the ditch? Lost? Enjoying the journey? Are you taking time to exercise along the way?