Three ways we misunderstand godliness.

Godliness, Sanctification, Sin

Our culture has a twisted view of godliness. Most people view it as an antiquated concept that has more to do with keeping your room tidy than it does the condition of your heart. The world tells us to resist and suppress conviction as we whole-heartedly pursue every desire of our flesh. Even Christians can be reluctant to embrace godliness, as it can seem like a dull, grace-less practice. But what does the Bible have to say about godliness? Paul writes about godliness in many of his epistles, including his letter to Titus.

In Titus 1:1-4, we read:

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,

in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

Verse one tells us that Paul was made a servant of the gospel for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness. 

Before we break down the meaning of the verse, let’s dive into a couple of Greek words:

The word for knowledge used in the verse is epignōsis — the most intimate word for “knowledge” in Greek, describing truly, completely knowing and understanding something or someone.

The word for truth in Greek is alētheia — the very same word used in John 14:6, in which Jesus tells us that He is the way, truth, and life. It’s non-negotiable, always and forever truth.

So, Paul is telling Titus in this introductory verse that godliness accords with knowledge of the truth, which is a knowledge of Jesus Himself. What does this mean? Let’s flesh it out by taking a look at a few of the ways that men and women misunderstand godliness and corrupt it in their misguided pursuit.

  1. Some people pursue godliness for the wrong reasons.

Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:3-6:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived ofthe truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain,

These people teach false doctrine, crave controversy, and imagine that godliness is a means of gain. People who misunderstand the purpose of godliness are prone to use it for their own gain and glory. They think that pursuing God is all about their own success and comfort. They stir up drama within the church and think that their teaching is always right. Their desires are not healthy, but lead to pain and death within the Body. Godliness is not something that we are to use for our selves, but something that God uses to sow unity in the Body of Christ and to witness to His free gift of eternal life to the world. In verse 6, we see that godliness with contentment is great gain. As believers are satisfied completely in Christ, they tell the Church and the world of God’s amazing, redeeming love. The content believer does not strive for personal gain, but uses his or her godliness as a tool to witness about Christ. Godliness acknowledges that God has given is all we need, so we can add to it contentment, no matter our circumstances.

2. Some people fake godliness.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes again about godliness in 2 Timothy 3:2-5, describing the men and women of the last days before Christ’s return:

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

These words convict me as I read them — am I practicing any of the traits of the people that Paul advises Timothy to avoid? These people have the appearance of godliness, but they deny its power. Their lives are full of written fruit, and yet they claim to be healthy, fruitful trees (Matthew 7:15-20). Everyone is being sanctified by the Lord, and no one will be without their sinful nature this side of heaven, but we are called to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). We are not to let sin ran rampant in our hearts and lives while we fight to preserve an air of godliness. We’re instead to humbly submit to God and His Spirit within us, repenting of sin (1 Timothy 6:11). The people who fake godliness have a small view of God, “denying [His] power.” In 2 Peter 1:3, Peter writes:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,

Peter extolls God’s mighty power, which has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness. Peter understood how large and mighty God’s power is, and because of it he trusts that God provides everything that we could need in this life and in our pursuit of godliness. Peter is not filled with self-righteousness or pride, claiming that he has already achieved perfection, but his large view of both God’s holiness and power give him faith that the Lord will provide all he needs in order to be fully sanctified. If you are filled with pride or “faking” godliness while your heart is filled with sin, pray to the Lord that He will expand your view of Him and your understanding of your need for His power.

3. Lastly, people are prone to give up on godliness.

In Matthew 13, Jesus explains the parable of the sower to his disciples. Verses 20-22 describe some of the reasons why people are prone to give up on godliness:

20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

Not everyone who initially responds to the gospel will continue in the faith. Tribulation, persecution, the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches can all discourage the roots of the gospel to take seed in hearts and lead to fruitless crops. But we don’t have to end like this. Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:10-12a about the way that believers are to wait for God to return:

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,

As we wait for Christ’s return and justice to be brought to the earth, we are to run hard and fast after holiness and godliness. We need to remember that God is faithful to fulfill His promises, and He has promised us that Christ will soon return. Peter believed that He could take God’s word as true, and it enabled him to pursue godliness as he waited for Christ’s return. The Promiser remains as faithful as ever, and we too can be people of holiness and godliness as we wait for the Kingdom to be fully realized with Christ’s return.

Remember Titus 1:1, in which Paul equated godliness with a knowledge of the truth?

1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,

Godliness is living obediently in light of the reality of who God is. Good doctrine is foundational to understanding who God is. You cannot pursue godliness successfully without a proper understanding of God’s character and nature. As we begin to love and serve the Lord in the reality of who He is, however, His mighty power enables us to live godly lives that glorify Him. Pray for Him to continue to correct and guide your doctrine so that it is in submission with His Word. Keep seeking our faithful Father and Master as you pursue to live a life that reflects His holiness to the world, and remember the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 4:7-8:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

Be blessed!


Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash