The practice of Godliness

by Jerry Bridges

TAKING ON GOD'S CHARACTER

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

Godliness consists of two distinct but complementary traits, and the person who wants to train himself to be godly must pursue both with equal vigor. The first trait is God-centeredness, which we call devotion to God; the second is God likeness, which we call Christian character. Godly character flows out of devotion to God and practically confirms the reality of that devotion.

We may express a reverence for God; we may lift our hearts in worship to him; but we demonstrate the genuineness of our devotion to God by our earnest desire and sincere effort to be like him. Paul not only wanted to know Christ, he wanted to be like him; and he pressed forward with utmost intensity toward that goal.

Now we turn our attention to God-likeness--the development of Godlike character.

What are the character traits that distinguish the godly person? A good place to start is with the list of gracious qualities, which Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit, in Galatians 5:22,23. It seems obvious, however, that Paul did not intend to limit the traits of the fruit of the Spirit to that particular list. Any other trait commended in Scripture as befitting a believer is also a fruit of the Spirit, since its evidence is a result only of the Spirit's ministry in our hearts. So, to the qualities listed in Galatians 5--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control--we can also add such traits as holiness, humility, compassion, forbearance, contentment, thankfulness, considerateness, sincerity, and perseverance.

This is a rather awesome list of character traits to pursue, and our first reaction, if we are realistic at all, is probably to say, "I can't work on all of these." That is indeed true,if we were left to our own devices. But these traits are the fruit of the Spirit, the result of his work within us. This does not mean we bear no responsibility for the development of Christian character, but rather that we fulfill our responsibility under his direction and by his enablement. It is this divine dimension that makes Christian character possible, and it is only this divine dimension that can keep us from becoming frustrated and defeated in our desire to exemplify godly character traits in our lives.

The right motive

The first principle of godly character is, devotion to God is the only acceptable motive for actions that are pleasing to God. This devotion may express itself in one of several different ways. We may have a sincere desire to please God or to glory him; we may do or not do a particular action because we love God, or because we sense that he is worthy of ourobedience. However our motivation expresses itself, if it is God-centered,it arises out of our devotion to God and is acceptable to him.

Unfortunately, too often our motives are self-centered rather than God-centered. We want to maintain our reputation before others, or we want to feel good about ourselves. Or we may even seek to live a decent and moral life or to do good deeds because such an ethic has been instilled in us from childhood. But that motivation is never related to God and thus is not acceptable to him.

When Joseph was enticed by Potiphar's wife, he did not refuse her on the basis, "If I did that and my master found out, he would have my head." No; he said, "How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9). His motivation for morality was centered in God, and because of that it was acceptable to God.

I recall once being tempted with the opportunity to engage in a questionable business transaction, one of those gray-area situations in which we tend to rationalize our actions. As I pondered the matter I thought, I better not; I might incur the discipline of God. Now when all proper motives fail, it is certainly better to be checked by the fear of God's discipline than to go ahead with our sin. But that is not the right motive. In this situation the Holy Spirit came to my aid and I thought to myself, Now that [the fear of God's discipline] is certainly an unworthy motive; the real reason why I should not do that is because God is worthy of my most honorable conduct. The Holy Spirit helped me to recognize the self centeredness of my initial motivation and to correctly focus my motivation on God.

When God commanded Abraham to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice, he tested hismotive. As he stayed Abraham's knife from the fatal plunge, God said, "Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son" (Genesis 22:12). It was Abraham's fear of God that motivated him to go forward with that supreme act of obedience. We usually associate Abraham's obedience with his faith. It was by faith that Abraham was enabled to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, but it was the fear of God that motivated him. And it was this Godward motivation that the Lord saw and accepted and commended.

As we look into the New Testament we see this Godward motivation emphasized again and again. Jesus taught that all the Law and the Prophets hang on the two commandments of love for God and love for our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). He was not teaching merely that these two commandments of love sum up all the other more specific commandments, but rather that all the other commandments depend upon the motivation of love for their fulfillment. The fear of consequences may keep us from committing the outward acts of murder or adultery, but only love will keep us from committing murder or adultery in our hearts.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul tells us that even our eating and drinking is to be done for the glory of God. As someone has observed, there is nothing more ordinary and routine than our eating and drinking; yet even this is to be done with a Godward motivation. Slaves were enjoined to obey their earthly masters out of "reverence for the Lord" (Colossians 3:22).

All of us are to submit ourselves to human authority "for the Lord's sake'' (1 Peter 2:13). And our interpersonal relationships--our mutual submission to one another--is to be done "out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21). All of our actions, to be acceptable to God, must be done out of a sense of devotion to God.

The source of power

The second principle of godly character is, the power or enablement for a godly life comes from the risen Christ. Paul said in relation to his ministry, "our competence comes from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5), and, "I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me" (Colossians 1:29). He said of his ability to be content in any situation, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

It is very likely that God, in his sovereign calling and preparation of Paul for his tremendous task, had endowed him with more noble qualities and strength of character than any person since; yet Paul consistently attributes his spiritual strength and accomplishments to the Lord's power. I once heard some-one say, "When I do something wrong, I have to take the blame, but when I do something right, God gets the credit."

This person was complaining, but he was exactly correct. Certainly God cannot be blamed for our sins, but only he can provide the spiritual power to enable us to live godly lives.

As the source of power for godliness is Christ, so the means of experiencing that power is through our relationship with him. This truth is Jesus' essential teaching in his illustration in John 15 of the vine and the branches. It is only by abiding in him that we can bring forth the fruit of godly character. The most helpful explanation I have found of what it means to abide in Christ comes from the nineteenth-century Swiss theologian Frederic Louis Godet: "'To abide in me expresses the continual act by which the Christian sets aside everything which he might derive from his own wisdom, strength, merit, to draw all from Christ."

Paul expresses this relationship as "living in Christ." He says in Colossians 2:6,7, "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith." The context of this statement is that all the wisdom and power for living the Christian life are to be found in Christ rather than in manmade philosophies and moralisms (see verses 2-4 and 8-10). This is what Godet is saying. We have to set aside any dependence upon our own wisdom and strength of character and draw all that we need from Christ through faith in him. This faith, of course, is expressed concretely by prayer to him. Psalm 119:33-37 is a good example of such a prayer of dependence. This relationship is also maintained by beholding the glory of Christ in his word.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18 Paul tells us that as we behold the Lord's glory, we are transformed more and more into his image. Beholding the Lord's glory in his word is more than observing his humanity in the gospels. It is observing his character, his attributes, and his will in every page of Scripture. And as we observe him, as we maintain this relationship with him through his word, we are transformed more and more into his likeness; we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to progressively manifest the graces of godly character.

So it is this relationship with Christ, expressed by beholding him in his word and depending upon him in prayer, that enables us to draw from him the power essential for a godly life. The Christian is not like an automobile with a self-contained power source; rather, he is like an electric motor that must be constantly connected to an outside current for its power. Our source of power is in the risen Christ, and we stay connected to him by beholding him in his word and depending on him in prayer.

Responsibility and dependence

The third principle of godly character is, though the power for godly character comes from Christ, the responsibility for developing and displaying that character is ours.

This principle seems to be one of the most difficult for us to understand and apply. One day we sense our personal responsibility and seek to live a godly life by the strength of our own willpower. The next day, realizing the futility of trusting in ourselves, we turn it all over to Christ and abdicate our responsibility which is set forth in the Scriptures.  We need to learn that the Bible teaches both total responsibility and total dependence in all aspects of the Christian life.

I once read a statement to the effect that there is nothing a Christian can do to develop the fruit of the Spirit in his life; it is all the work of the Holy Spirit. Sensing that at best, such a statement failed to present a balance of scriptural truth, I took out my concordance and looked up various passages that referred to one or more of the nine
character traits listed as fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. For every one of those traits I found one or more passages in which we are commanded to exhibit them. We are enjoined to love, to rejoice, to live in peace with each other, and so forth. These commands address our responsibility.

We have already seen that Timothy was responsible to train himself in godliness; he was to pursue godliness. When Paul describes his own pursuit of a Godlike life, he uses strong verbs such as "press on" and "straining toward" (Philippians 3:12-14). These words convey the idea of intense effort on his part and communicate forcefully his own sense of personal responsibility.

The solution to the seemingly incompatible statements that we are both totally responsible and totally dependent is found in Philippians 2:12,13: "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

Commenting on this passage, Professor Jac J. Müller says, "The believer is called to self-activity, to the active pursuit of the will of God, to the promotion of the spiritual life in himself, to the realization of the virtues of the Christian life, and to a personal application of salvation." If we stopped at this point, it would appear that we are left to
our own devices, to our own strength of character and our own willpower. But Paul does not stop with our responsibility. He says, "for it is God who works in you." The spiritual power that enables us to apply ourselves to the cultivation of Christian graces is of God, who works in us to will and to act.

Nineteenth-century Dutch Reformed pastor George W. Bethune put it this way: While, therefore, we grow in the Christian life by divine grace, it is our duty to grow in grace. Besides, the quality of grace is such that, though it is strength from God, we must use it. Grace gives no new faculty, but strengthens thefaculties which we have...Hence thefruits of the Spirit are the qualities and actions of the renewed man, not produced without him, but wrought through him... Let us then be evermindful of our entire dependence upon the Spirit of God . . . [but] let us be ever mindful of our duty "to maintain good works."

Put off and put on

The fourth principle of godly character is, the development of godly character entails both pulling off and putting on character traits. Paul says, "You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

In the succeeding verses (4:28-5:4) Paul makes some very specific applications of this principle. We are to put off falsehood and put on truthfulness. We are to put off stealing and put on generosity. Unwholesome talk must be put off and replaced with speech which is helpful for building others up. Bitterness, rage, anger, and slander are to be replaced with kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Obscene or suggestive speech is to be replaced with thanksgiving. Even Paul's list of gracious qualities in Galatians 5, called the fruit of the Spirit, is set in contrast to a lengthy catalog of vices of the sinful nature which must be put off by the godly person.

It was said of the Lord Jesus that he has both loved righteousness and hated wickedness (Hebrews 1:9). And we are to follow his example, for Paul instructs us to "hate what is evil; cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9). Surely we must put to death, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, the misdeeds of the body. But we must also, again with his enablement, clothe our selves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Just as we need to learn Scripture's teaching for the dual principle of personal responsibility and total dependence, here also we need to seek the balance of Scripture in putting off and putting on. Some Christians have a tendency to emphasize only putting off traits of the sinful nature. They are usually very morally upright, but lacking in those gracious qualities of love, joy, and compassion. When a fellow Christian falls into sin, they do not seek to restore him gently, but rather ostracize him from their fellowship. A repentant Christian once wrote me that his church knew how to reach out to lost sinners but did not know how to restore one of its own errant members. This is the attitude we  tend to develop when we put our entire emphasis in Christian character growth on putting off sinful habits.

But there is equal danger if we focus all our attention on such qualities as love and compassion while neglecting to deal with the vices of the sinful nature. Today, there is a good deal of emphasis on affirming and encouraging one another. We are to help one another "feel good about ourselves." We undoubtedly need such encouragement in the body of Christ, but we must not neglect the equally scriptural emphasis of putting to death the deeds of the sinful nature.

We are to put off the traits of the old self and put on the traits of the new. If we desire to be godly we must not neglect either of these biblical emphases.

Balanced growth

The fifth principle of godly character is, we are to pursue growth in all of the graces that are considered the fruit of the Spirit. This would include traits such as compassion, forbearance, and humility that are not included in the nine-trait list of Galatians 5 but are obviously a result of his ministry in our lives. Godly character is balanced. It displays with equal emphasis the entire spectrum of graces that are set forth in the Scriptures as characteristic of the godly person.

We tend to emphasize in our lives those traits that seem most natural to our particular temperaments. But the fruit of the Spirit is not a matter of temperament; it is the result of the individual Christian seeking to grow, under the direction and aid of the Spirit, in every area of Christian character . . .

Growth is progressive

The sixth principle of godly character is, growth in all areas is progressive and never finished. Even the apostle Paul recognized this truth in his own life. In the context of his great longing to know Christ and to be like him, he said, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on" (Philippians 3:12). In prison, near the end of his apostolic career, he was still pressing on, exerting every effort to continue growing in his knowledge and likeness of Christ.

Even in those areas in which we have grown, there is always need for further growth. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonian Christians that they had been taught by God to love one another and, in fact, they did love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. That is quite a commendation! But Paul was -not satisfied. He went on to say, "Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more" (4:9,10). Growth in Christian character is never finished until we go to be with Christ and are transformed completely into his likeness.

Growth in godly character is not only progressive--and always unfinished, it is absolutely necessary for spiritual survival. If we are not growing in godly character, we are regressing; in the spiritual life we never stand still. The word train in Paul's admonition to Timothy, "Train yourself to be godly," occurs only four times in the New Testament: 1 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 5:14 and 12:11,and 2 Peter 2:14. In three of those instances, the result of such training is positive and God-honoring.

But consider the fourth passage, 2 Peter 2:14. The context is Peter's sharp denunciation of and warning against false teachers. He refers to them as "experts in greed." The word expert is the same word translated in the other three passages as "train." In fact, the New American Standard Bible renders it, "having a heart trained in greed."

The implication of Peter's use of the word train is very sobering. It is possible to train ourselves in the wrong direction! That is what these false teachers had done. They had practiced greed so well that they had become experts in it--they had trained their hearts in greed!

So there is a sense in which we are growing in our character every day. The question is, in which direction are we growing? Are we growing toward godly character or ungodly character? Are we growing in love or selfishness; in harshness or patience; in greed or generosity; in honesty or dishonesty; in purity or impurity? Every day we are training ourselves in one direction or the other by the thoughts we think, the words we say, the actions we take, the deeds we do.

This sense of progression in character, in either one direction or the other, is also taught in Romans 6:19. Paul refers to the Roman Christians' former bondage to sin and to ever-increasing wickedness. They were well on their way to becoming experts in wickedness. But now, says Paul, having been freed from the slavery of sin, they are to offer their bodies in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. Righteousness refers here to obedience to God, specific "right actions."

Holiness refers to the state or character resulting from those actions; right actions, or obedience, leads to holiness. Of course, both the actions and the character are the result of the wording of the Holy Spirit, but he works as we work, and we are able to work because he is at work in us.

The relationship between conduct and character is an intimate one. In the form of repeated actions over time, conduct produces character. That is the teaching of 2 Peter 2:14 and Romans 6:19. But it is also true that character determines actions. What we do, we become. What we are, we do.

Conduct is always feeding character, but character is also always feeding conduct. Paul's experience while shipwrecked on the Island of Malta furnishes a good example of this relationship. The islanders built the refugees a fire because of the rain and cold. Luke relates in Acts 28 that Paul gathered a pile of brushwood, and, as he put it on the fire, a snake came out of the brushwood and fastened itself on Paul's hand. Under the adverse circumstances of shipwreck, why would Paul have gone about gathering fuel for a fire built and tended by someone else? Why didn't he just stand by the fire and warm himself?

He didn't because it was his character to serve (see Acts 20:33-35 and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9). He had learned well the lesson Jesus taught us when he washed his disciples' feet.

Because it was Paul's character to serve, he gathered the brushwood instinctively. He probably did not even think about it. He just did what his servant character dictated atthe moment.

Since conduct determines character, and character determines conduct, it is vitally important--extremely necessary--that we practice godliness every day. That is why Peter says, "Make every effort to add to your faith . . . godliness" (2 Peter 1:5,6). There can be no letup in our pursuit of godly character. Every day that we are not practicing godliness we

are being conformed to the world of ungodliness around us. Granted, our practice of godliness is imperfect and falls far short of the biblical standard. Let us, nevertheless, press on to know Christ and to be like him.

Form Reasonable Expectations

There is a very important truth you should know and keep in mind as you pursue godliness. Otherwise, as you get into the following chapters on godly character, you may feel overwhelmed. As you study the twelve different traits of godly character, each one with several different potential applications, you could easily end up with a list of twenty or so areas of need in which you should grow in Christian character. Don't fall into such a trap. It will cause you to diffuse your spiritual energies over much too broad an area.

Your efforts would be general, scattered, and wasteful, and you would probably not make progress in any area of need. Then the devil would use that to discourage you.

The apostle Paul twice describes Christians as people who are led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18). Both of these passages refer to his leading, not in some decision we must make, but in the conduct and character issues of our lives. If we are led by the Spirit, we will put to death the misdeeds of the body, and we will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

The Holy Spirit leads us objectively through the general teaching of his word. There is where we learn his will for all Christians. But the Holy Spirit also leads us subjectively as he impresses certain Scriptures on our minds, applying them to specific situations in our lives. This is his way of showing us what he wants us to give attention to at a particular time; this is the way he leads us to establish a priority of applications. And this is the important truth we must grasp hold of in our quest for godliness.

As you read the following chapters on godly character, take note of the general principles set forth. Seek to memorize at least one passage of Scripture on each character trait to store up the essence of the biblical teaching on that trait.

These Scripture passages will then be available in your mind for the Holy Spirit's use in particular applications. In addition to the general principles, ask the Holy Spirit to impress upon your mind the two or three traits of godly character he wants you to work on and pray about now. Concentrate on these. Later on, the Spirit will lead you to work on others.

Remember, he is in charge of our growth in godly character; he is our teacher and coach. And he will never lead us in a way that will overwhelm or confuse us.

TRAIN YOURSELF TO BE GODLY

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be Godly. 1 Timothy 4:7 The apostle Paul did not take for granted the godliness of his spiritual son Timothy. Though Timothy had been his companion and co-laborer for a number of years, Paul still felt it necessary to write to him, "train yourself to be godly." And if Timothy needed this encouragement, then surely we also need it today.

In urging Timothy to train himself in godliness, Paul borrowed a term from the realm of athletics. The verb which is variously translated in different versions of the Bible as "exercise," "discipline," or "train" originally referred to the training of young athletes for participation in the competitive games of the day. Then it took on a more general
meaning of training or discipline of either the body or the mind in a particular skill.

Principles for training

There are several principles in Paul's exhortation to Timothy to train himself to be godly that are applicable to us today.

The first is personal responsibility. Paul said, "Train yourself." Timothy was personally responsible for his progress in godliness. He was not to trust the Lord for that progress and then relax, though he certainly understood that any progress he made was only through divine enablement. He would have understood that he was to work out this particular aspect of his salvation in confidence that God was at work in him. But he would get Paul's message that he must work at this matter of godliness; he must pursue it. We Christians may be very disciplined and industrious in our business, our studies, our home, or even our ministry, but we tend to be lazy when it comes to exercise in our own spiritual lives. We would much rather pray, "Lord, make me godly," and expect him to "pour" some godliness into our souls in some mysterious way. God does in fact work in a mysterious way to make us godly, but he does not do this apart from the fulfillment of our own personal responsibility. We are to train ourselves to be godly.

The second principle in Paul's exhortation is that the object of this training was growth in Timothy's personal spiritual life. Elsewhere Paul encourages Timothy to progress in his ministry, but the objective here is Timothy's own devotion to God and the conduct arising from that devotion. Even though he was an experienced, well-qualified Christian minister, Timothy still needed to grow in the essential areas of godliness--the fear of God, the comprehension of the love of God, and the desire for the presence and fellowship of God.  I have been in a full-time Christian ministry for well over twenty-five years and have served both overseas and in the United States. During this time I have met many talented and capable Christians, but I think I have met fewer godly Christians. The emphasis of our age is on serving God, accomplishing things for God. Enoch was a preacher of righteousness in a day of gross ungodliness, but God saw fit that the brief account of his life emphasized that he walked with God. What are we training ourselves for? Are we training ourselves for? Are we training ourselves only in Christian activity, as good as that may be, or are we training ourselves first of all in godliness?

The third principle in Paul's words of exhortation to Timothy is the importance of minimum characteristics necessary for training. Many of us have watched various Olympic competitions on television, and as the commentators have given us the backgrounds of the various athletes, we become aware of certain irreducible minimums in the training of all Olympic competitors. It is very likely that Paul had these minimum characteristics in mind as he compared physical training with training in godliness

The cost of commitment

The first of these irreducible minimums is commitment. No one makes it to the level of Olympic, or even national, competition without a commitment to pay the price of rigorous, daily training. And similarly, no one ever becomes godly without a commitment to pay the price of the daily spiritual training which God has designed for our growth in godliness.

The concept of commitment occurs repeatedly throughout the Bible. It is found in David's cry to God, "earnestly I seek you" (Psalm 63:1). It is found in God's promise to the captives in Babylon, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). It occurs in Paul's pressing on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him (Philippians 3:12). It lies behind such exhortations as, "Make everyeffort...to be holy"(Hebrews 12:14), and "make every effort to add to your faith . . godliness" (2 Peter 1:5-7). None of this seeking, pressing on, or making every effort will occur without commitment on our part.

There is a price to godliness, and godliness is never on sale. It never comes cheaply or easily. The verb train, which Paul deliberately chose, implies persevering, painstaking, diligent effort. He was well aware of the total commitment those young athletes made to win a crown that would not last. And as he thought of the crown that would last--the godliness that has value for all things, both in the present life and the life to come--he urged Timothy, and he urges us today, to make the kind of commitment necessary to train ourselves to be godly.

Learning from a skilled teacher

The second irreducible minimum in training is a competent teacher or coach. No athlete, regardless of how much natural ability he has, can make it to the Olympics without a skillful coach who holds him to the highest standard of excellence and sees and corrects every minor fault. In the same way we cannot train ourselves to be godly without the teaching and training ministry of the Holy Spirit. He holds us to the highest standard of spiritual excellence as he teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains us. But he teaches and trains us through his word. Therefore we must consistently expose ourselves to the teaching of the word of God if we are to grow in godliness.

In Titus 1:1 Paul refers to "the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness." We cannot grow in godliness without the knowledge of this truth. This truth is to be found only in the Bible, but it is not just academic knowledge of Bible facts. It is spiritual knowledge taught by the Holy Spirit as he applies the truth of God to our hearts.

There is a type of religious knowledge that is actually detrimental to training in godliness. It is the knowledge that puffs up with spiritual pride. The Corinthian Christians had this kind of knowledge. They knew that an idol was nothing and that eating food sacrificed to an idol was a matter of spiritual indifference. But they did not know about the irresponsibility to love their weaker brother. Only the Holy Spirit imparts that type of knowledge--the type that leads to godliness.

It is possible to be very orthodox in one's doctrine and very upright in one's behavior and still not be godly. Many people are orthodox and upright, but they are not devoted to God; they are devoted to their orthodoxy and their standards of moral conduct.

Only the Holy Spirit can pry us loose from such positions of false confidence, so we must sincerely look to him for his training ministry as we seek to grow in godliness. We must spend much time in exposure to his word, since it is his means of teaching us.But this exposure must be accompanied by a sense of deep humility regarding our ability to learn spiritual truth and a sense of utter dependence upon his ministry in our hearts.

Practice, and more practice

The third irreducible minimum in the training process is practice. It is practice that puts feet to the commitment and applies the teaching of the coach. It is practice, where the skill is developed, that makes the athlete competitive in his sport. And it is the practice of godliness that enables us to become godly Christians. There is no shortcut to Olympic-level skill, there is no shortcut to godliness. It is the day in and day out faithfulness to the means which God has appointed and which the Holy Spirit uses that will enable us to grow in godliness. We must practice godliness, just as the athlete practices his particular sport.

We must practice the fear of God, for example, if we are to grow in that aspect of godly devotion. If we agree that the essential elements of the fear of God are correct concepts of his character, a pervasive sense of his presence, and a constant awareness of our responsibility to him, then we must work at filling our minds with the biblical expressions of these truths and applying them in our lives until we are transformed into God-fearing people.

If we become convinced that humility is a trait of godly character, then we will frequently meditate upon such Scripture passages as Isaiah 57:15 and 66:1,2, where God himself extols humility. We will pray over them, asking the Holy Spirit to apply them in our lives to make us truly humble. This is the practice of godliness. It is not some ethereal exercise. It is practical, down-to-earth, and even a bit grubby at times as the Holy Spirit works on us. But it is always rewarding as we see the Spirit transforming us more and more into godly people.

Using the word of God

It is evident that the word of God plays a crucial role in our growth in godliness.

A prominent part of our practice of godliness, therefore, will be our time in the word of God. How we spend that time varies according to the method of intake. The Navigators use the five fingers of the hand as mental pegs on which to hang the five methods of intake of the word of God--hearing, reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating.

These methods are important for godliness and need to be considered one by one. The most common method of scriptural intake is hearing the word of God taught to us by our pastors and teachers. We are living in a day when this method tends to be lightly regarded by many people as being a somewhat ineffective means of learning spiritual truth. This is a serious error.

The Lord Jesus Christ himself has given to his church people who are gifted to teach us the truths of his word, to remind us of the lessons we are prone to forget, and to exhort us to constancy in application. We need to heed those whom he has given to us for this purpose.

None of us ever becomes so spiritually self-sufficient that he does not need to hear the word taught by others. And most of us do not have the ability or the time to search out on our own the "whole will of God" (Acts 20:27). We need to sit under the regular teaching of a man gifted by God and trained to expound the word of God to us.

One reason the hearing of the word of God has fallen into such low esteem is that we do not obey God's teaching in Revelation 1:3--"blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it." Too often today we listen to be entertained instead of instructed, to be moved emotionally rather than moved to obedience. We do not take to heart what we hear and apply it in our daily lives.

We present-day Christians are hardly different from the Jews of Ezekiel's time, of whom God said, "My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice" (Ezekiel 33:31). God goes on to tell Ezekiel that to his audience, Ezekiel is nothing more than a singer with a beautiful voice who plays an instrument well. To the Jews he was just an entertainer, because they had no intention of putting into practice what they heard.

The type of hearing of the word that God commends is illustrated by the Berean Christians, who "received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true", (Acts 17:11). They did not hear and forget; they did not listen just to be entertained. They realized eternal issues were at stake, so they listened, studied, and applied. Considering that they probably did not have their own personal copies of the Scriptures, their studying of Paul's teaching is remarkable. It is a rebuke to us today, who scarcely remember beyond the church door what we heard in the sermonon Sunday morning.

We have already considered briefly the thought expressed in Titus 1:1-11 is the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. But that is not all the verse says. In the same passage, Paul says he is an apostle of Jesus Christ for the purpose of furthering the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. Paul was called to be a teacher for the express purpose of promoting faith and godliness among God's elect. God called Paul to that task, and he calls pastors and teachers today for the same purpose. But if we are to profit from their ministry so that we grow in the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness, we must hear their word as the Berean Christians heard Paul--with great eagerness and an intent to obey.

The second method of scriptural intake is reading the Bible ourselves. Through Bible reading we have the opportunity to learn directly from the Master Teacher, the Holy Spirit. As helpful and profitable as it is to learn from the teaching of others, there is an unmatched joy in having the Holy Spirit speak to us directly from the pages of his word. We have already seen that Enoch walked with God, which implies that he enjoyed personal communion with God. Bible reading enables us, too, to enjoy communion with God as he speaks to us from his word, encouraging us, instructing us, and revealing himself to us. It was said of Moses that "the Lord would speak to [him] face to face, as a man speaks with his friend" (Exodus 33:11). Today we do not have that particular privilege, but we can enjoy the same effect as God speaks to us during our times of personal Bible reading. Our practice of godliness would be very incomplete
without a regular Bible reading program of some type.

A second value of Bible reading is the opportunity to gain an overall perspective of the entire Bible. No pastor could--or should--preach through the Bible in the short space of a year or two. But all of us can read through the entire Bible in a year. Many Bible reading plans are available to help us do so. As we read through the Bible, the various pieces of spiritual truth begin to fit together. The book of Hebrews doesn't make sense unless one is at least knowledgeable of the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system. The New Testament writers' many allusions to the Old Testament would remain a mystery unless we had read the passages in their original setting. The doctrine of original sin through Adam, as taught by Paul in Romans 5, cannot be understood apart from a knowledge of the events recorded in Genesis 3.

Without a reading program of the entire Bible, we would be not only spiritually ignorant, but spiritually impoverished. Who can fail to learn from Abraham's faith, David's love for God, Daniel's righteousness, and Job's trial? How can we become godly without the heartbeat of the Psalms and the practical wisdom of Proverbs? Where better can we learn of both the majesty and the faithfulness of God than from the prophet Isaiah? If we are not periodically reading through the Bible, we will miss these outstanding passages in the Old Testament as well as others in the New Testament.

All Scripture is profitable for us, even passages that seem so difficult to understand. We can choose from among various Bible reading programs to help us maintain consistency in our reading and understand the more difficult passages.

The third method of Bible intake is studying the Scriptures. Reading gives us breadth, but study gives us depth. The value of Bible study lies in the opportunity to dig more deeply into a passage or topic than we can do in Bible reading. Greater diligence and mental intensity are required for study, in which we analyze a passage, compare Scripture with Scripture, ask questions, make observations, and finally organize the fruit of our study into some kind of logical presentation. The discipline of writing down our study material helps to clarify our thoughts. All of this strengthens our knowledge of the
truth and helps us to grow in godliness.

Every Christian should be a student of the Bible. The Hebrew Christians were rebuked, because although they should have been able to teach others they still needed to be taught the elementary truths of God's word. They needed milk, not solid food! Unfortunately, many of us are like those Christians.

There are numerous methods of Bible study available for every level of student. There are certain principles that should be applied, however, whatever method is used. These principles are set forth in Proverbs 2:1-5. Note the verbs that have been underlined for emphasis: My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the
knowledge of God.

The verbs that are underlined give us an idea of the principles involved in Bible study, such as,

• teachability--accept my words
• intent to obey--store up my commands
• mental discipline--apply your heart
• prayerful dependence--call out, cry aloud
• diligent perseverance--search as for hidden treasure.

The results of applying these principles in Bible study are located in verse 5: "Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God"--two of the concepts essential in our devotion to God. If we are to train ourselves to be godly we must give Bible study priority in our lives.

Where can we find the time for quality Bible study? I once heard that question asked of a chief of surgery in a large hospital. Twenty-five years later, his answer continues to challenge me. He looked his questioner squarely in the eye and said, "You always find time for what is important to you." How important is the practice of godliness to you? Is it important enough to take priority over television, books, magazines, recreation, and a score of activities that we all somehow find time to engage in? Once again we are brought face to face with that key element of training we discussed earlier--commitment.

Memorization of key passages is a fourth method of scriptural intake. Without doubt the classic verse for Scripture memorization is Psalm 119:11: "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. " The word that is translated in verse 11 as "hidden" is elsewhere translated as "stored up," a phrase which is more descriptive of the actual meaning. In Proverbs 7:1, for example, Solomon says, "My son . . . store up my commands within you," and in Proverbs 10:14 he says, "Wise men store up knowledge." In Psalm 31:19 David speaks of the goodness which God has stored up for those who fear him. From these passages it is clear that the central idea of the psalmist in Psalm 119:11 was that of storing up God's word in his heart against a time of future need-- a time when he would encounter temptation and would be kept from that temptation by the word of God.

But the word of God stored in the heart does more than keep us from sin. It enables us to grow in every area of the Christian life. SpecifIcally for our practice of godliness it enables us to grow in our devotion to God and in the Godlike character that makes our lives pleasing to him.

The fifth method for taking in God's word is meditation. The word meditate as used in the Old Testament literally means to murmur or to mutter and, by implication, to talk to oneself. When we meditate on the Scriptures we talk to ourselves about them, turning over in our minds the meanings, the implications, and the applications to our own lives.

Though we use Psalm 119:11 in connection with Scripture memorization, it may be more supportive of the practice of meditation. The psalmist says God's word was stored up in his heart--his inmost being. Bare memorization only gets the Scriptures into our minds. Meditation on those same Scriptures opens our understanding, engages our affections, and addresses our wills. This is the process of storing up the word in our hearts. But if the process of storing up Scripture applies primarily to meditation, it is also true that memorization is the first step to meditation. Meditation on the word of God is commanded in Joshua 1:8 and commended in Psalm 1:2. Both verses speak of meditation day and night, not just when we are having our quiet time. It is impossible to meditate on Scripture day and night without some form of Scripture memorization . . .

If we had to select one chapter of the Bible that portrays the heartbeat of the godly person, it would probably be Psalm 119. In all but two of its 176 verses, the writer relates his life to the word of God and to the God behind that word. It is always your law, your statutes, your desires, your precepts, etc. To the psalmist, the law of God was not the cold commands of some far-off deity, but the living word of the God whom he loved, sought, and yearned to please.

Walking with God involves communion with God. His word is absolutely necessary and central to our communion with him. Pleasing God requires knowing his will--how he wants us to live, what he wants us to do. His word is the only means by which he communicates that will to us. It is impossible to practice godliness without a constant, consistent, and balanced intake of the word of God in our lives.


Reprinted by permission Navpress

http://2tim22.com/M2M_Tools/Spiritual_Dependence_files/Practice%20of%20Godliness.pdf