IF I HAD to choose one word to summarize all the marks of a mature Christian, it would be the word godly. There is no higher compliment that can be paid to a Christian than to call him a godly person. He might be a conscientious parent, a zealous church worker, a dynamic spokesman for Christ, or a talented Christian leader; but none of these things matters if, at the same time, he is not a godly person.

The words godly and godliness actually appear only a few times in the New Testament; yet the entire Bible is a book on godliness. And when those words do appear they are pregnant with meaning and instruction for us.

When Paul wants to distill the essence of the Christian life into one brief paragraph, he focuses on godliness. He tells us that God’s grace “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives,” as we await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11–13, emphasis added). When Paul thinks of his own job description as an apostle of Jesus Christ, he describes it as being called to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness (Titus 1:1).

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul emphasizes godliness. We are to pray for those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. We are to train ourselves to be godly. We are to pursue godliness—the word pursue indicating unrelenting, persevering effort. Godliness with contentment is held forth as great gain; and finally, godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

When Peter, in looking forward to the day of the Lord when the earth and everything in it will be destroyed, asks what kind of people we ought to be, he answers that we are to live holy and godly lives (see 2 Peter 3:10–12). Here Peter uses the most momentous event of all history to stir us up to our Christian duty—to live holy and godly lives.

Surely, then, godliness is no optional spiritual luxury for a few quaint Christians of a bygone era or for some group of super-saints of today. It is both the privilege and duty of every Christian to pursue godliness, to train himself to be godly, to study diligently the practice of godliness. We don’t need any special talent or equipment. God has given to each one of us “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). The most ordinary Christian has all that he needs, and the most talented Christian must use those same means in the practice of godliness.

What then is godliness? What are the marks of a godly person? How does a person become godly? I have asked a number of people the question: “What do you think of when you think of godliness?” The answers, though varied, always end up expressing some idea of Christian character, using such expressions as “Godlike,” “Christlike,” or “the fruit of the Spirit.” Godliness certainly includes Christian character, but it is more than that. There is another, even more fundamental aspect of godliness than godly character. It is the foundation, in fact, on which godly character is built.

The New Testament word for godliness, in its original meaning, conveys the idea of a personal attitude toward God that results in actions that are pleasing to God. This personal attitude toward God is what we call devotion to God. But it is always devotion in action. It is not just a warm, emotional feeling about God, the kind of feeling we may get while singing some grand old hymn of praise or some contemporary chorus of worship. Neither is devotion to God merely a time of private Bible reading and prayer, a practice we sometimes call “devotions.” Although this practice is vitally important to a godly person, we must not think of it as defining devotion to us.

FOCUSED ON GOD

Devotion is not an activity; it is an attitude toward God. God is the focal point of the godly person’s life. He or she seeks to practice the presence of God, to enjoy fellowship with God, to do all things to the glory of God, and to see God’s name hallowed or honored on earth as it is in heaven.

Being devoted to God doesn’t mean a person becomes an ascetic or withdraws from the mundane affairs of ordinary life. It does mean a person goes about the responsibilities of daily life with an eye focused on God. God is never far from his thoughts, and all of his activities are carried out with the aim of pleasing God.

The little-known biblical character of Enoch is an illustration of a godly man. The Bible says little about Enoch, but what it does say helps us understand what godliness is. Genesis 5:22 says Enoch “walked with God.” The writer of Hebrews says he “pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). And in Jude 14–15 he is depicted as deeply concerned about the ungodly society in which he lived.

Enoch is my hero and role model. He was, as far as the biblical record shows, an ordinary man. He was not a leader like Moses, nor a warrior like David, nor an outstanding government official like Daniel. But he was a godly man. He walked with God, and he pleased God. That’s what I want to do.

What does it mean to walk with God? According to five commentaries on Genesis that I consulted, it means to have a close, personal communion with God. It means that Enoch spent time focused on God. Enoch did not have the Bible as we have it today, but in whatever manner God communicated Himself to the people of old, Enoch took time to listen. And then he undoubtedly prayed to God. We don’t really know how Enoch developed this close, personal relationship with God; but in whatever manner was appropriate for his time, he took advantage of it.

Bridges, Jerry. 2004. Growing Your Faith: How to Mature in Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.


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