Arie den Hartog is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
The Word of God often exhorts us to live in godliness. Sometimes this term is used to describe a specific virtue along with a number of other Christian virtues, such as in II Peter 1:5-7: “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.” Other times this term is used alone to describe the sum of all Christian virtues. In the next few articles in this department we want to consider some of the distinctive traits of true godliness. We shall use this term, therefore, in the more general sense. Godliness, as the term itself suggests, is God-centeredness in our life.
Godliness is the knowledge and love and fear of God. It is true piety born out of a deep consciousness of who God is, and out of a serious and earnest desire to live unto Him. The truly godly man has a profound knowledge of the sovereignty and holiness and righteousness and truth of God. He is conscious that God is ever present with him and that he lives his whole life before the presence of God.
Godliness must characterize our whole life. It must be the spiritual principle out of which we live. True godliness is the fruit of the Spirit of God in the heart and soul of the child of God. There is both an inner godliness of the heart and an outward manifestation of that godliness in our life. There is, according to the Word of God, a false form of godliness. This “form of godliness” denies the power thereof. Therefore, it is a sham. It may bear some outward resemblance to true godliness, but it is mere form and hypocrisy. It is not the fruit of the almighty work of regeneration and sanctification in the heart of the child of God. True godliness is the manifestation of Gods mighty and wonderful working in us, which causes us to be more and more conformed to His own image and to manifest His own glorious virtues in our life.
True godliness is never ostentatious. The truly godly man does not call attention to his own godliness. He does not boast about it. As soon as a man does that, he ceases to be truly godly, and becomes a hypocrite. The truly godly man is deeply humble because of the consciousness of his own great sin and weakness. He has nothing to boast about in himself. All his glorying is in the Lord alone. He is not self-conscious about his godliness. His godliness is evident to all men.
We must all strive to live in godliness. In a recent article we discussed the great need of exercising ourselves unto godliness. We need not repeat that here. Godliness does not come automatically. It does not come easy, for it is against our sinful and ungodly nature. Every moment we are not careful and fail to walk by faith in the strength and grace of God, our sinful nature will again arise in us and we will cease to be godly. Maintaining true godliness involves a constant spiritual struggle. We often fail. We always fall far short of the standard of the Word of God. But we must continue to fight the good fight of faith.
Our life of godliness must adorn the doctrine of God that we confess. God has given to us that true doctrine that is in Christ Jesus, the. blessed gospel of salvation. As Reformed Christians we have this doctrine in all of its glory and truth. We are highly privileged of God. Who are we that we should be so favored of God? We have the calling to confess and maintain and defend the doctrine which God has given to us. We must preach this doctrine as a church, and confess it in our personal lives as Christians. Our godliness must adorn this doctrine. Many Christians who have confessed the true doctrine of salvation have by their ungodly lives brought shame to the gospel of Christ. This has been the occasion of blasphemy against the truth of God by the world. Sometimes we have witnessed in the sphere of the church those who have vehemently confessed the. true doctrine of God, but even while doing that have displayed such ungodly attitudes and manners that they have done grievous hurt to the cause of Christ. It has happened even that faithful ministers of the gospel have been slandered and maligned by these “professors of the truth.” While on the one hand seeking to stand for the truth, these have manifested a most ungodly manner in which they have treated brethren of the Lord. So grievous has this been that weaker saints of God have been driven from the church. For all of these reasons it is so urgent that we adorn the doctrine of God we confess with a life of true godliness. When we live in true godliness, the glory of Gods own work becomes manifest in us. If we are truly godly we will greatly desire this and rejoice in this.
The chief trait of true godliness is an evident love for God. The great commandment of the law of God is that we love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength. There is no higher and more glorious virtue possible for man than love for God. There is no more holy affection imaginable. The godly man desires to love God perfectly. He knows that by nature he is prone to hate God. The natural man is at enmity against God. The only reason why there is in our heart any love for God at all is because God loves us first and shed His own love abroad in our hearts. Therefore we can begin to love God. Always the source of our love to God is His love towards us.
Love for God is a personal and holy affection and delight in God. It is more than a mere assent to certain doctrines about God. It is a personal delight in Him. The godly man has holy pleasure in God and all of His virtues. With fear and trembling He loves God for all that He is in His perfect righteousness and holiness and absolute sovereignty. The godly man who loves God does not seek to clothe God with attributes of vain human philosophy, as the modernist does. Anyone who seeks to do that hates the true God and denies the true God, desiring an idol of his own vain imagination. Love for God involves a spiritual longing after God and desire for His communion and fellowship. The man who loves God can say with the psalmist; “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee” (Ps. 73:25). “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God” (Ps. 84:2).
Love for God is evident in the life of the godly man. It is true that first of all that love must be in his heart. But it must also come to manifestation. Love for God is not merely a nice warm feeling inside or a mere passing emotion. The godly man is one who is manifest as a man that truly loves God. It will show itself first of all in a strong desire to know more and more about the true doctrine of God. He is not satisfied with a mere shallow and superficial knowledge of God. His love for God constrains him to desire more and more to know the blessed revelation of God. This becomes evident in that he frequents the house of God to hear the preaching of the Word. He loves to search the Scriptures in his own home with his family. He desires to know more and more of the revelation of Gods mighty deeds and wonderful works among His people. Above all, he delights to search the wonderful revelation of God in His works of salvation and in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The love for God which fills the godly man causes him to desire the fellowship and communion of God. Church for him is more than a building where sermons are preached. It is the place where the God-fearing man enjoys communion and fellowship with God, who dwells among His people. The truly godly man spends time every day in prayer to God, and personal communion with Him in his own inner closet.
The godly man who loves God delights in the commandments of God. He knows the words of His Lord: “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:15, 16). A man who says that he loves God and is not serious about the law of God in his life is a liar. He does not know the truth about love for God. The godly man finds the joy and blessing of the Lord in the way of keeping His commandments. The man who loves God hates every way of the wicked ungodly. He weeps because Gods commandments are transgressed by the ungodly world. He is deeply conscious of his own sin and weakness. He knows that he does not himself keep the commandments of the Lord perfectly. This is not something about which he becomes complacent. It is the cause of continual sorrow to the godly man. He longs to be delivered from all of his remaining sins and weakness. He earnestly strives against them in the fear and love of God.
The godly man who loves God has an evident desire to see the name of God as the highest purpose of his own personal life. He actively supports and promotes the cause of the church and kingdom of God, and delights to see them prosper.
Much more, of course, could be said about how the love of God becomes evident in the life of the godly man. Love for God is the principal virtue out of which proceed all of the other distinctive traits of true godliness. In succeeding articles we shall continue to consider some of these traits.