. It is always a matter of extreme importance for us to watch for the various occurrences which give rise to the antichrist. Because of our busy everyday lives we all too often become oblivious to the many signs which surround us. Not only are these signs prevalent in the world “out there,” as we have noted in the articles which have dealt with the rise of cults and the chaos of wars, but upon close examination we find Satan works hard (perhaps the hardest) in our own churches in order that when antichrist does appear we too might be deceived and unite with him. Such was the idea in the article which was concerned with spiritual illiteracy in our churches (have you read a good, spiritual book since then?). Such also is the idea of this article.
There seems to be, on the part of many, an increasing confusion in distinguishing between a life of godliness and merely a good, outward moral deportment. Many today are beginning to say that they are one and the same: godliness is good moral behavior and good moral behavior is godliness. These contend, for example, that if in their lives they refrain from such things as drinking too much, theater attendance, birth control, or abortion then they are also leading a life of godliness. At the same time they would claim that godliness is regular church, catechism, and society attendance, as well as such things as giving freely, being friendly to all, and so on. Now, it can very well be true that all of these things are a matter of godliness in a person’s life. That cannot be denied. Nevertheless, it is also true, and many times it is the case, that all of these exercises in good moral behavior are nothing more than that. They are not a matter of godliness.
To clarify this entire matter it is necessary to understand what is really meant by godliness and, on the other hand, good moral deportment. In I Timothy 6:11we find godliness among the fruits of the Spirit: “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” From this it is evident that the life of the man of God alone can be characterized by godliness. It is a fruit which becomes manifest in his life because of the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. The reprobate man is void of this fruit. This is why he is oftentimes referred to by us as the ungodly. Godliness, therefore, speaks of one’s relationship to God. The godly man is one-who possesses a deep respect for God. He is one who beholds with awe and reverence this mighty Creator of heaven and earth, who loves Him and places all his trust in Him, and who will give everything just to stand before Him in humble adoration. The result of this attitude of deep respect toward God in that child of God’s heart is that he’ will delight in all that God commands him in His Word. That is true godliness—conduct which is in harmony with what God commands us because we so deeply respect and love God. If we were to ask one whose walk is characterized by godliness the question, why do you refrain from drinking too much and why do you feel the necessity of attending church, his answer would without a doubt be: I want to! If I would not do these things in my life I would be living contrary to what my God commands me and that is sin! And I hate sin because it offends the very God Whom I love and respect so deeply! It is evident that this attitude of deep respect and piety towards God, this power of godliness, manifests itself in the walk and conduct of the believer. It so works in him that in his life he brings forth good works; and these good works include leading a morally good life. We find, then, that good moral deportment in his life flows out of that power of godliness.
But a mere outward life of good morality does notalways imply the power of godliness in a person’s life. To be morally good means that one in his walk and conduct conforms to a standard of right behavior. This definition, however, speaks nothing of the attitude of one’s heart. It speaks only of conforming one’s behavior to a set of laws or to a standard which is just and right. That can be done irrespective of one’s attitude or relationship to God. Oftentimes the ungodly neighbor who has no love or respect toward God can seem to lead a very good moral life. He will not break the laws of the land, neither will he depart from the way of strict asceticism in his life. That, however, is not really godliness. There are those also within the church institute who feel that if they conform to the outward behavior which the church requires of them, then their lives are characterized by godliness. They think to themselves: The church tells me I must refrain from over-indulgence in the lusts of this world, so I must do that. The church requires that I regularly attend the Sunday services, that I give to the poor, and that I make public confession of my sin when I violate such commandments as the seventh commandment. Since these are what I am required to do to be a good Christian, I will keep them. Here, of course, is an example of leading an outward life of good behavior—leading a life of good morals but not doing so out of a deep love and respect for God. That is not godliness. That is good moral behavior, a behavior which from all outward appearances seems godly but in fact is void of the work of the Holy Spirit and grace.
Paul tells Timothy, in II Timothy 3:1-5, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves,… lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” Those who have only a good moral deportment are those who have, in Paul’s words, only a form of godliness. These, however, deny the very power of godliness, that is to say, they do not have truegodliness which is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Religion is just an outward show to them. It is not really a conviction of the heart.
This manifests itself in the church in two ways. On the one hand there are those who rigorously attempt to keep the positions of the church (the churches position on the law of God) to the crossing of a “t” and the dotting of an “i”. In fact, they become quite upset when they find that the church has not taken an official stand on some aspect of one’s outward moral deportment. Because of their attitude they become very judgmental of their fellow saints. They no longer trust anyone. They feel that they alone are keeping the faith with rigor, and almost everyone else falls short of them. These also feel that the preaching must emphasize more one’s practical life and less of the doctrines of salvation.
On the other extreme, those who have but a form of godliness in their lives begin to stretch the law of liberty for an occasion for the flesh. Since the church does not have law upon law and precept upon precept they feel that they may do as they please. All they have to do is keep the basic positions (laws) of the church and for the rest eat, drink, and be merry. These, for example, realize that to be caught in a movie theater would mean discipline by the church since it violates the antithesis between church and world, but at the same time they know that the church does not discipline one if he watches the same movies on TV. So they use their Christian liberty for an occasion for the flesh; yet at the same time have a false sense of security for they have kept what the church has required of them. And what is their feeling about the preaching? They too do not like to hear the doctrines of salvation. The doctrines of Scripture really do not apply to them; in fact, they all too often condemn them. They feel also that the preaching should be directed toward their moral lives and conduct.
But the question is: how does this lead to the development of the antichrist?
Slowly but surely within the church of Christ those who are characterized by godliness in their lives become the minority. Why? Because those who have the form of godliness are beyond discipline. They keep the law of God as far as externals are concerned. But their hearts are far from God! How difficult for a consistory to discipline one whose outward moral behavior stands in harmony with God’s law as far as they can detect but whose heart is far from Him! In fact, mere man cannot judge the heart! When finally those who have the form of godliness but who deny the power of it are in the majority, the church begins to fall as a church of Jesus Christ. Men who are interested only in the outward moral behavior of the people in the congregation become consistory members and ministers. These no longer concern themselves with promoting godliness because they do not know what it is. Now from the pulpit are heard little moral homilies on the people’s conduct. Sermons entitled, “Competition and Good Sportsmanship”, or “Our Involvement in Politics,” take the place of preaching the doctrines of salvation. The church becomes a social institution which is concerned with people’s morals rather than with godliness. It becomes her duty socially to rehabilitate the downtrodden. It becomes her duty to restore morality to this country. It no longer is her duty to preach Christ crucified, which preaching alone can work godliness in the heart of a child of God.
These institutions of the Church which have already reached this point fail to realize that it is impossible to control the outward moral deportment of its members if those members have no power of godliness in their lives. Their lives will degenerate until they are really no different from the ungodly world about them! They are only empty shells! That too is why one can see the immorality of this reprobate world creeping into such situations.
But the point is, all the various institutions (and there are many) which have followed this route have now the same aims and goals-to improve this world socially and morally. That will be the very aim of the antichrist. How easily he will be able to attract all these institutions which are different in name only. We already see evidence of that today.
Are we as churches following in this same way? Paul once again addresses us in I Timothy 4, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy… forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats,… But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable “unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come…. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.” We must see to it that our obedience to the law of God and the doctrines of our churches flows out of a heart that longs after the living God! Only then will our lives be characterized by godliness! Only then will we stand over against the antichrist!