Rev. Eriks is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
There is nothing better for the Christian young person than to be known for godliness. He may be an “A” student, an obedient son at home, a good brother who does not fight with his siblings, and a conscientious catechism student, but none of this matters if he is not godly. Godliness is not simply obedience, but it is a life focused on serving God.
In the Scriptures many of God’s people were famous for their godliness already as teenagers. David was known as “a man after his [the Lord’s] own heart” (I Sam. 13:14). This characterized David as a young boy (maybe as young as 13 or14) when he battled against the giant Goliath trusting in Jehovah for the victory. Daniel and his three friends were taken captive into Babylon in their early teen years. They were godly young men. When the king’s delicious food was set before them, Daniel and his friends refused to eat. And Daniel’s prayers to God were so regular that you could set your watch by them. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was probably still a teenager when she gave birth to Jesus, our Savior. As a teenager she believed the promises of God and walked in His ways. She was godly. These young people were known for practicing godliness, as a fruit of God’s grace. Are you?
The Scriptures call you to live this godliness, as those saved by grace. Titus 2:11, 12 says, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” God calls you to practice godliness in I Timothy 4:7, 8, “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.”
What is this godliness? Godliness is a devotion to God that results in a life of obedience. It is living a life devoted to God. Those who are godly live in such a way that their knowledge of God and their relationship to Him determine their conduct in all things. It is life according to truth.
The godly young person is truly devoted to God. The heart of this devotion is the fear of God. This is the very idea of the word “godliness,” which means “to revere well.” The only One whom we revere and honor is God, because He is infinitely exalted over all, as the God of all glory. The fear of God is not a dread fear in which we are afraid that God will punish us for our sin. Fearing God is a reverence and awe for the majesty, holiness, and transcendence of God. In all of heaven and earth, God is the One who is truly awesome.
Do you have this awe and reverence for God? When you leave church on Sunday or leave the catechism class Monday night (or whenever you have it), do you confess, “What a great God we serve!” Where you have lost this awe and reverence for God it is urgent that you recover it in your hearts and minds.
We live in an age that does not revere God. There is no fear of God in the wicked world. The world profanes and blasphemes the name of God in the TV programs, the movies, music, and its language. Many in the broader church world have no use for theology and clear biblical teaching. But theology and clear biblical teaching in the preaching and in catechism are so vital because the word teaches how high and great God is. The instruction you receive in catechism about the greatness of God’s perfections and love is of great importance for your lives. The higher your view of God is, the deeper will be your reverence for Him. True godliness is living with this song of praise in your heart, “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints” (Rev. 15:3).
Not only is the God-fearing Christian filled with an awe of God, but also he appreciates God’s amazing, unfailing love. The godly are gripped by God’s love. To understand God’s love, look to the cross. God sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins. The godly never forget how undeserving they are of God’s love. They know that they have earned only His holy and just wrath. They know they are the chief of sinners. But Jesus came into the world to save such sinners. Jesus died on the cross of Calvary to reconcile us to a holy God from whom we are alienated by our sin.
Knowing God’s love in Jesus Christ is connected to devotion to God in this way: the two grow together. The more we understand God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, the more we will be amazed at the greatness and majesty of God. God has saved me from my sins! Amazing!
Being gripped by God’s love does not lead to carelessness in life, but stimulates to a greater devotion to God in life. This is why you need instruction in the preaching and in the catechism classes concerning the truth of God’s love in Jesus Christ. When this truth touches your hearts through the working of the Holy Spirit, it stimulates to godly living.
Godly living looks like this: the knowledge of God’s majesty and love in our hearts results in a thirst for God that is expressed in godly, obedient living. Where there is godliness, there is a longing for God Himself. David confesses in Psalm 63:1, 2, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.” This is what lives in the heart of the godly. As the godly man contemplates the awesomeness of God’s holiness, glory, and majesty, and ponders the riches of God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ, his heart is captivated by God. He is satisfied with God and seeks Him. There is a longing for God and a love for Him. This characterized the life of those godly young people saved by grace—David, Daniel, and Mary.
This desire for God becomes the dominating principle of life. Reverence for God shines through in every part of life. Godliness is living in such a way that God’s name is honored and glorified. The godly do not want to disobey the Word of God. They desire a life devoted to God in obedience to His commandments.
When you examine your heart and life, do you see this godliness? Are you godly in relationship to your parents? Would godliness characterize your life with your friends? Does godliness describe your language, what you look at on the computer, the music you listen to, and what you do for fun?
I Timothy 4:7 commands us, “Exercise thyself rather unto godliness.” The idea is that growth in godliness occurs only through intense training and practice. The word “exercise” is an athletic term that refers to the intense training of an athlete in preparation for an athletic contest. There is no instant athlete. If you are involved in sports or any other competition, you know this. A young man does not pick up a basketball for the first time and dribble the ball through his legs up and down the court and make three-pointer after three-pointer. A young woman does not pick up a softball bat for the first time and hit homerun after homerun in a softball game. The athlete must train and practice, putting in time, sweat, and conditioning to get better at his sport. Muscles must be toned and skills repeated so that the body is able to react without thinking. So also there is no instant growth and development in godliness. Growth in godliness comes through practice and exercise. This does not mean salvation is a matter of our own works and efforts. From beginning to end salvation is the sovereign work of God. Although this is true, the idea is that one does not become godly overnight. This is not the way in which God works.
The Word of God commands you to train yourself in godliness. Pursue godliness in dependence on God’s grace. What an important command. We can be so disciplined in certain areas of our lives, but lazy when it comes to the practice of godliness. Some of you spend hours a week practicing for a particular sport, practicing a musical instrument, and doing your homework so that you will get good grades. These are not bad things. When Paul says to Timothy, “bodily exercise profiteth little,” he is not knocking athletics. He is not saying exercise is completely unprofitable. He is making the point that just as athletes put in the time, the sweat, and the practice to improve their athletic ability, so also we must put in the practice to grow in godliness. Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods and Lebron James devote their lives to improving their athletic skills so they can achieve greatness in their sports. You must devote yourselves to godliness with an even greater devotion because there is no growth in godliness without practice. There is no shortcut to growth in godliness. We would like it if once in a while we could simply pray, “Father, make me godly,” and then wait for God to infuse us directly with godliness. But this is not the way God works. Godliness grows in our lives in the way of training and exercise.
What belongs to this practice? First, the right leader or coach makes all the difference. This is true in athletics. The right coach has the ability to make mediocre players or a mediocre team great with strategy, training, and practice.
Young people, you have the right leader. He is Jesus Christ. Jesus motivates to live in godliness. He guides in godliness by His word. Jesus uses others to help you in the practice of godliness. Parents, grandparents, teachers, ministers, elders, and other adults in the church are those who guide and encourage you to godliness. God has placed parents over you for your growth in godliness. Their desire and calling is to teach godliness with words and by example. Do not expect godliness in your lives if you are surrounded by ungodly people. In this regard, godly friends are important. If your friends are not an encouragement to you in godliness, or you are not an encouragement to your friends in godliness, those friendships are not pleasing to God.
Secondly, the study of God’s Word is vital for growth in godliness. Exercise in godliness happens with the careful study of God’s Word. This is the idea found in II Timothy 3:16, 17: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” The Word of God instructs in doctrine and teaches about the living God. The Word also corrects sin and teaches the way of righteousness. The fruit in the child of God is a life of good works. Growth in doctrine produces growth in godliness. So read and study the Word of God. When you study God’s Word, ask yourself this question first, “What has God revealed about His glory and majesty and love in this passage?” Then apply this doctrine to your life.
Third, practice godliness in your lives. This begins by denying yourself the things of this world that oppose godliness. Do not expect a life of godliness if you are absorbing ungodliness by watching the TV programs and the movies of this world. Do not expect a life of godliness if you are absorbing the man-glorifying thoughts of the music of this world. Instead, practicing godliness means taking God’s Word and applying it to all of life.
Consider in your life how to exercise your devotion to God and practice this. Practice this in relationship to your parents. If your relationship with your parents has been confrontational because of your rebellious heart, practice the godly virtues of submission and obedience. If you have a brother or sister with whom you fight, practice humility and love. Be a peacemaker. If you and your friends are watching, listening to, and doing things that encourage ungodliness, be the one to encourage the others to stop and to practice godliness.
This is not easy. In fact it is impossible to do this on your own. Pray for God’s grace daily to live godly.
There is a blessed end for the practice of godliness just as there is an end for the practice in athletics. After hard practice and faithful preparation, there is the achievement of a “W” in athletics. The prize is sweet after hours of self-discipline and practice. There is no guarantee of victory in athletics, because no matter how much time you put in the other team may be better.
In the practice of godliness, there is a certain end. The exercise of godliness is not in vain. The end is everlasting life with God. We do not earn this life. It is ours for Jesus’ sake. For this prize we reach. This is what Paul says in Philippians 3:13, 14: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”