Put simply, godliness is living a fruitful, obedient Christian life. It is one of seven qualities we are instructed to add to our faith after we become Christians. There are sixteen references to godliness in Scripture. All of them are in the New Testament, and most of them occur in 1 Timothy and 2 Peter.
Characteristics of Godliness Characteristic #1: Godliness is the proof of our faith. Godliness is being faithful to our calling by doing the good works for which we were saved. First Corinthians 4:2 says, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” Our good works demonstrate our salvation, and they help our faith continue to grow.
The initial act of faith and the proof of faith are different, but related. The book of James explains this relationship through the example of Abraham:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:21-24) Abraham was justified by faith alone, but his faith did not remain alone. True faith is always accompanied by works. When he placed his son on the altar, Abraham demonstrated absolute faith in God. His obedience did not make him righteous, but it proved his righteousness. Godly works are the evidence of genuine faith.
Characteristic #2: Godliness is the example of our faith. By following Christ’s example, we make Him known to a lost and dying world. Jesus prayed these words to His Father: “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:22-23, NLT). Christians who follow Christ’s example share His values.
Our commitment to godliness becomes evident in our words, our lifestyle, our relationships, our attitude, our faith, and our purity (1 Timothy 4:12). When we study Scripture, we are prepared to encourage other believers. Godliness—thinking rightly and acting rightly—is a powerful witness to those around us.
Characteristic #3: Godliness is the action of our faith. Unless we make a choice to pursue godliness, we drift away from it like a sailing vessel that has been loosed from its moorings (Hebrews 2:1). Even mature Christians battle the temptation to drift. Our natural desires and the Holy Spirit’s desires are contrary to each other, so we are instructed to follow the Spirit’s leading each day. Diligently following the Holy Spirit’s guidance is the only way to overcome sinful desires (Galatians 5:16-17).
Have you ever heard the quip, “You have to walk the walk and talk the talk”? It’s an apt representation of the Bible’s admonition to “walk in the Spirit.” Walk is a present-tense verb that indicates a way of life. It requires a daily habit of continual obedience. Here are eight specific instructions for walking our walk:
Walk in good works—Ephesians 2:10 Walk properly—Romans 13:13 Walk by faith—2 Corinthians 5:7 Walk in love—Ephesians 5:2 Walk as children of the light—Ephesians 5:8 Walk worthy of the Lord—Colossians 1:10 Walk worthy of our calling—Ephesians 4:1 Walk as Jesus walked—1 John 2:6
Counterfeit Godliness One of Satan’s most powerful tactics is planting weeds in the Church—not literal weeds, but false teachers who dilute the Word of God. This is the essence of Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30. The original word Jesus used to describe these weeds wasn’t as broad as our English word. The Greek word referred to a variety of worthless ryegrass that resembles wheat so closely it cannot be distinguished from true wheat until harvest time. Through this parable, Jesus was warning His followers that false teachers can be hard to identify. In 2 Timothy 3:5, the apostle Paul described people “having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
If these false teachers are so hard to recognize, how can we avoid them? Paul offers these instructions:
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
False teachers deviate from God’s truth in some way. Drawing from the wheat parable, we are able to evaluate the fruit of a person’s life. Is it yielding love, joy, peace, and other fruit of the Spirit? If not, if his life is producing streams of arguments, corruption, greed, and other troubles, the Bible says we should have nothing to do with him.
Carlyle Hall, Jr. Carlyle received his Master of Divinity from Campbell University Divinity School in 2005. He has served in Pastoral ministry since 1997 and has served as Lead Pastor of Castalia Baptist Church since January 2013.