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EDITOR:
Steve Van Nattan

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THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS

Do we help one another become more godly,
or do we thoughtlessly nag and nanny each other?

By Steve Van Nattan


1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

This verse tells us how to become godly.

There is no rule book in the Bible that, if we memorize and keep the rules, will make us godly. The Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College rule books never made anyone godly. The rules of Bob Jones U., BIOLA U,, and Westmont U. vary greatly. The BJU rule book is extremely strict, BIOLA is less so, and Westmont is very lax. All three are Christian colleges, so you would think the students at Bob Jones U. would be the most godly, right? The BIOLA psychology department, back when I was in BIOLA, did a study to see how many lady students had to drop out of school due to getting pregnant. The result was that all three colleges had almost identical rates of drop outs for unwanted pregnancies. Rule books do NOT make people holy or godly.

Baptist standards, and all other denominational standards, will never make anyone godly.

So, let us see how we can participate in the mystery of becoming godly by using the verse above:

"God" in this verse is clearly God the Son, Jesus Christ. The context demands that interpretation.

 

First, "God was manifest in the flesh"

The first work of becoming a godly Christian is to be born again and show it to everyone you know and meet in some way. This will not always be by preaching the Gospel to them. It may simply be that people see your life and choices and decide that Jesus must be like you. God the Son is manifest in YOUR flesh.

When a Baptist preacher degrades the power of a godly life, lived in the open, and insists you need to hand out 300 tracts a week to be godly, he is a heretic. He is totally contradicting Jesus Christ.

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

A man I know would always dress to the nines whenever he took his wife out to dinner. He took her to a Vietnamese restaurant, and as usual, he was dressed well. Weeks later, they visited the same restaurant, and one of the Vietnamese waitresses told the husband that the owner, on their first visit, told his waitresses, "That is the way a real gentleman dresses." The husband's choice of dress manifest what was in his soul and emotions. He also openly showed that he honored his wife, and he respected the owner by not showing up looking like a fugitive from a baboon convention. The owner was a Buddhist, and he would have seen the couple pray before the meal, but he still liked what he saw. We hear a lot of talk about how the world hates us, but that is often a smoke screen for our lousy behavior. A truly godly Christian draws people to himself, and he then points them to Jesus.

Do you have enemies because of your Christian life? Yes? Great, a true Bible believer better have some enemies. Jesus did. But, do you have unsaved people who seek out your company because of your way of life? If not, you have failed to be godly, like Jesus was. People followed him around by the thousands.

Everything you do and say in your home, at work, at school, and in the market place, should make Jesus manifest to the unsaved. Only in this way will you have an entrance to later give them the Gospel. Sinners do not respond well to the Gospel given to them by a slob with a ball cap on backwards and covered with raunchy tattoos.

Do you see why I told you there is no rule book to lead you to godliness? Godliness is all about the work of God the Holy Spirit bringing you new birth and transforming you into a walking example of Jesus Christ. There are not enough rules in the whole world to do that better than God the Holy Spirit does it.

Colossians 3:8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:

"Johnny is the spitting image of his Daddy." You have heard that I am sure. Are you the "spitting image" of God the Son? This is truly a mystery. How can fallen men like us become so like Jesus that people use us as an example of what Jesus is like? But, that is exactly what I Timothy 3:16 is saying above.

Second, "God was justified in the Spirit"

Have you been justified by the Holy Spirit? Does it show, or are you still dragging around your guilt from before you were born again?

To be justified means to have a standing with God which Jesus has with God the Father. Jesus was, and is, sinless. We are not talking about sinless perfection. We still struggle with our old nature. But, before God, we are seen as in Jesus Christ, and we are as right with God as Jesus is. The mystery of godliness is that this standing with God becomes our way of walking and living in the world around us. And, people notice the difference, and some hate us for it, and some love us for it. How are we doing, friend?

Third, "God was seen of angels"

God the Son was seen of angels. The angels watched Jesus Christ live out his life on earth. They had not seen anyone live a perfectly godly life since Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden of Eden. They also ministered to Jesus while he was being tempted in the wilderness.

Mark 1:12 And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

The angels are now ministering to you also.

Psalms 91:11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.
12 They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

So, what do the angels see when God tells them to watch over you? What do they learn about the Christian life, the Church, and godliness as they tag along with you and protect you? Are those angels having to go to the bar with you, or are they having to watch things on your computer that are ungodly? Are they in on a conversation you have with other Christians in which your rail and rankle on your fellow believer? Are your angels happy angels?

Let's not get silly and mushy about our relationship with angels. There is no interaction between us and the angels according to the Bible. They help or protect you, and you will never know it. Once in my life I heard the after effects of angels protecting kids in the boarding school I went to in Kenya. But, the angels ARE there, and you will one day get to thank them for their care of you when you get to Heaven. But, for now, they will do NOTHING to interrupt your communication and walk with Jesus.

Prophets and angels want to know what God is doing with you.

1 Peter 1:10 Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
11 Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

The prophets were curious to know what was coming in the working of God in the world. They received the prophecy, passed it on, wrote it down, but they did not understand all of what they were giving us. That was revealed in Jesus Christ during his earthly ministry.

So, Jesus Christ is now living in you. Peter says the angels would like to understand how salvation, sanctification, and godliness change sinners into saints. They are watching you and me. What are they learning about godliness from us?

Fourth, "God was preached unto the Gentiles"

A godly Christian will be talking about Jesus because he loves Jesus for saving his soul from damnation. A lost sinner will be looked at the way Jesus looked at the rich young ruler:

Mark 10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

This was tough love, for Jesus loved the man, but Jesus had to tell him some hard things that the man did not want to hear. That is how a godly believer relates to the lost of this world. They love them enough to say the hard things.

Fifth. "God was believed on in the world"

If a Christian reaches a state where he is godly, someone will believe the Gospel because of that believer.

Mrs. Carrillo loved the Lord, but her husband would not confess faith in Jesus. She was very faithful in church activities, and she helped Christians in need. She wanted to tithe, but she did not work outside the home. She asked her unsaved husband if they could give ten percent of his income to the Lord's work. This might sound strange, but the man agreed that they would give the tithe if God got him a new truck at a bargain price that they could afford. He was making a deal with God without being born again.

Any preacher would tell you that God does not do business with unsaved people who will not confess faith in Christ. Well, God did business with that man, and some sort of fantastic deal on a new truck came his way. He saw the hand of God in it, and he started letting his wife tithe his income to the Lord. He also decided, after seeing his wife's zeal honored by God, that there was something to this faith and the Gospel. He started going to church with his wife, and one Sunday he confessed his faith publicly in Jesus Christ.

That is a godly woman. The world believed in Jesus by the thousands during his earthly ministry. He did not just live a holy life all to himself. He was all over Israel and in hundreds of homes of unsaved people. Someone believed in Jesus after seeing Mrs. Carrillo's faith AND in seeing that God was dealing lovingly with her. Who has believed the Gospel because they saw how God worked with you and changed you?

Sixth, "God was received up into glory"

How we Bible believers die is very important. We sing and talk about how sweet it will be to go to be with Jesus, but when the hour of death comes, what will people around us see and hear? Even more poignant is the question, what if we die so very slowly with cancer or some other debilitating final destiny? How will we deal with the suspense of dying slowly? Will we be eager to see Jesus and talking to those we leave behind with good words of faith and hope?

Perhaps the best thought, as we leave this life and move on up to glory, will be to know that our measure of godliness will soon be exactly the same as that of Jesus Christ himself.

1 John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

The sobering question is, to what degree are we now as godly as we will be when we see Jesus? The question should not make us anxious or paranoid, but we should be eager to be a little more godly every day.

This is the mystery of godliness.

 

So, godliness is not the result of all the rules we keep, and godliness cannot be enforced by preachers, churches, or Christian colleges. There is no rule book that guarantees we will be godly if we keep all the rules. Even the Bible, at least the New Testament, is not a rule book. It is a book, written from God to you, that is meant to make you resemble Jesus Christ more and more as you read it and apply it.

The Holy Spirit is the one who decides what godliness is for you. It is none of my business how that works out for you other than to encourage you to seek to be more and more like Jesus. We hear way too much about Baptist Standards, Pentecostal Standards, and Assembly of God Standards. The Reformed Churches (Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Anglican) have their idea of standards also. These are man-made rules that never made anyone godly or holy. And, they are all too often enforced with nagging and nannying by preachers and by fellow saints. This is wicked.

Who is the enforcer? Answer: The Holy Spirit.

We see in Paul's teaching that the Holy Spirit may lead you to have a different standard personally than I do. Here is how Paul dealt with this situation:

1 Corinthians 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

You may have been given the liberty, by the Holy Spirit, to drink wine, and I have been given, by the same Holy Spirit, the personal standard that I should abstain from all alcohol. You are taught, in the above text, that you should not use you liberty in my presence nor serve me wine. The same Holy Spirit brought you to your standard who also brought me to mine. This is the mystery of godliness. Godliness is not a one-size-fits-all experience. You will not want to, in any way, provoke me to drop my standards. Now will I condemn you for your standards. You will also not give me a lecture on all the Bible texts that you believe justify wine drinking. If you feel the urge to evangelize the Body of Christ to adopt your standards, this tells me your standards are ungodly. The Holy Spirit does not convince Christians of life choices in order to cause them to nag and pester one another about standards.

I was at a preacher's conference one time, and the floor was opened up for testimonies and comments. One preacher stood and said, "I thank God that pants have never touched my wife's legs." I felt like vomiting. I knew there had to be pastors in the room who were not raised in a legalistic Baptist home, and neither were their wives. These men, and their wives, may have had some very ungodly life styles before they were born again. They could not stand and make the same boast in their piety. That preacher was using his Baptist Standards to make his fellow pastors miserable. That is demonic, not godly, and, his Baptist Standards be damned.

Luke 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

By now some Baptist Standards preacher is grinding his teeth against me for implying that the Holy Spirit could permit some Christian to feel the liberty to drink wine. That is just what Paul is talking about. The instinct of UNGODLY people is to use their own standards as a law code by which to condemn and indict other Christians. Your standard becomes your weapon to club the sheep for what YOU define as ungodly.

 

What is the beginning and end of godliness?

Answer: To be godly, you must be like Jesus.

Philippians 3:7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,
9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:
10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 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,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul knew Jesus Christ from the day he was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus. So, what does he mean in verse 10 by saying, "That I may know him...." He means he is never done knowing Jesus and being conformed to him. Jesus is the standard of holiness and godliness, and we are to know him better and better every day. You can be a better and better Baptist every day and go to Hell. Until Jesus is the object of your faith, AND your zeal to live life, you are ungodly.

Jesus Christ is the only standard of holiness.

There is a heresy in many churches in which the pastor tells the saints that he is their example. This text is used out of context so often:

1 Peter 5:1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3 Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

When a pastor tries to convince you that he is your example of holy living and godliness, tell him he is out of order. We learned above that Jesus Christ is the only source and model of godliness for believers today. The only way in which your pastor is an example for you is based entirely on how much he is like Jesus. If he is rude, nagging, and demanding of you, he is like a heathen, not like Jesus. When a pastor is like Jesus, that is, when he shows a true spirit of godliness, that pastor does not notice it in himself. YOU are the one who notices the godliness in that pastor. He does not need to demand that you follow him. He teaches and shows you, by his own personal life, how to follow Jesus.

If you have a pastor who really reminds you of Jesus, he is a good example. Be like Jesus as you respond to your pastor. But, never determine to be like your pastor. He is not done knowing Jesus yet, and he will, sooner or later, show his imperfection.

 

CONCLUSION

Does this whole discussion sound a bit vague and mysterious? Are you wondering exactly when and how you will be like Jesus?

Do not let this put you into confusion. Paul said, in our first text above, that godliness is a mystery. Here is the verse again:

1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

Perhaps another text will show you that the mystery is all about how God the Holy Spirit works.

John 3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

Ed was a deacon in a Baptist church in San Bernadino, California. He was a godly man in many ways, and people loved him. He was downtown one day, and he met a lady church member with her young son in tow. Ed stopped and talked with them, and the boy talked to his friend, "uncle Ed." Ed smoked. He had never been convicted of smoking as a possible issue God wanted him to leave behind. When he talked to people, if he was smoking, he kept the cigarette out of the way. As the lady moved on, Ed heard something that was clearly the Holy Spirit blowing where he listeth. The boy said, "Mommy, it must be OK to smoke, uncle Ed smokes." Ed heard this, and he was at once smitten. He did not want to be the one to convince that boy to take up smoking. Ed stopped smoking cold turkey that day. The blessing is that the pastor of that church did not lay the law on Ed and force the issue under Baptist Standards jurisprudence. Because of that, the Holy Spirit could indeed blow where he wanted to list and at the perfect time. God had Ed all to himself. When you lay law on the saints, they comply because you are the judge and jury, and when you go away, they may at once backslide. Ed never smoked again or even wanted to. He wanted to be the "uncle Ed" that God could use to provoke Christians to good works and godliness.

Once you are new born of the Holy Spirit, you are put on a journey by him to become like Jesus. God the Holy Spirit will not tell you what is coming next. He will simply work with you day by day to help you become more and more like Jesus. You may wonder if anything is happening. You may sin and have to confess the sin and feel like you lost any image of godliness. But, God the Holy Spirit is never done with you. You are a work in progress, and the final product will not be revealed until you pass over from this life into the presence of Jesus Christ.

So,

1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

1 John 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

What a priceless promise. See how much you can get to know Jesus better each day. That is the mystery of godliness..... to be pure like Jesus is pure.

Leviticus 20:7 Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.

OH, TO BE LIKE THEE

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