Godliness, and living a godly life, is the central theme of 1 Timothy, chapter 4:
“Train yourself to be godly.” (v. 7)
“Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things…” (v. 8)
But what does a godly life look like? I’ll tell you first what it does not look like.
You can’t love God more by loving life less.
In a culture saturated with sex and food, you can see how some people would say: “Since there is so much sin bound up with sex and food, we must be against that. Have nothing to do with marriage or with fine foods. Pursue the simplest lifestyle possible. In denying pleasure you will become more godly.”
The Apostle Paul says, “That is completely wrong!” It is a false path to a godly life. That kind of teaching doesn’t come from heaven. You can’t love God more by enjoying life less.
Paul reminds us—God is the Creator: “Everything God created is good. Nothing is to be rejected—if it is received with thanksgiving!” (v4). Remember, marriage was given by God even before the Fall, with all of the beauties and joys of sexual union. God gave the abundance of food in the earth for our enjoyment. These are the gifts of God.
On this topic, John Stott helpfully quotes G. K. Chesterton:
“You say grace before meals, all right. But I say grace before the play and the opera, and grace before the concert and the pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching and painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing; and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” [i]
Do you see what he is saying? I celebrate all the good gifts of the Creator, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.
You can’t love God more by loving life less. So how can you love God more? How can you grow in godliness? This is surely the significance of 1 Timothy 3:16, where Paul lifts up Jesus Christ and says “Great is the mystery of godliness.” What is the mystery or secret of godliness? Answer: Jesus Christ!
Jesus Christ is the mystery of godliness.
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
Godliness, a God-centered life, is not a set of disciplines or a system. It is a person. The mystery of a godly life lies in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ who appeared in a body and was vindicated by the Spirit.
Jesus Christ is godliness in the flesh. He has lived the God-centered life, and our hope of living a godly life is in him. Jesus Christ is the object of our faith and Jesus Christ is the source of our life.
Many people would say “Oh yes, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, but he feels distant from my struggles.” Being a Christian is more than believing in Jesus. It is the life of Jesus Christ in you by the Holy Spirit. This is perhaps the most important thing for us to grasp in the whole of the Christian life.
Faith is more than believing Christ. Faith unites us with Christ so that we are united with him in his death and in his resurrection. Remember that faith receives Christ (John 1:13). Faith feeds on Christ (John 6:54). Christ is your life (Colossians 3:4) and “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
Jesus gave us a wonderful illustration of this “I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:5). Godliness is in him and it flows from him. It grows in us as we grow in him. That’s the hope of you living this life. Christ with you and Christ in you—the hope of glory.
Your hope of godliness is in Jesus Christ.
This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:9-10)
Paul begins like this when he wants to say something really important. What hope is there for me of a godly life? What hope is there for you of a godly life? How will Christian people become what God calls us to be? Everyone is looking for the answer to that question.
“We have put our hope in the living God who is the Savior…” (v. 10). Paul is thinking about sanctification here. How do we know that? He says “for this we labor and strive…” (v. 9).
Do we labor and strive for justification? No. We rest wholly in Christ. Do we labor and strive in sanctification? Yes. We put on the whole armor of God and fight the good fight. We take our stand against the enemy and his schemes.
The Spirit of God living in you, weds these two things together: 1. We labor and strive, and 2. We put our hope in the living God who is our Savior. Many people are confused about how to live the Christian life.
There are two misunderstandings of the Christian life that have caused much of this confusion.
a. The “hard labor” version
We labor and strive… (1 Timothy 4:9)
This version says that the Christian life is one great effort to try and live a godly life. Many people live here. But there is no power, no energy, and very little joy about them. These folks have the air of defeat about them. They feel that the Christian life is impossible and so they become discouraged.
b. The “no labor” version
We have put our hope in the living God. (1 Timothy 4:9)
This version says “There is nothing we Christians can do. We have to let go and let God.” They become completely passive. They do not see what the Bible says about fighting against sin. They do not dress daily in the armor of God. And, they say there’s nothing we can do to grow in holiness, it’s all up to God. It sounds so spiritual, but actually it divorces what God has joined together.
c. The “Gospel life” version
“For this we labor and strive… We have put our hope in the living God.” (1 Timothy 4:10)
Gospel life is the active pursuit of godliness through the power and presence of Jesus Christ in you. I engage in this struggle, and I fight this fight. I press on towards the prize with hope because Jesus Christ lives in me.
That’s how you live a godly life, and that’s the mystery of godliness: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:28).
[i] John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, p.115