Godliness: Living in Awe of God

Climbing the Eight Rung Ladder, 2 Peter 1:5-7

2 Peter 1:3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

“Godliness” is a word we don’t hear much anymore, and that is a shame because godliness sets a standard of excellence for us. Like all good goals, this one will always be out of our reach, but rather than discouraging us, the standard of godliness should cause us to always keep stretching, keep growing, keep reaching.

In this series, I’ve pointed out that each virtue builds on the previous one. First comes faith, but faith requires action which leads us to excellence (virtue). Excellence in turn produces understanding (knowledge) and understanding results in self-control. The goal is always growth and that requires endurance (steadfastness), but how does endurance lead us to godliness?

Our usual picture of godliness is a little cherub with folded hands looking towards heaven, but let me suggest this virtue is made of grittier stuff than that. It’s a manly quality. The Apostle Paul told Timothy to “train yourself for godliness,” (1 Timothy 4:7). He compares this spiritual discipline to working out in the gym: “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

So what is “godliness”? One lexicon describes it as the “awesome respect accorded to God.”[1]  Notice: this respect comes from the heart. It’s not just a matter of appearing to be pious. Again, Paul told Timothy there are people who have “the appearance of godliness, but deny its power. Avoid such people,” (2 Timothy 3:5). Did you catch that? Genuine godliness is a source of power. The early Christian Clement understood this when he admonished the Christians in Corinth: “Therefore let us unite with those who devoutly [our word] practice peace, and not with those who hypocritically wish for peace.”[2]

Many people think of godliness as synonymous with performing godly acts, but it is imperative we recognize godliness is more than that. In Peter’s last letter he asks, “what sort of people ought you to be as you live your lives of holiness and godliness?” [my translation] We shouldn’t think, “Today I’ll do something godly.” Rather, we must pray that we will be godly every day because a life colored with the awe of God is a life of focus and power.

What does godliness look like? Is a man wearing a cross and carrying a study Bible godly? Maybe, but to really see a godly person, we need to “look under the hood.” Godliness doesn’t consist of actions and deeds. It is something deep within the heart of the believer. Do you remember when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai after seeing God? (Exodus 34:29 ff.) He had the two tablets with the Ten Commandments in his arms and, although he didn’t realize it, “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” So it should be with people who have “awesome respect” for God. It comes shining through in their lives and their actions. There is something different about the people who know God. For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, their godliness resulted in incredible boldness and courage when faced with the fiery furnace. For the quiet, little widow who gave the Lord everything she had, it was serene trust that God would provide. For Isaiah standing forgiven in the throne room of God (Isaiah 6), it was an eagerness to do (and be) anything God required. Like the blood that flows through our veins, godliness animates everything we do and everything we are.

So how can we become godly? W.D. Mounce observes:

The chief means of training oneself in godliness is sound instruction (1 Tim. 6:3) and knowledge of the truth (Tit 1:1), especially knowledge of God (2 Pet. 1:3). While eusebeia leads to a life of contentment and gain (1 Tim. 6:6), it is an end in itself, not a means.[3]

Finally, godliness is not a means to an end. It is an end in itself. We might practice the spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting to become more spiritual, but godliness is something we are not something we do. Thus, as we climb the eight rung ladder, faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control and endurance create godliness within us and the exciting part of this process is what comes next. Becoming godly allows us to love as God loves and learning to love describes the last two steps on Peter’s eight rung ladder.


[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 412). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Holmes, M. W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Updated ed., p. 45). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Mounce, W. D. (2006). Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (p. 298). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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