Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Doctrine Worked Out

Truth has implications.

Jesus Christ was manifested in the flesh, giving us a visible, tangible template for what godliness looks like in action, and an example to follow. He was vindicated by the Spirit, demonstrating that resurrection power is available to transform human lives. He was seen by messengers, meaning we can believe what we hear and take it to heart because it has been repeatedly substantiated. He was proclaimed among the nations, meaning that he does not play favorites with men, and neither should we. He was believed on in the world, meaning God’s plan for this planet does not merely involve taking people out of it, but transforming it. And he was taken up in glory, meaning that we can look forward to an eternity in which we will share that glory with him.

No theological point is without practical consequences.

Godliness and Behavior

In Greek, “godliness” is eusebeia. The word and its relatives crop up 23 times in the New Testament, the vast majority of these in the letters from Paul to Timothy and Titus. We find them ten times in 1 Timothy alone, and eusebeia is as good a word as any to sum up the theme of that first epistle, in which Paul is primarily concerned with reminding the young man “how one ought to behave in the household of God”.

Many times eusebeia is translated “pious” or “devout”. The idea is not so much of a resemblance to God (though that is certainly a good thing, and it follows logically), but of living out the practical implications of what one believes; of demonstrating by our actions that we really know God.

I didn’t get into too much detail about godliness the other day when looking at 1 Timothy 3. I was caught up in the “mystery” aspect and the post would have gotten way too long if I’d attempted to explore the practical implications which arise out of Paul’s six-point summary of God’s work in Christ. So let’s do that now.

The Six-Point Summary

Paul refers to Jesus Christ as the “mystery of godliness”. He is both the object and the means of our devotion. Focusing on him is what makes men and women truly devout, and it is in the strength and wisdom of his Spirit that we serve.

In chapter 3, we get the theological basis for piety:

[Christ] was:
  • manifested in the flesh,
  • vindicated by the Spirit,
  • seen by angels,
  • proclaimed among the nations,
  • believed on in the world,
  • taken up in glory.
Both before and after, we are given a long list of practical implications to which this bit of doctrine is central. So the “mystery of godliness” is really the previously undisclosed means by which God enables men and women to live consistent, devout lives. J.N. Darby says:
“[I]t is the mystery of godliness, or the secret by which all real godliness is produced — the divine spring of all that can be called piety in man.”
That about sums it up.

Godliness in Action

So what does godliness look like in action then? Paul is not shy about telling us:
Real and Fake Piety

Genuine piety is predicated on the truth about Christ. There is a sort of false piety, a pseudo-devoutness that characterized people like the Pharisees. Paul speaks of the “devout” Athenians, who worshiped in ignorance, and of those who have “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power”. People in the latter camp may have some intellectual apprehension of Christ, but have failed to grasp the implications of the resurrection for holy living.

That, or they do not really believe in the resurrection at all.

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