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Jan 12

Godliness Training 101

A couple of years ago I started working out with a friend from my small group at something called F3 (fitness, faith, and Fellowship). My friend runs marathons and works out regularly, so I knew the training would be good. The F3 training is an outdoor boot camp style training for men, and they meet all throughout Charlotte in the early morning. I had no idea what I was in store for. By the end of the first workout, I knew I was in trouble and out of shape. I could barely move for the next two days. I had sore muscles that I didn’t even know existed.  Some of these guys were doing serious training for different events that were impressive to see.

So when I read verses dealing with training like in 1 Timothy 4:7, “train yourself in godliness,” I think of serious physical training. Which is an accurate description of the term that Paul was using, but the phrase also brought up the question of “What is godliness?” I mean what is it really, not just the vague idea that we have of some common Christian terms. And why should I train for it? I don’t even exercise anymore, and here Paul is telling me to work hard for something.
Most people, even myself, when asked what godliness is will give an answer that includes some form of Christian character qualities, such as holiness, Christlikeness, or maybe the fruit of the spirit. But those character traits while describing godly people seem to be missing something when describing godliness. Here’s why I say this, 1 Timothy 6:5 list godliness alongside and distinct from qualities like righteousness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. There is something more foundational to the term than qualities of a godly person.
I decided to look into that word deeper. Theological dictionaries describe it in terms of both beliefs and devoted practice, or piety, to God. In 1 Timothy 4, Paul is consistently talking about teaching correct doctrine and its importance for salvation and life. So, understanding who God is and what God has done is the first part to godliness. With knowledge comes the awe and love that is crucial to motivating our desire for a relationship with God. Without that connection, piety turns into works based religion.
I think Jerry Bridges from Navigators hit the mark for the second aspect of godliness when he succinctly described godliness as “devotion in action.”  It’s not just having the correct beliefs about God. Nor is it just loving God and being in awe of Him (i.e. the fear of God). Godliness is the combination of our beliefs about God and internal life with God working out in the daily routine of life. Godliness produces genuine Christ-like character. It is not the character quality, but it is the foundational practices that develop it.
We do not naturally arrive at godly character. We know this because so many Christians are immature and hard to be around. But with God’s work in us, we can all move towards maturity and a godly life. 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Godliness is not just for the super spiritual; it’s for everyone who calls themselves a Christian. Godliness is a practice that requires training to develop. Most of us know the basics of growing, but we do nothing. Daily time in God’s Word, Studying the Scriptures and applying them, spending time in prayer and solitude with God, fasting, giving, and worship are all skills requiring training. There is nothing mystical about the disciplines; it requires time and effort. Just like working out in the gym, you will never get in shape until you start going regularly. Add to that regular workout dieting, and you increase its effectiveness. Every spiritual discipline you make a habit in your life will improve the total effectiveness of your training in godliness. Even though it is not easy, it is worth it when you reap the benefits of holiness, loving relationships, peace, spiritual maturity and insight, and a clear conscience not to mention the eternal rewards in the life to come (1 Tim 4:8).

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