This e-Pistle entry is the thirteenth article in a series.
Early in his second epistle, Peter writes:
“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of (relationship with) our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Not to oversimplify, but it seems that Peter is encouraging his readers that the health and testimony of their relationship with Christ is linked to their progress in spiritual growth. He is very specific about this process of spiritual growth, indicating one quality that builds upon another, and so on.
In the past year, we have considered some thoughts about goodness, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance. The next quality that Peter lists is godliness, and it is to this quality that we now turn our attention.
A Linguistic Review of the Word, Godliness
Peter uses the Greek word translated, godliness, four times in his second letter. The word is made up of a prefix meaning “well” and a verb meaning “to be devout.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says that this word “denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him.” Vine’s also informs us that this Greek word is plural and, therefore, signifies acts of godliness or piety.
Further study of this word from The Complete Word Study Dictionary by Spiros Zodhiates reveals two other important insights. First, this Greek word is used in the New Testament to describe both believers and unbelievers. An unbeliever might be described as pious or “godly” using this word. According to Zodhiates, the word “literally means well-directed reverence, but does not imply an inward, inherent holiness. It is actually an externalized piety.” Seen in this light, it makes some sense that it could be used to describe an unbeliever. An obvious conclusion from this is that such “godliness” must never be construed as the ground of one’s salvation. This, of course, is consistent with all the New Testament teaching on justification. However, the second insight is revealed in 1 Timothy 3:16 where Paul communicates that godliness (ευσεβεια, eusebeia) is a mystery. Zodhiates writes that “this refers to a holy life resulting from God’s incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ when that incarnation and all that it entails is truly believed. This is eusebeia, a holiness initiated in the life of the believer by Christ Himself through the Holy Spirit.”
In 2 Peter 1:3, Peter tells his readers that God “has given us everything we need for life and godliness (eusebeia) through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” So we see that, for the believer, “godliness” is a gift of God. Later in the same chapter, Peter includes this same word in his list of spiritual growth qualities, indicating that it is something to be developed that is both essential for spiritual maturation and is a normative element of the believer’s spiritual growth.
One final thought Zodhiates points out is that, in 2 Peter 1:6 and 7, “godliness” precedes “brotherly kindness” and therefore is identified as the spiritual growth quality having to do with the believer’s attitude toward God and actions resulting from that attitude. This is differentiated from the believer’s attitude toward man indicated in the next quality mentioned, “brotherly kindness.” This observation is consistent with the order used by Jesus when responding to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Some Thoughts on Godliness as a Part of the Spiritual Growth Process
Although his list of spiritual qualities in 2 Peter 1:5 – 8 may not have been comprehensive, Peter evidently intended to represent it as progressive. He characterized each quality as building upon the next, then summarized by commenting on the positive results of the ongoing development of these qualities (vs. 8). Consequently, reflecting on “godliness” as a part of this developmental order as a whole may shed some light upon this particular quality.
The list begins with faith which Peter clearly identifies as that which has been “received” (vs. 1) from God. [Vine’s Expository Dictionary comments on the word translated, received: “by its being ‘allotted’ to them, not by acquiring it for themselves, but by Divine grace (an act independent of human control, as in the casting of ‘lots’)”]. When, in verse 5, he urges his readers to “make every effort”, Peter is not speaking of faith. Faith is the ground upon which the believer stands and exerts his efforts to “add” to his faith those qualities which Peter lists as fundamental to effective and productive spiritual growth.
The first of the qualities Peter encourages his readers to add to their faith is goodness. The recognition of and love of God’s goodness; the desire for that which is good; the right response to the good work of God’s grace in the believer’s life is the early evidence of spiritual growth and the beginning of a maturation process that will last throughout a lifetime. (For more thoughts on goodness, see e-Pistle entries for October and November 2006.)
Peter instructs that knowledge be added to goodness. This, it seems, may describe the stage that begins to go beyond the initial tasting and seeing of the Lord’s goodness. This is where the child of God begins to learn to think Biblically; to understand life in a fallen world in light of the fundamental goodness of God, even when confidence in God’s goodness is challenged by the believer’s own emotions and human reason. This is where the deeper truths of Biblical theology begin to be considered and embraced. It is the stage, according to Scripture (i.e. Hebrews 5:13, 14), where the young child of God becomes “acquainted with the teaching about righteousness” and where he begins to train himself “to distinguish good from evil.” (For more thoughts on knowledge, see e-Pistle entries for November 2006, and January, February, and March 2007.)
The next quality to be added is self-control. Logically, as the believer seeks to apply his growing knowledge of truth to daily living, temptations arise to threaten the integrity of his developing convictions. Here, he is challenged to compromise the “constant use” of his training in the distinguishing of good from evil (Hebrews 5:14). Here he needs self-control to meet and resist these temptations. (For more thoughts on self-control, see the e-pistle entry for April 2007.)
The quality that follows self-control and immediately precedes godliness in Peter’s list is perseverance. The exercise of self-control to submit to God and resist the devil will result in spiritual victories (James 4:7), but it will not end the war (Ephesians 6:10 – 18). Perseverance is the quality that takes self-control beyond mere responding to the crises of temptations. Perseverance establishes the mettle of conviction. (For more thoughts on perseverance, see the e-pistle entries for May, June, July, August and September 2007.)
Godliness is the successor to perseverance in the progression of spiritual growth outlined by Peter. An allegiance to the good has led to a growing knowledge of God’s character and God’s ways. Commitment has been evidenced through self-discipline (self-control) and persistence (perseverance). Principled obedience has become the God-ward devotion that is identified as the spiritual virtue, godliness. The early growth seen in goodness and knowledge has matured through the challenges of self-control and perseverance and now leads to a stage of maturation where the believer’s effort is no longer primarily directed towards himself and his own spiritual growth and purity. He is now beginning to be focused upon glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. The convictions learned during the earlier stages of growth are now owned, and the motivations for living God’s way are less and less legal and more and more relational.
C. S. Lewis wrote:
I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.
(Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 12: “Faith”)
This seems like a good explanation of the spiritual maturation process leading up to godliness.
The Turning Point in Spiritual Growth: “I Must Be About My Father’s Business”
I think that a lot of Christian parents do not experience the pleasure of observing their children’s spiritual development of the quality of godliness as has just been described while their children are still living with them. Just as the development of responsibility and social maturity is severely retarded in American young people because of American youth culture, the process of spiritual maturation is often greatly slowed as well. The turning point in spiritual growth where the believer moves from being primarily concerned with himself to being primarily concerned with God takes place – if it takes place at all – long after the young person has finished his formal education, begun his career, or established his own family.
Some may think that this is normative. And, of course, each person’s development is unique to him as an individual. However, just as physical development follows a relatively predictable pattern for all of us, surely there is some sort of normal progression that governs spiritual development. The study of 2 Peter 1:5 – 8 certainly suggests that there is. The question that concerns us here is: “When can we and when should we expect to see the development of the quality of godliness in our children’s/young people’s spiritual growth?”
One thought that I cannot escape is that the Scripture presents us with an ideal from which we may begin to address this question. That ideal is the Lord Jesus, and it just so happens that we have a record in the Bible of Jesus’ thinking as a youth which sheds light on His spiritual maturation. Luke reveals Jesus as a boy of twelve “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). When His parents found Him and expressed to Him their concern over their separation from Him, Jesus answered, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) In this statement, we find a characterization of the spiritual quality of godliness. Jesus’ concern is God-ward. Even at this early age, He is revealing His understanding of mature priorities which He later identifies as the first and greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (For more thoughts on Jesus as a youth, see e-pistle entries for June, July, August and September 2006.)
If our children have experienced the new birth, they have Christ living within them. He is their ideal example, and the ideal spiritual growth is depicted in His life. Luke speaks of this growth in part in the famous verse, Luke 2:52: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Though He was young, He evidenced the mature quality of godliness. As Christian parents, I believe that we ought to inform our regenerate children of the example of our Savior as a boy and continue to hold Him up to them as the ideal example for their efforts in spiritual growth. By God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit, as they “make every effort” in spiritual maturation (2 Peter 1:5), we may indeed be privileged to observe a maturity in our children that is beyond our expectations. They will be prepared at an earlier age to develop the spiritually mature qualities of brotherly kindness and Godly, self-sacrificing love.
The study of this passage (2 Peter 1:1 – 11) will continue in the next e-Pistle article on the topic, “Brotherly Kindness.”.