Godliness – The Christian’s Distinctive Mark

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Thomas Watson’s call to godliness as a distinctive mark and portrait of the Christian is what the apostles have been teaching. Paul says that as Christians, we are to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Timothy 2:2); that we are to exercise ourselves “unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7).

Paul told Timothy that the doctrine which he had been taught is “according to godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3), and therefore, Timothy ought – as we also – to “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Timothy 6:11).

Paul also wrote to Titus that since the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, believers ought to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11–12).

Peter said that we must add to our faith “knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness” (2 Peter 1:6). And with an eschatological perspective in mind, Peter added, “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11).

Watson writes that the soul is precious, and salvation is glorious. But salvation is not just for the future; neither is salvation realised only in the future. We are not saved for eternity alone; we are also saved for the here and now. Who we are in Christ therefore ought to be reflected in what we are – as God’s redeemed – in this present hour. Watson writes that “godliness puts a man in heaven before his time;“; yet he also laments, as we should, that godliness is a rare thing even amongst those who named the Name of Christ.

Godliness Defined

So, what is godliness? According to Watson, “godliness is the sacred impression and workmanship of God in a man, whereby from being carnal, he is made spiritual.” Based on this definition, Watson describes the nature of godliness.

Godliness is real. Godliness is not some highfaluting, pie-in-the-sky theological concept. It is immensely practical. Watson writes that “godliness consists in an exact harmony between holy principles and practices.” Godliness is the confluence of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, of creed and conduct. One cannot do without the other. To have creed without conduct, in Watson’s words, is profound madness.

Godliness is intrinsic. Godliness is more than just outward conformity to God’s law. It lies chiefly in the heart. Watson makes this distinction by comparing the dew on a leaf and the sap that is in the leaf. The conformist’s religion is like the dew of the leaf. It vanishes as soon as the sun is up. The godly man’s religion is like the sap running through the vein of a leaf. The dew merely adds a shimmer on the leaf, but it is the sap in the leaf that sustains its vibrancy.

Godliness is supernatural. Godliness is not the work of natural man; it is the divine work of God. Human depravity prevents man from being godly. The natural man is not able to be godly on his own accord; neither does he have the desire. Godliness is – as Watson says – a light that can only be lit from heaven.

The Psalmist says that the blessed [godly] man is “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3). While weeds grow wildly of themselves, the blessed man is deliberately planted, so is godliness. It is an act of God in the heart of man.

Godliness is extensive and intensive. It covers every aspect of a man’s life. A godly man’s thinking is changed because he has a new understanding. His affections are changed because he has a renewed heart. His pursuits are changed because he now walks in the Spirit. Godliness is also intensive because when a believer is inflamed with godliness, “his heart boils over in holy affections.”

Godliness is glorious. Watson puts it so eloquently when he says that “reason makes us men, but godliness makes earthly angels…. Godliness is glory in the seed, and glory is godliness in the flower.”

Godliness is permanent. Godliness is not a cloak we put on when we go to Church on Sunday mornings. An occasional touch of godliness is not enough to distinguish a Christian. Godliness is not cosmetic; rather it is a settled habit.

So, Christian, aspire after godliness. Watson says that this is the grand business that should consume our time and thoughts.

Pastoral Letter by Pastor Isaac Ong – Calvary’s Weekly Bulletin (14 April 2019)