Reverence for God and a life of holiness in the world.
The Old Testament. "The Lord has set apart the godly for himself" ( Psalm 4:3 ); they are, and are to become, his holy people ( Lev 11:44-45 ). Communion with God is to be zealously cultivated: "Let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found" ( Psalm 32:6 ). To neglect God is to invite catastrophe: "Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless" ( Job 8:13 ; cf. Isa 10:6 ). It is especially tragic when persons appointed to be spiritual leaders abandon God's way: "Both prophet and priest are godless; even in my temple I find their wickedness" ( Jer 23:11 ). Ungodly behavior is by nature destructive: "With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor" ( Prov 11:9 ). So it is disastrous when a nation loses the leavening influence of persons who know God: "Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men" ( Psalm 12:1 ); "The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright man remains" ( Mic 7:2 ). It is therefore vital that God's people be obedient to the mandate of Genesis 1:28. "Has not the Lord made them [husband and wife] one? And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring" ( Mal 2:15 ).
The New Testament. Godliness is the reverent awareness of God's sovereignty over every aspect of life, and the attendant determination to honor him in all one's conduct. "Godliness" and "holiness" denote one reality (the terms are joined in 1 Tim 2:2 ; and 2 Peter 3:11 ).
Godliness depends on knowing God's revealed truth. Paul speaks of "the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness" ( Titus 1:1 ), and of "godly sorrow that leads to salvation" ( 2 Cor 7:10 ). Peter declares that God's "divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him" ( 2 Peter 1:3 ). God imparts knowledge of himself by revealing his Son.
The godly person is committed to obeying God in the world: "We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will" ( John 9:31 ). The shape of obedience is clarified by the terms to which "godliness" is joined. "But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness" ( 1 Tim 6:11 ). "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" ( 2 Peter 1:5-7 ) qualities which, in turn, deepen one's "knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" ( 1:8 ). Christ, moreover, furnishes power for the godly life: "Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?" asks Peter ( Acts 3:12 ). Without divine power, godliness becomes an empty form ( 2 Tim 3:5 ).
Godliness in both respects (knowledge of God and holiness of life) is jeopardized by the propagation of falsehood: "If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain" ( 1 Tim 6:3-5 ). Accordingly, "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness" ( Rom 1:18 ).
Godliness is costly: "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" ( 2 Tim 3:12 ). Hope of eternal life enables them to endure. "The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment" ( 2 Peter 2:9 ; 3:11-12 ). "Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come" ( 1 Tim 4:7-8 ). Grace teaches us "to say No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" ( Titus 2:12-13 ). Seeing this life in light of the next encourages "godliness with contentment" ( 1 Tim 6:6-7 ).
J. Knox Chamblin
Bibliography. W. Barclay, New Testament Words, pp. 106-16; J. Bridges, The Practice of Godliness; W. Foerster, TDNT, 7:168-96; W. Mundle and W. Gnther, NIDNTT, 2:90-95.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Godly, Godliness'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".