Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Godliness

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:



Richard Hollerman

Our English word, godly, is defined as “having a great reverence for God; pious.”[i][i]  This is not far from the meaning of the Greek word, eusebeia.  The Greek is from eu, “well,” and sebomai, “to be devout,” and it denotes “that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him.”[ii][ii]  Since our English word, “godliness,” has the word “God” in it, many may assume that the term means “God like.”  Therefore, occasionally, we read it spelled as “Godliness” instead of “godliness,” since no one would like to desecrate God’s name. However, the Greek for “God” (theos) is not to be found in the term eusebeia.  “Godly” itself comes from eusebes and eusebos.  Godliness is a word that denotes “’piety,’ or ‘reverence.’ It speaks of conduct, belief, and speech that is harmonious with the character of God and honoring to Him.”[iii][iii]

Richards discusses the meaning: “To the Greek [these words] indicated fulfillment of obligations and resultant acceptability to God.  When used by translators of the Septuagint, these words usually were used to convey the idea of the fear of God.  This OT concept is rooted in deep faith: a reverential awe, expressing itself in obedience to God. . . . In the NT use, we find the thought that the godly person has restructured his life around Jesus and is living that life as a disciple, worshiping the Lord and doing good works.”[iv][iv]

Surprisingly, the term eusebeia is not found in any of Paul’s letters before his last ones (Timothy and Titus), but it is found many other places in the New Testament.  Paul says that prayer should be offered “so that we may lead a tranquil and quite life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).[v][v]  The apostle encourages Timothy by saying, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (4:7-8).  The phrase, “discipline yourself” here comes from gumnazo, “to exercise, to train the body or mind.”[vi][vi]  This athletic term shows that one who seeks godliness must exert effort to arrive at this quality. “As the athlete trains himself for the contest so the Christian must train himself to be the follower of Christ.”[vii][vii] MacArthur adds this: “Think of it: if we would devote the same amount of time and energy to the exercise of godliness as some people expend each week at the fitness center, we would profit immeasurably—and in an eternal sense—from the effort.”[viii][viii]

Some do not seek true godliness but give a display of false godliness.  Paul says that certain sinful people hold “to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:5).    We need more than a form or claim to this virtue; we need the real quality that God works in us for His purposes.  Religiosity won’t do.  True, sincere godliness and piety is needed.  Paul refers to some who would turn from this important quality: “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing. . .” (1 Timothy 6:3-4a).

The truth of Scripture stimulates us to live a godly life, but some refuse to teach or abide by this teaching.  In fact, they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (v. 5).  This reflects the contemporary “prosperity” and “word of faith” teaching—but this materialistic theology and worldly emphasis is flatly wrong. Paul responds, “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (v. 6).  Since we cannot take anything out of the world (vv. 7-8), we need to focus on godliness here so that we will be prepared for the life to come!  Thus, Paul urges Timothy to “pursue” godliness (v. 11).[ix][ix]  We should seek godliness with all of our heart!

The Word that we believe and teach focuses on true godliness.  Paul refers to “the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness” (Titus 1:1).  Is this the message that you hear and proclaim—or does the contemporary message in the world have a different focus?  Peter lists the various virtues that should characterize our life in 2 Peter 1:5ff.  He mentions faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance. Then he says that godliness should be added to perseverance, and brotherly kindness should be added to godliness, and love should be added to brotherly kindness.  Are we actively seeking to grow in our piety toward God?  We are not prepared to meet the Lord without this virtue.  Peter reveals what will happen in the future: “The day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (3:10).  He then urges our sober response: “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (v. 11).  Only the “godly” person is ready to escape the conflagration of God’s wrath that is coming!

God’s saving grace leads us to live a godly and devoted life.  Paul explains, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12).  While we live on earth and await for Christ’s return and the great destruction of the created order, we must live in godliness. If we do prepare ourselves with this spiritual quality, we must be prepared to face suffering in this world. Paul warns us, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).  Many people will not accept your purpose to live a godly and different life in Christ, and they will react against you (cf. 1 Peter 4:1-5).


[i][i] The American Heritage College Dictionary.

[ii][ii] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[iii][iii] MacArthur, The Quest for Character, p. 66.

[iv][iv] Expository Dictionary, p. 315.

[v][v] A related term to “godliness” is theosebeia, meaning “the worship of God.”  Paul encourages women to “adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness” (1 Timothy 2:9-10).  The ESV has, “. . . women who profess reverence for God.”  This is a powerful motivation for Christian women to dress modestly. If they profess to honor, worship, and reverence God, let them clothe themselves appropriately.

[vi][vi] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary.

[vii][vii] William Barclay, New Testament Words, p. 113.

[viii][viii] The Quest for Character, p. 68.

[ix][ix] “Pursue” is from dioko, meaning, “to pursue without hostility, to follow, follow after” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary).

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