A teenage boy that I know has a t-shirt that I’ve seen him wear on several occasions. It is solid black with its only adornment being a globe representing the world drawn in silvery gray brush-strokes. Beneath it in bold white letters are the words, “In it, not of it.”
You may suspect, as I do, that a lot of people, when wearing a t-shirt with a message emblazoned across it, have no real conviction as to whatever message might be on it but wear it because they simply like the shirt. Or they need something to wear and it was the closest somewhat clean thing available. Or they wear it because they just want to fit in. But in some cases, people wear such things because they do in fact represent an attitude that the wearer holds close to his or her heart.
In this case, from my knowledge of this young man’s life, I believe that he believes in what his shirt says. Now he and I have never discussed this, but it occurs to me that his shirt’s message has a two-fold purpose. The first might be that it’s simply a reminder to its bearer that as a Christian he has not been called to live a “worldly” life, but rather a “godly” one instead. And perhaps the second purpose is to remind other Christians of the same thing, an encouragement in a sense to others to take seriously God’s call to walk with Him. And if it should have a third purpose (and I suppose I’ll someday ask the wearer if it does), maybe it is to challenge the ideologies swirling around him that stand in stark contrast against the principles of the Christian faith.
In any event, it is definitely provoking. I have found that there is a strong tension among Christians today between the call to live a “godly” life and the impulses and pressures to live just like the rest of the world.
For the moment, my assumption is that it is easier to understand what it is meant by “worldly” than it is by the expression “godly”. And I’ve become acquainted with a variety of expressions of such interpretations. First off though, is there really such a thing as a call for the Christian to live life differently than the world?
The Scriptures, God’s Word to us, do compel us that we are not to live according to the ideas and attitudes that are common to the cultures and societies around us. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2a ESV).
But just what does it mean to live a “godly” life? And how does living a “godly” life really work?
Living a “godly” life simply means to live a “God-like” life. We do not live according to the pace set by a secularized or pagan society which, by definition, is estranged from God, “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21 ESV).
Some perhaps have assumed that “godliness” is the same as hard-core asceticism. It’s not the same thing. Denial of self so that God’s ways can be lived out through us does not mean taking upon ourselves taskmasters of rules and laws since these actually set us up for pride and/or condemnation. We cannot live according to the rigorous and legalistic demands of a religion based on human righteousness because, as the Bible indicates in Isaiah 64:6, all our “righteousness” is like filthy rags in contrast to God’s holiness.
Neither does godliness permit us to live according to our sensual impulses. “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6 ESV).
Living a “godly” life means that we come to know the mind and heart of God by prayerfully reading His Word and allowing His thoughts and purposes to supplant what selfishly arises within us (whether its pride or fleshly desire that contends for supremacy in the living of our lives). It means also that we are less affected by what is “pressure cooked” into us from our culture than what God’s Spirit cultivates within us. And all of this only really happens when our lives are joined with like-minded Believers who share in our journey to walk with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
A pastor has no more genuine capacity for personal holiness than does a used car salesman (isn’t that good to know, especially if you’re a used car salesman)! A monk has no greater opportunity for living a life pleasing to God than does a carpenter (even a carpenter who makes a habit of hitting his thumb with his hammer)!
What it means then for you and me to be “godly” is that we walk closely with Him in whatever context He places us and then make our daily choices in keeping with what He has revealed to us regarding His will for our lives. We are godly when we seek to give Him first place in all our plans. We are “godly” when we forgive others as He has forgiven us. We are “godly” when we give thought to the poor and needy around us, the orphans and widows in our churches and communities as living extensions of His hands in this world. We are “godly” when our commitment to do the “right thing” (be righteous) prevails over the temptation to compromise and “sell out” in our business dealings. And we are “godly” when we remember our promises and covenants, doing everything it takes to keep them, ranging from promises to our neighbors to return their borrowed lawn care tools to the promises we make our children, from fulfilling a job contract to honoring the vows we make in our marriages.
Godliness simply means to think thoughts, do things, and live life in general on God’s terms. It’s essential, too, that we learn to do so. The church’s only hope of really pleasing God today is to make its top priority the living out of God’s Word in practical ways on a daily basis. If there is no real power in the lives of Christians and the church seems to have little effect on the culture around it, it is because we’ve lost interest in living life on God’s terms. Let’s get back on track. Let’s make God’s ways our ways and find that they really were the “right ways” all along!
“Make me to know Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long” (Psalm 25:4-5 ESV).