The Meaning of Godliness

Godliness. The word itself has so many connotations that we could probably spend quite a while unpacking what that word means to each of us. One of the first connotations that comes to my mind is a “holier than thou” attitude that makes me feel like someone else is trying to be more spiritual when they talk about pursuing godliness.

In our Bible study last week, I was challenged to think carefully about how I view godliness. Our assignment before arriving at Bible study was to read two chapters in Jerry Bridge’s book Respectable Sins (an excellent book about the “acceptable sins” we turn a blind eye to – I highly recommend it). One of the chapters was entitled, you guessed it, “Godliness.” The short definition that the author gives of godliness is “dependence on God.” In our daily needs, our conversations and the tasks we have before us, how often do we find ourselves turning to God for His strength and power to guide us through our day?

One of the areas of misunderstanding that Bridges points out is our tendency to think of pride as the root of all sins. Bridges describes it this way:

“I believe that all our other acceptable sins can ultimately be traced to this root sin of ungodliness. To use a tree as an illustration, we can think of all our sins, big and small, growing out of the trunk of pride. But that which sustains the life of the tree is the root system, in this case the root of ungodliness. It is ungodliness that ultimately gives life to our more visible sins.”

This analogy was helpful to me as I thought through the areas of my life that are ungodly – and how pride is a natural outgrowth of that ungodliness (not the other way around).

But how does one go about addressing their ungodliness? One of the questions Bridges poses for consideration is, “How ungodly am I”? He suggests that we’re all somewhere on a continuum of godliness/ungodliness. As a Christian, I shouldn’t be on the far extreme of total ungodliness, but neither will I be on the side of complete godliness.

This explanation helped enlighten my thinking: Rather than feeling depressed about all the ways I am ungodly, or compare myself to others so I can feel like I’m doing well in the godliness area, I have the ability (with the Holy Spirit as my guide) to assess how I’m doing. By looking carefully at the various areas of my life, I can determine how much I’m depending on God versus how much I’m relying on my own strength. And with the Holy Spirit’s enabling power, I can grow in dependence on God – in godliness.