“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this phrase when I was a little girl. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that this familiar saying – along with so many others like it – sounds biblical but isn’t found anywhere in the scriptures between Genesis and Revelation.
Christians are, however, called to display godliness or to live godly lives.
So what does it mean to live a godly life? And why should we do it?
Godliness is how we conduct ourselves. Our godly lives are our obedient response to God’s offer of salvation and Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. When we conduct our lives in a godly fashion, we show that we understand our accountability to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We behave in a godly way because we know we will one day stand before God. Also, as we are sanctified throughout our Christian journey, we are made more like Christ. One day we will be made perfect like Him – godly living shows our desire to look like Him now.
When someone is described as godly, it is because that person behaves a certain way; They are being like God in their behavior. They have responded to God in a certain way, and that response is evident in their lives.
Godly people do certain things and avoid doing other things. Godly people act in a certain way, live a certain way, behave a certain way…in response to the gift of salvation offered by God.
When you truly believe in Jesus and what He’s done for you, you will change. First, your heart changes on the inside. Then, God, through the Spirit and the Word, teaches you how to live. The evidence of the inward change can be seen on the outside as well. People around you will know it because they can see it in your actions. The change may be fast or slow, but the result is a more godly person living a more godly life – a life pleasing to God. The behaviors you take on and the behaviors your avoid come from obedience and love – love for God, love for His Word, and love for other people.
Once we genuinely believe in Christ and the Holy Spirit comes in and begins to change our hearts, our beliefs will change. Our speech will change. Our conduct will change. Our treatment of others will change. The truth of Jesus and his love for us as shown in the Good News of the gospel will reflect in everything we do.
This new, godly life that we learn to live once we believe the truth and once the truth begins to change us – this life brings glory to God by providing a witness to others which points them to Christ. Godly conduct on the part of the Christian should eliminate reproach – no one can find fault, criticize, or blame. Godly living silences critics of the gospel and makes the love of Christ believable.
At this point, you may be wondering, Where’s the list? Where’s the list of characteristics to show me how to live a godly life?
I’m not giving a bulleted list though, because we aren’t called to strive to check off the characteristics we already exemplify and note the ones that need more work. It isn’t about striving or working to change ourselves. Godly living results from a heart change that happens when we surrender our lives to God. He does the work. He makes the changes.
This isn’t to say that the Bible doesn’t give us any indication of what godly living should look like because it most certainly does! We have godly examples; we have characteristics we can look to, but it isn’t meant to be a checklist of things to strive for. It’s meant to be something to pray about to God and to ask Him to do in our lives.
A “definition” I found that helped me understand godly living came from the McArthur Study Bible which uses the New American Standard Version translation. When I was studying godliness, I read over and over in commentary from this Bible that godly living is “a proper response and attitude toward God in all things.” So, when you live a godly, righteous, holy life, you always put God first; you always look to Him.
If I’m looking at God, if my eyes are on Him, I will live a godly life, as much as is humanely possible in this fallen world. Will I still do, say, and think things that aren’t godly? Absolutely, because I am a sinful human living in a broken world. But, with genuine faith in God, with my eyes focused on Him, and with my life obediently submitted to Him, He will work changes in my life, and the result will be godliness.
.P.S. If you’re like me and still kind of want a “list” – you still need to see some actual behaviors or some more specific information on exactly what godliness and godly living look like – read through the books of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. (The first chapters of each book in the NIV version of the Bible are linked here from biblegateway.org. You can follow the links and read each book there). In these books, Paul gives clear instructions on godly living and what it should look like.
You could also use the concordance in your Bible to do a word search for the words “godly” and “godliness”. You could also find and read verses that are cross-referenced when you do the word study using your concordance. Another option would be to study the word in the original Hebrew and Greek languages used in the Bible. I prefer the Blue Letter Bible app and the Vines Dictionary app for studying the original languages of words in the Bible.
Pray about what you read, asking God to help you understand and to make these changes in your heart and life. Write your thoughts and your questions regarding what you read. Ask questions of trusted Christians you know (or contact me. I’d be happy to talk with you about this subject. I don’t profess to be an expert in any way, but maybe I would point you in the direction of some more resources).
The bottom line is that you seek God to show you how to live according to His Word. He’ll show you the way.