Growing In Godliness Blog
Learning Life’s Obvious Lessons
By Paul Earnhart
Some years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a best-seller entitled Everything I Ever Needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten. It has become increasingly evident to me that some of life's most important lessons are exceedingly clear on the face of things. They don't have to be wrung from the depth of mystery and enigma. Yet many seem to wrestle endlessly with them. As someone has observed, the difficult people seem to work out very quickly, the obvious takes them a long time.
It ought to be obvious to the most casual observer that people are far more important than things. Why should we imagine that thinking, feeling, yearning individuals could find as great satisfaction in dead, unfeeling, unthinking, unspeaking objects as in those with whom we share the greatest and fullest association? Whoever imagined that a house makes a home: that all the material comforts in the world, even possessed forever, could fill the emptiness when those we love and who love us are gone? There is no profound philosophy in the fact that things possess no more than momentary utility while people can fill us with delight and joy. Why then do we continue to neglect people in favor of jobs, money, houses, furniture, clothes and cars?
It ought also to be apparent that the spirit of a person is more vital than their body and that what comes from within the heart is more important than the physical. We know that "the body without the spirit is dead" (James 2:26). We have had many painful demonstrations of that. And we know that outward beauty quickly loses its charm in the face of inward ugliness. As Solomon observed, "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a lovely woman who lacks discretion" (Proverbs 11:22). Why then are we so slow to recognize that a person's life comes out of what he feels and thinks and values, and not from physical superficialities (Proverbs 4:23)?
Finally, perhaps the most evident truth that we are slow to recognize is the fact that God is more important than everything else. If there is a God who created us for His own purposes and ends, it does not require a flash from heaven to tell us that we have no more important duty and necessity in our lives than to know Him and to serve Him (John 17:3; Acts 17:26-28). If there is such a God, we only live, breathe and move by His power, and He alone can tell us why we are here and how we ought to live the life He has given us. So that when Jesus says that the first and greatest commandment is "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" (Mark 12:29), it ought not to come as a shock to our senses. Common sense should have told us long ago that if Jesus is God's Son, we owe Him everything. So, before we can know the mysteries of heaven we must first learn the obvious lessons of earth.
By Susanna Cornett
I grew up attending a small congregation in Kentucky that often did not have a dedicated preacher. We relied on preachers in the area, and our meetings were usually with preachers from the Athens area of north Alabama. My mom & I joked that we were in the Athens Conference – that our speakers, doctrine, and traditions tracked with what was usual in north Alabama.
It was a joke, but also served a useful purpose: to remind us not to affiliate with a set of traditions devised by men, but rather to keep Scripture paramount.
Traditions are useful tools to create order and familiarity, to serve as shorthand in understanding a situation. They are not wrong in themselves; Paul tells the Thessalonians to hold the traditions (2 Thess. 2:15). But those are the traditions of the Scripture, of God’s word. We must be careful that we don’t allow the traditions of worship and service that have evolved for order and preference to become in our minds equal with the will of God. Paul speaks out against this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 12:15.
Any reasoning, honest, seeking person who obtains a Bible without access to other Christians and their traditions has all he needs to serve and obey God fully. He will develop his own traditions that work in his situation. If he is in a Muslim country, Sunday will be another work day. He may gather with fellow Christians for a short service in the late evening, rather than having two services during the day. If he moves to the United States, would he be wrong to continue in his own tradition rather than adjust to the common traditions here?
We are commanded to teach the world, but much of the world does not look or sound or live as many of those in our churches do. Would all the people you come into contact with on a daily basis feel comfortable coming to worship with you? If not, why?
We don’t have to change our traditions, dress differently, or compromise our faith in any way to be open to living in harmony with those who think and live differently, as long as together we are worshipping our Lord in the ways He commands. We do have to discern between the comfort of our traditions and the truth of Scripture that makes room for any traditions not in conflict with its teachings.
Showing Brotherly Affection
By Tom Rose
It has always been that way. You dress up in your best to go to church. Even if you have personal problems, are depressed or simply undone with life, you go to church and look normal, say everything is okay, and try to hide the pain that won’t go away. Church is not the place to bare your soul and share your messy problems, because people will talk and people will judge – all the while saying they feel “so sorry” and “would do anything to help you.” Why is it that we think of church as a place to go after we have cleaned up our act, not before? “Church!” said the prostitute, “Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”
But the scriptures show a different picture. Think of Esau after Jacob tricked him out of his birthright and the anger he expressed as recorded in Gen 27:41 “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” Yet, with the passage of time and a few chapters later we read, “But Esau ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Gen 33:4). Almost the same scene of emotional healing is portrayed by Christ in His famous parable of a father greeting his prodigal son. “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” Lk 15:20. If you noticed, both passages contain an embrace or a hug – the most beautiful form of communication that allows the other person to know beyond a doubt that they matter.
Perhaps the apostle Paul knew better than anyone who has ever lived what it meant to be forgiven by God and reconciled to Him. Knocked flat on the ground on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), he never recovered from the impact of God’s undeserved grace extended to him. Indeed, Paul knew what could happen if we believe we have earned God’s love. In dark times, if perhaps we badly fail God, or if for no good reason we simply fall short on keeping The Faith, we could fear that God might stop loving us when He discovered the real truth about us. However, Paul took pains to explain how God has made peace with human beings (see Titus 3:1-8) by giving up His own Son, rather than to give up on humanity – helping mankind know beyond any doubt that God loves people because of who God is, not because of who we are!
Just as God has challenged us to know the unsearchable riches of Christ (see Eph. 3:16-21), He also asks us to show that same devotion for our brethren. “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Rom. 12:10). Two examples of Paul’s deep interpersonal relations with his brethren are found in Acts. Read Acts 20:36-38 and notice the verbal and non-verbal emotional interactions as Paul and the Ephesian elders part from each other for the final time. A second illustration is found in Acts 28:13-15 near the end of Paul’s perilous journey to Rome. When Paul reaches Puteoli, Italy, brethren invite Paul and his companions to stay seven days. However, other Christians in Rome get word of Paul’s arrival (a person whom they had heard about, but had never met), so they walk forty-three miles to the Market of Appius to greet him. Others, possibly getting a later start, meet Paul ten miles closer to Rome at the Three Inns. Deeply moved by their visible demonstration of love, Paul “thanked God and took courage.” In these greetings (and many others) were found open displays of affection probably including hugs and kisses.
Let’s suppose your car has a problem and is not working properly. Would you take it to a dealer’s showroom or a service department? Perhaps that is a question we need to ask about our meeting houses – do they resemble more a “showroom” or a “service department?” And why is that? One writer offers this observation:
“Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people. …Although we believe in God’s Word, the good news of the Gospel has not penetrated to the level of our emotions.”1
I believe the following statements, when pondered soberly, may help us look at the big picture – as God sees you and me along with all humanity. “Jesus gave up worship for a womb, majesty for a manger, splendor for a stable, and heaven for a hamlet. He went from being wrapped in glory to being wrapped in swaddling cloth. He left breathtaking for breath taking and the infinite became the infant. It was incredible to know that the baby Mary delivered had actually come to deliver her and everyone else. He was born so we could be born again. He lived on earth so we could live in heaven.”2
Sometimes we need to hear more than reassuring words of comfort. Sometimes we need a hug – a hug where someone wraps their arms around you so tight and assures that everything will be alright. That is in fact what Susan and Anna Warner did. Born into privilege on Long Island, NY, their mother died when they were young and their father lost his fortune in the Panic of 1837. Reduced family circumstances forced them to leave their New York City mansion for an old Revolutionary War-era farmhouse, both women began writing novels. In addition, they began holding Bible studies for the cadets at the US Military Academy. On Sunday after-noon, the West Point students rowed over to the island where the sisters had prepared lemonade and ginger cookies for their guests. At the close of their time together, the frail women would offer a tender hug to each of these physically conditioned young men – knowing someday they might lose their life in battle. After Susan died, in 1885, the Sunday classes became Anna’s “one thought in life.” She continued teaching until her death in 1915 and that year’s graduates included Dwight D. Eisenhower – one of her pupils. The sisters are buried in the cemetery at West Point, the only civilian women who earned this signal honor as Bible teachers to generations of cadets and their former home has become a museum on the grounds of the Academy.
Life is precious; may we hold it dear to us. For it is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14). Thus, while we have today, may we endeavor, as God’s elect, to put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness and longsuffering toward our fellowman (Col. 3:12).
1David Seamands, “Perfectionism: Fraught with Fruits of Destruction,” in
Christianity Today, April 10, 1981, pp.24-25.
2Aaron Erhardt, Grace, Louisville, KY: Erhardt Publications, 2015, pp. 46-
Humbled For Service
By Matt Hennecke
The Word of God is an amazing, life-changing tool. Consider, for a moment, the apostle Paul. When we are first introduced to him, he is described as “young” (Acts 7:58). His youth may have contributed to what seems to be a certain cockiness. He seems to have been a self-assured young man who seemingly “knew it all.” It is not unusual for young men (and women, too, I guess) to see everything as black and white, right and wrong. Paul (or Saul as he was then called) was certain that Christianity—like Christ—had to be eliminated. Acts 9:1-2 reveals Saul was obsessed with threats and murder: Self-assured. Cocky. A know-it-all. And flat out wrong.
As he journeyed to Damascus, he had his first dose of humility. A light and a voice cast doubt where before there had been none. For three days he ate and drank nothing. His journey of humility had begun. He was baptized into the very Body which he had sought to destroy. Talk about eating crow. Imagine the shame and the dawning realization of just how wrong he had been.
But Paul’s journey of humility had only begun. His own writings reveal the transformative power of the Word. The Word is amazing, for it first convicts us and then lifts us. Paul’s transformation—indeed, his journey of humility—is seen in his writings. Note the progression:
• In 1 Corinthians 15:9, written about 56 AD, he calls himself the “least of the apostles.” This was still an elite group of men. The least of twelve is still pretty good company. It would almost be like saying, I’m the least of the Super Bowl champion team.”
• Then note what he writes five years later in Ephesians 3:8. He says he is “the very least of all saints.” The circle of comparison has gotten larger—much larger—but is still comprised of a minority.
• Then two years later he writes, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15). In his own words, we learn Paul has been completely humbled. By the time he wrote 1 Timothy he says is was the foremost of ALL sinners.
How did this journey of humility come to be? By constant contact with the inspired Word and by contemplation of the gold standard Himself – Jesus Christ. Paul was changed. If we will let it, such is the transforming power of the Word in us. Paul was transformed by the Word and the Word will transform us so we will have our high self-opinion replaced with total gratitude for Jesus Christ; and thus humbled we will become, as Paul did, vessels of service to our Lord.
Worldliness vs. Godliness
By Brock Henry
“You and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness.” (C.S. Lewis)
Few distinctions are more clearly delineated in Scripture than the one between worldliness and godliness. In no uncertain terms, Scripture indicates that the character promoted by the world is diametrically opposed to the character promoted by God.
This does not stop us from blurring the lines, though.
As Christians, we often swallow, with ravenous enthusiasm, the poisonous lie promulgated by Satan himself that we can have our cake and eat it, too. We delude ourselves into thinking that piety and frivolity are symbiotic.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Godliness and worldliness are not parallel paths; they are wholly divergent. And so we stand at a crossroads every time we make a decision.
Either we will take the path that leads to life and godliness, or we’ll take the path that leads to death and worldliness. (cf. Deut. 30:15-20; Joshua 24:15)
There is no middle ground. Only life or death. Only hot or cold. God will vomit out of His mouth those who are lukewarm (Revelation 3:16).
At The Heart of the Distinction
When you boil it all down, there is one defining feature that distinguishes the worldly character from the godly one: Motive.
Worldliness, at its core, is selfish. Godliness, on the other hand, at its core, is selfless. One looks inward, the other looks outward. One says, “my will be done.” The other says, “Your will be done.”
3 Biblical Analogies
Scripture uses multiple analogies to describe the drastic nature of the distinction between godliness and worldliness. Consider three of them:
Light vs. Darkness: possibly the most vivid analogy Scripture uses to describe the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of light and darkness.
John describes Christ as the “true Light” (John 1:9), and Jesus later confirms this epithet as valid when He simply states, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).
It’s important to note that Christ did not say that He has the light of the world; He says that He is the light of the world. Thus, light is a defining feature of Christ Himself, not just His message. (And as Christ is one with God, it’s not surprising that John later writes of God the Father, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NKJV).)
As a result, it only makes sense then that those who call themselves by Christ’s name should also be described as the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) and as “having the light of life” (John 8:12).
Because God defines Himself as light, and bestows this light upon all who faithfully follow Him, everything that stands in opposition to Him must necessarily be described as darkness:
• 1 John 1:6 draws a distinction between fellowship with God and “walking in darkness.”
• Christ indicates that those who follow Him “shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12, NKJV).
• Paul indicates that we should, “Walk as children of light...and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:8-13, NKJV).
• Paul also writes that the godly have been “...delivered...from the power of darkness...” (Colossians 1:13, NKJV).
• To the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul writes, “You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, NKJV).
• Peter writes that the godly “...were called...out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
In the end, godliness and worldliness are as different as day and night.
Truth vs. The Lie: a second analogy that Scripture uses to illustrate the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of truth and a lie.
Just like Christ defines Himself by light, He also defines Himself by truth: “I am the way, the truth, and the life...” (John 14:6, NKJV). Similarly, Jesus prays to the Father that He would, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17, NKJV). Again, it isn’t that God’s word has truth, it’s that God’s word is truth.
Accordingly, those who align themselves with the Creator are described as “walking in truth” (2 John 4; 3 John 3-4) and as “obeying the truth” (Galatians 5:7).
Because God is truth, everything that stands against Him is described as the opposite of truth. Whereas Scripture indicates that it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), it describes Satan as the “father of lies” (John 8:44).
Thus, those who choose an ungodly character are described as being “...of [their] father the devil...” (John 8:44) and as “wandering from the truth” (James 5:19, NKJV). When man opts for worldliness over godliness, he “...exchanges the truth of God for the lie...” (Romans 1:25).
So, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day, they are also as different as truth and a lie.
Purity vs. Defilement: a third analogy that Scripture uses to highlight the distinction between godliness and worldliness is that of purity and defilement.
Purity is yet another defining feature of God Himself (1 John 3:3). As a result, everything that emanates from Him is also pure, including His words (Psalm 12:6; Psalm 119:140), His commandments (Psalm 19:8), and His wisdom (James 3:17).
Who then is qualified to associate with God? Those who have adopted a godly character and have purified their hearts (Psalm 24:4; cf. James 4:8 and 1 Peter 1:22). Jesus reiterates this when He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
If the godly character is described as pure, then the worldly character is described as defiled:
• Jude describes certain apostates as having “...defiled the flesh...” (Jude 8).
• The Hebrew writer equates “falling short of the grace of God” with bitterness, trouble, and “becoming defiled” (Hebrews 12:15, NKJV).
• Paul, in his letter to Titus, makes a marked distinction between the “pure” and the “defiled” (Titus 1:15).
• Jesus speaks of “...evil coming from within and defiling a man” (Mark 7:23, NKJV).
Thus, just as godliness and worldliness are as different as night and day and truth and a lie, they are also as different as purity and defilement.
The Bottom Line
If we are to be people of godly character, we cannot even so much as dabble in worldliness. Godliness and worldliness are not opposite sides of the same coin, they are in fact two entirely distinct monetary systems. What works in the kingdom of this world is not even recognized by God as valid currency in His kingdom.
“No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24, NKJV). It’s not that doing so is a bad idea, it’s that doing so is impossible. Because we cannot be both godly and worldly, we must make a choice. No other decision has more gravity than this, as what we select will do no less than determine our eternal destiny.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Cursed are the defiled in heart, for they shall not see God.