Don’t Live A “GODLY LIFE”

Hope, Healing & Freedom Podcast : Ep 33


I am no longer going to make it my goal to live a godly life. “What?” You can’t be serious. That is the focus of today’s podcast.

Matthew 7:21-23 from the New Living Translation.  “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord’, but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven

2 Timothy 3:5 “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”

The preacher had been building up to this point for the last 40 minutes; the point where he entered the spit zone. You probably know what I’m talking about. It’s when a preacher’s intensity has risen so high that he spits when he talks. Some who didn’t grow up in the church and are not as “spiritual” as we are might call this foaming at the mouth.  “Only the godly will enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” he spat with great conviction. Then, I swear he looked straight at me and asked, “Are you going to be a godly man? The kind of man God loves?” I was only 16 years old at the time and I really wanted God to love me, so I knew at that moment what I had to do. I HAD to live a godly life!  

For many of us Godliness was a list of rules you must follow. Remember back to the way you were raised. Most of our upbringing we were taught to follow rules. The rules told us what to do, and what not to do. We were not always taught the reason why the rules were there, just that we were to obey the rules. As I look back, there were very few times growing up that I had to make a personal decision about whether something was right or wrong. I was told what was right and wrong by my parents, or other adults like pastors, teachers, coaches, etc.  As long as I obeyed the rules and did what I was told, life went well for me. I didn’t have to learn how to make ethical choices for myself, I simply learned that if I wanted life to go well for me, I followed the rules.  

In real life, however, there are only some things that are black and white. There seems to be more and more decisions that fall into the gray areas, where the choices we have to make are not as clear cut. So you are not going to be able to find security in simply following the rules. 

Unfortunately, this rule following training takes place at most of our churches as well. I grew up believing that being a Christian was comprised of a list of things you were supposed to do, and another list of things you weren’t supposed to do.  A “good” Christian was someone who did more of the things on the “do” list than the things on the “don’t” list. The reason behind the “dos” and “don’ts” were not really explained, we were simply taught that to please God, you obeyed the rules. The motivation for obeying the rules was not due to a great love for God, but obeying the rules was usually motivated by fear, or guilt, or condemnation.   

So according to the way I had learned to live life, being godly meant you had to live the right way, do the right things, and be sure not to do the wrong things. The list of the right things you had to do included things like being a good spouse, being actively involved in your church, being someone who kept your word at home and at work, being someone who had his children in order, spending time reading your Bible and praying (the more reading and prayer you did, the more godly you were, of course!), and many other really good things that I saw other people in my life doing. And I hoped that by acting right, and doing the right things, those behaviors would make me a godly man. I didn’t feel like a godly man, and there were those all too often occasions when I didn’t act like a godly man. But true to what I was taught, I kept doing the right things, hoping and “pretending” I was a godly man.    

Jesus set the standard for godliness in Matthew 5:48, “You are to be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” If we are going to try to become godly by our own efforts, then Jesus says the only way to accomplish that is by being perfect. The only acceptable behavioral standard for godliness is that we become just as perfect as God. Most of us, if not all of us, would agree that it is impossible to be as perfect in our godliness as God the Father. Yet many of us keep trying to live the Christian Life out of our own abilities, by our own efforts.

I had lived under the false idea for many years that salvation was a gift from God, which is true, Praise God!, but that living the Christian life was totally up to me, which is not true, Praise God!. I knew that I was only saved by the grace of God, but I had been led to believe that I had to maintain my relationship with God through my hard work. The more obedient I was to what God commanded, I thought, the more pleased He would be with me.  

I tried so hard to do all the right things in an effort to please God and be a godly man that I became exhausted and wanted to quit. Think about how twisted this line of thinking really is. If we could live the Christian life out of our ability by simply doing the right things, we would not have needed a savior because we would have been able to live godly lives through self-discipline and our own human effort. That’s crazy! 

Jesus went on in Matthew 5:20-48 to confront man’s self-discipline and human effort to attain righteousness. He took three laws that the people of that day would have been familiar with, murder, adultery, and divorce, and in essence He raised the standard. The people of that day were taught that simply obeying the law by not committing the behavior was all that was required of them. Notice what Jesus does with each one of these laws. Jesus raises the standard from simple obedience to the law, to an examination of their heart attitudes. The law of the day said don’t murder. Jesus raised the standard from the outward behavior of murder to the inward attitude of the heart. He said if you have anger in your heart toward another it is as if you have committed murder. He did the same thing with the law against committing adultery. He raised the standard from simply not committing the physical act of adultery to if a man even looked at a woman in a lustful way, it was the same thing as committing adultery. He raised the standard to more than just the physical behavior. It was now a matter of the attitude of the heart. 

What was Jesus doing by taking the existing law for righteousness and making it more difficult, actually raising the standard? He was showing a people who had tried to earn God’s acceptance and approval by their hard work that what they really needed was not more self-effort, but a savior. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” God is after the heart of man, not just his outward behavior. 

The harsh reality is, there is no amount of self-effort that will make us godly without God’s help. We desperately need Him not just for salvation, but for living the Christian life day in and day out. My favorite definition of “grace” is: God doing for man what man could not do for himself.  I could not save myself, thus, I needed God’s grace for salvation (thank You, Jesus!).  But I also can’t live the Christian life out of my own strength and ability, thus I desperately need God’s grace every moment in order to live the Christian life (thank You, Jesus, again!). 

What an amazing revelation! One reason we have a hard time comprehending God’s love and acceptance for us, even though we still have sinful behavior, is that humanly we can’t or don’t separate a person from their behavior. On a human level what someone does determines his identity. We directly connect doing with being. When someone does something good, they are good. When they do something bad, we consider them a bad person. Consequently, we have a hard time understanding how a perfectly holy God can be pleased with us when we still continue to commit sin. 

When God looks at us, He is able to separate our behavior from who we really are. God gave me one day at the racetrack watching my two boys racing their motorcycles. He showed me that He takes great delight in His children whether we are winning the race, not sinning, or losing the race, sinning, He delights in us simply because we are His children. Jesus died to pay the price for all of the sins we will ever commit, so I think in God’s eyes, He doesn’t hold our sin against us, because we have already been forgiven. When God looks at us, He sees the real us, His bride, who is without spot or wrinkle. 

A few years ago, I was part of a men’s ministry called Christian Leadership Concepts. It requires a two-year commitment from the twelve men in each group to show up at the weekly meetings with their homework completed ready to participate in the meeting. Before the first meeting they took all twelve of us on a weekend retreat where each guy got up in front of the group and told his story. It was a time of great intimacy as each one of us shared the successes and failures of our life. It was an awesome time of sharing, laughing, eating together, and all the other things that go along with men spending time together. I came home from that weekend looking forward to being at the first meeting so that I could get together with “my guys” again.  

I suppose we may have gotten to that same place of intimacy over time meeting in our normal weekly meetings, but by spending the weekend experiencing life together, something special happened and I knew those guys in a way I don’t know many other people. 

Experiencing God is more than just going to the weekly meetings (Sunday church). It’s more than just reading about Him in a book. It’s about actually spending time alone with Him. One of my favorite places to spend time with God is on my motorcycle. I know, it’s not a very “spiritual” place to meet with God, but it’s one of the places that works for me. We just ride and talk to each other. You may be more comfortable spending time with God in your prayer closet, or in your favorite chair, or even on your knees beside your bed. However you choose to do it, spend time talking to Him. But even more important than talking to God, is listening to Him.  What we say to God is important, but what He says to us is life changing.

Set a New Goal! Don’t make trying to live a godly life your goal (I may have to give back my seminary diploma for saying that). Doing all the right stuff might make you a good Christian in the eyes of others, but it will not help you know Jesus or have intimacy with Father God. Let intimacy with God be the driving force of your life. Develop a passionate love relationship with Jesus and begin spending time in God’s presence and see how your life will change as a result. As Christ is formed in you, and you let Him live His life through you, your behavior will automatically change because you will be changed.