Godly character

Near the end of his ministry, Paul wrote a letter to a one of his traveling companions named Titus. “Titus was most likely a Gentile from Macedonia (Galatians 2:3) who was led to Christ by Paul (Titus 1:4). Titus was with Paul in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1) when some dogmatic, Jewish brethren insisted that Titus should be circumcised. Paul would not allow it (Galatians 2:3-5) because this would have suggested that all non-Jewish Christians were second-class citizens in the church. Titus remained as Paul’s traveling companion and may have been with Paul when he wrote the letter to the Galatians. After Paul’s release from his first imprisonment in Rome, Titus traveled with Paul to do mission work in the East. They landed at Crete and evangelized several towns (Titus 1:5). However, since Paul was unable to stay, he left Titus in Crete to complete the organization of congregations in that region. Titus met with considerable opposition and insubordination in the church, especially from the Jews (Titus 1:10). It is quite possible that Titus had written to Paul to report this problem and ask for spiritual advice. Paul responded with this short letter encouraging him to complete the process of organization, to ordain elders, to exercise his own authority firmly, and to teach sound doctrine while avoiding unnecessary strife…The letter was probably delivered by Zenas and Apollos (Titus 3:12). It is believed, however, that Paul penned this sometime between his first and second imprisonments in Rome (ca. AD 64) when he was in the city of Nicopolis (Titus 3:12). This was about the same time that the book of 1 Timothy was written. The instructive tone of this epistle to Titus is similar to that of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Both Titus and Timothy endured much criticism from false teachers during their ministries. Paul exhorts Titus to continue to preach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and to use wise judgment concerning the appointing of leaders in the church (Titus 1:5-9)” (Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Titus).

The transition of leadership in the church from Jesus’ apostles and original followers to Gentile believers that were some of their early converts was difficult because of the cultural differences between the Jews and Gentiles. The issue of godly character was discussed in depth by Jesus, but not in the context of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit because he didn’t come into the world until after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven (Acts 2:1-4). Paul’s greeting included a doctrinal statement that was intended to lay the foundation for his message to Titus. Paul began by stating:

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior. (Titus 1:1-3)

Paul indicated that he had been made an apostle “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1) and then, linked his role to the development of godliness. Paul used the phrase which accords with godliness to emphasize the fact that godliness is dependent upon an individual’s knowledge of the truth. The Greek word that is translated godliness, eusebeia (yoo-sebˊ-i-ah) “is from eu, ‘well,’ and sebomai, ‘to be devout,’ denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well-pleasing to Him” (G2150). In his first letter to Timothy, Paul directly linked godliness with the manifestation of God through Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, and implied that godliness was embodied in, and communicated through, the truths of the faith of Christ (1 Timothy 3:16).

A critical point that Paul made about God’s character was his inability to say something that wasn’t true. With regard to our hope of eternal life, Paul said, “God, who never lies” promised it to us before the ages began (Titus 1:2). The Greek word psuedomai (psyooˊ-dom-ahee), from which the word lie (pseudos) is derived, means “to utter an untruth or attempt to deceive by falsehood” (G5574). The prefix pseudo “is used to mark something that superficially appears to be (or behaves like) one thing, but is something else” (Wikipedia). Jesus associated lying with the devil and told the Jews who had believed in him:

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works of your father.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:39-47)

Jesus contrasted the devil’s behavior with God’s and said, “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). In the same way that God never lies (Titus 1:2), Jesus indicated that the devil never says anything that is true because of his character (John 8:44).

In his letter to Titus, Paul stated, “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:12-14). Paul acknowledged that it was the Cretans’ natural tendency to act contrary to their Christian heritage and may have been trying to encourage Titus that it wasn’t his fault that his congregation was lacking in spiritual character. Paul may have wanted Titus to view these believers as being under satanic influences. Paul said that Titus should “rebuke them sharply” (Titus 1:13). The words Paul used have the connotation of cutting the Cretans off abruptly. In other words, Paul wanted Titus to be rude, if necessary, to convince the Cretans that they didn’t know what they were talking about. Paul wanted the Cretans to be sound in their faith, meaning that they could recognize for themselves when they were being drawn away from the truth.

The Israelites often stumbled in their attempt to do what God wanted them to. When the people of Israel demanded a king, the prophet Samuel was resistant to giving in to them because he knew they were rejecting God’s authority. God told Samuel to do what the people wanted him to (1 Samuel 8:7). “God knew that the Israelites would someday desire a king. He had previously given guidelines that were to be followed by the people and by the kings that would reign over them (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). Among the guidelines that God established was the stipulation that the king write for himself in a book a copy of the law. God said, “it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19). God intended that his commandments would be the constitution that his people lived by, but “they wanted a visible deliverer in whom they could place their trust (cf. Judges 8:22). They wanted to walk by sight not by faith. In so doing, they sought to escape the moral demands of the law by doing away with the theocracy under which they had been living” (note on 1 Samuel 8:5-7). In order to prevent his people from abandoning him completely, God gave the man that was selected to be Israel’s king another heart and changed him into another person (1 Samuel 10 6, 9). 1 Samuel 10:9-13 tells us:

When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah,behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place.

The Hebrew word that is translated gave in the phrase God gave him another heart, haphak (haw-vakˊ) has to do with transformation. “The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God. Samuel promised that Saul ‘shalt be turned into another man’ (1 Samuel 10:6), and when the Spirit came on him, ‘God gave him another heart’ (1 Samuel 10:9). The Spirit’s interaction with Saul was not the same as when a believer is converted and the Holy Spirit enters into that person’s heart, what is referred to as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Saul was changed by the Spirit coming upon him which caused him to be transformed into another man (1 Samuel 10:6).

The New Testament speaks of transformation in the context of both internal and external change. Paul’s instruction to the Romans was, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Being conformed to the world means that externally you look and act like everyone else (G4964). Transformation, on the other hand, has to do with a continuous process of inward change that is expressed in the character and conduct of the individual (G3339). Paul indicated that believers are transformed by the renewal of their minds. The Greek word that is translated renewal, anakainosis (an-ak-ahˊ-ee-no-sis) refers to “the adjustment of the moral and spiritual vision and thinking to the mind of God, which is designed to have a transforming effect upon the life; and stresses the willing response on the part of the believer” (G342). God’s stipulation that the king of Israel have a personal copy of the law was so that he could meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2) and adjust his thinking to it in order to develop godly character.

“From a human perspective, Saul fully satisfied the desires of the people. He was a man of great stature from the most military-minded tribe of all Israel and was considered capable of leading the people in battle against their enemies. Saul was also a man whose own spiritual life mirrored that of the majority of the Israelites; it was not long until he disobeyed the Lord (1 Samuel 13:8-14). During his farewell address, Samuel made the people aware of the fact that they had sinned by asking for a human king. Samuel said, “Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.’ So Samuel called upon the LORD, and he LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. And all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king” (1 Samuel 12:16-18). The people confirmed their rejection of God’s authority when they asked Samuel to pray to the LORD your God. Samuel assured the Israelites that in spite of their rejection, God would not forsake his people, “for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22).

Samuel’s final remarks to the people of Israel made it clear that God was not going to give up on his chosen people. Samuel said that “it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22, emphasis mine), implying that the LORD could work things out with or without the cooperation of the Israelites. The Hebrew word ʿasah (aw-sawˊ) means “to create, do, make…This verb is also applied to all aspects of divine acts and actions. In the general sense of His actions toward His people Israel, the word first occurs in Genesis 12:2, where God promises ‘to make’ Abram a great nation” (H6213). God’s intention of making the people of Israel a people for himself was related to his covenant with Abraham and his plan of salvation for the world. The LORD’s anointing of Saul “to be the prince of his heritage” (1 Samuel 10:1) was the first step toward Jesus becoming the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he was initially recognized and worshipped as “the king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), but throughout his ministry he talked about the kingdom of heaven and he told his twelve disciples that “in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28).

The distinction between God’s effort and ours when it comes to developing godly character and the result of us acquiring it are considered in the book of Acts in connection with the healing of a lame beggar. Peter and John were going up to the temple when a man asked to receive alms from them. Acts 3:4-8 states:

And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

The lame beggar didn’t ask or expect Peter to heal him. Peter merely commanded the man to rise up and walk. Afterward, Peter asked the people that had witnessed this miracle, “why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” (Acts 3:12). The Greek word that is translated piety in this verse, eusebeia is translated godliness in Titus 1:1. Peter concluded that it was power and godliness that had made the lame man walk, but wanted everyone watching to understand that he was not the source of it.

Godliness is a spontaneous feeling of the heart that causes us to do things that are godly or for God (G2150). Paul explained in his first letter to Timothy that godliness had to be exercised in order for it to be helpful or advantageous to us. Paul said:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10)

Paul suggested that toiling and striving for godliness was a worthwhile effort “because we have our hope set on the living God” (1 Timothy 4:10). The point that I believe Paul was trying to make was that godly character is based on a real person, Jesus Christ, and therefore, we know what the end result looks like. Our hope is based on reality, not a fantasy.

When God gave King Saul another heart and turned him into another man, Saul was immediately converted, but he didn’t have any context for the influence of the Holy Spirit because Jesus, the source of his transformation, hadn’t yet been born. You might say that Saul was left to his own devices when it came to developing godly character because he had no concept of what God was really like. It’s possible that God intended for Saul to be an example of an ungodly Christian. In other words, Saul represented the kind of person that has experienced spiritual rebirth, but has no interest in doing things for God. Saul’s focus was on the material world rather than the kingdom of heaven. In his letter to Titus, Paul identified the qualifications for elders. Paul said, ‘For an overseer, as God’s steward must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:7-8). “The word ‘self-controlled’ is the Greek adjective sophron (4998). It means ‘to voluntarily place limitations on one’s own freedom’” (note on Titus 2:2, 5). Paul used the word sophron three times in the section of his letter that addressed qualifications for elders and the teaching of sound doctrine. Paul’s emphasis of self-control suggests that it was an important quality of godly character. Sophron is derived from the words sozo (sodeˊ-zo) which speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982) and phren (frane) which means “to rein in or curb.” In a figurative sense, phren is “the supposed seat of all mental and emotional activity. In the New Testament, by metonymy, meaning the mind, intellect, disposition, feelings” (G5424). One way of looking at self-control is that your mind operates like someone who has been saved. A person who exercises self-control demonstrates that he or she has actually been delivered from the power of sin and death and in the process develops godly character.

Process of spiritual growth

Peter’s second epistle is believed to have been written not long before he was martyred for his faith during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (The Second Epistle General of Peter, Introduction). Peter’s final instructions focused on the process of spiritual growth. Somewhat like stepping stones that mark an unfamiliar pathway, Peter identified the characteristics that result from a believer’s diligent effort to produce spiritual fruit. Peter said, “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

Peter assumed that the people he was writing to had already been born again because he told them to add to their faith virtue (2 Peter 1:5). Faith in this context is the initial reliance upon Christ for salvation (G4102), a decision to accept Jesus as your savior. Peter indicated that after being born again, a person must learn to or at least make an effort to be virtuous. The Greek word translated virtue, arete (ar-et’-ay) is properly translated as manliness or valor (G703). Arete has to do with the impression one makes on another person. You could say that it is the image of ourselves that we project to others or our appearance. What I believe Peter was getting at was that after we become Christians, we should start looking like Christians. People should notice and be impressed by our Christlike behavior.

Peter instructed believers to add to their virtue knowledge (2 Peter 1:5). The Greek word Peter used that is translated knowledge is gnosis (gno’-sis). Gnosis denotes spiritual truth and in this instance is concerned with the initial understanding that one should have of his or her faith, what it means to be a Christian. In other words, Peter was saying that Christians should understand the Bible enough to answer the question, what does it mean to be saved? The first three steps that Peter identified in the process of spiritual growth were things that almost every person that has been born again is able to do as soon as or shortly after becoming a Christian. They don’t take very much effort. Therefore, you could say they have to do with being a baby Christian, someone that has not really started to mature yet.

Peter said we are to add to our knowledge temperance or self control. Paul mentioned temperance in his list of spiritual fruits (Galatians 5:23). This seems to suggests that Peter was shifting gears and was beginning to focus on the kind of spiritual growth that is usually associated with a mature Christian. The Greek word translated temperance, “Egkrateia is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites” (G1466). For some people this might be a rather easy task, but for others it can take a long time, sometimes a lifetime for them to get their addictions and habits under control. Peter’s next step, patience is what I would refer to as the characteristic that separates the men from the boys. Patience or hupomone (hoop-om-on-ay’) is also translated as waiting, but it is more than just sitting idly by and expecting something to happen. Patience has to do with enduring trials and is sometimes associated with God’s disciplining of his children.

According to James, patience perfects Christian character (James 1:4). “fellowship in the patience of Christ is therefore the condition upon which believers are to be admitted to reign with Him, 2 Ti 2:12; Rev 1:9” G5281). Peter encouraged believers to go beyond this point and instructed them to add to their patience godliness (2 Peter 1:6). Godliness has to do with conforming oneself to the will of God (G2150). I believe this is where the transformation of a believer’s life becomes evident to everyone around him. You could say that the Christian that exhibits godliness definitely stands out in a crowd. I think this step in the spiritual growth process is where the majority of Christians drop out or give up, thinking that it is too hard or not worth it. I can say from my own personal experience that this step is not for the faint of heart.

The next step in the process of spiritual growth is one that might seem like it should be at the beginning rather than the end. Peter said we are to add to our godliness brotherly kindness (2 Peter 1:7). Brotherly kindness or philadelphia in the Greek represents the kind of love that is usually expressed between blood relatives, but in this context it refers to all believers or the family of God. The final step in the process of spiritual growth, charity is closely linked with brotherly kindness. The Greek word Peter used that is translated charity, agape is the highest or purest form of love that can be expressed between two people. It conveys “the attitude of God toward his Son” (G26). I believe what Peter was getting at was that in order to reach full maturity as a Christian, we need to first learn how to love other believers the same way we love our own family members and then, we need to be able to love everyone else the same way we love ourselves.

Godly living

Paul told Timothy:

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)

According to Paul, the secret of godly living is the life of Jesus Christ. In other words, all that is necessary to become godly has already been done for us by Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection. When we receive his gift of salvation we are sufficiently equipped for godly living. Paul told Timothy, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance” (1 Timothy 4:8-9).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated godliness is eusebeia (yoo-seb’-i-ah). “The root of this word — seb — signifies sacred awe and describes reverence exhibited especially in actions; reverence or awe well directed” (G2152). Another way of describing godly behavior might be a do-gooder, someone that does good things for others because they love God. You could also say a godly person is someone that acts like Christ, someone that follows the example Jesus gave us while he was living on earth.

Paul told Timothy that godliness is profitable unto all things (1 Timothy 4:8). What Paul meant was that you will gain a spiritual advantage if you live your life according to what the Bible says you are to do and not do. Paul said in his second letter to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul’s comprehensive list showed that there was nothing missing in God’s word. All that we need to know about godly living can be found in the Bible.

Spiritual progress

The underlying message of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was spiritual progress. Paul started by depicting his work of preaching the gospel as laying a foundation that others could build on (1 Corinthians 3:10), then he identified the type of building that was being constructed by asking the rhetorical question, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV). The analogy of building a house for God was Paul’s way of explaining the slow, but steady spiritual progress believers were expected to make in their growth as a Christian. When Paul talked about celebrating the Lord’s supper and receiving spiritual gifts, he was explaining to the Corinthians a spiritual process that sometimes takes place outside of our awareness. Afterward, Paul stated, “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31, NKJV).

The excellent way of love that Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13 was about an intentional effort to grow in one’s faith. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that there would come a time in their spiritual growth when they would have to work harder if they wanted to continue to make progress. Paul instructed the Corinthians to “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1, ESV), then he went on to explain that speaking in tongues compared to prophesy was useless in building up the body of Christ. He stated, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:4). The point I believe Paul was trying to make was that increased spiritual progress has more to do with helping others to grow than helping ourselves.

The Greek word Paul used to describe spiritual progress was oikodomeo (oy-kod-om-eh’-o). Oikodomeo, as a verb, means literally “to build a house” (G3618). Paul may have wanted the Corinthians to understand that when Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2), he was talking about an actual house or place for them to live in. Paul clarified this point in a letter he later wrote to Timothy. He said, “but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15, NKJV). Paul was writing to Timothy about leaders in the church setting a good example for others. Paul’s reference to “how you ought to conduct yourself” meant that he was looking for a certain type of behavior in mature Christians and told Timothy that godliness was a great mystery (1 Timothy 3:16).

The Greek word translated mystery in 1 Timothy 3:16 is musterion (moos-tay’-ree-on). In the New Testament musterion “denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit…its Scriptural significance is truth revealed” (G3466). Paul eluded to this in 1 Corinthians 14:19 when he said, “Yet in church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” Regarding spiritual progress, Paul was saying that being able to teach others the truth of God’s word through the anointing of the Holy Spirit was the ultimate expression of godliness or Christlike character.