Whether you are striving to develop godliness in your own life or striving for godliness within your family as a whole, I came across an enlightening quote from an author that you may find helpful. This quote, which I’ll share with you in a moment, was a bit perplexing at first until I found the verse I believe it’s based upon in First Thessalonians. First the quote: This statement was made by Major W. Ian Thomas in a book called The Mysteries of Godliness (Zondervan, 1964) and it’s as follows: Godliness is “the direct and exclusive consequence of God’s activity in man. Not the consequence of your capacity to imitate God, but the consequences of God’s capacity to reproduce Himself in you.”
Now after reading that, I found myself a tad confused. I read it and reread it. It seemed confusing, or, as I stated earlier, quite perplexing. Godliness does not have its genesis in my ability to imitate God? Isn’t that what the whole Christian life is about? Becoming God-like? First Peter 1:16 says to be holy for God is Holy. Sounds to me like it’s a command. A command to be holy. But I guess it doesn’t mean I’m the one to do it. It means I need to leave myself open to God’s working within me to bring about godliness and holiness in my life. And that makes sense if you remember that God is our Father and we are His children.
Recall what Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child; but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” As fathers, we chasten and discipline our children and impose our standards and values upon them that we wish for them to adopt in their own lives. Otherwise, our kids will never learn it on their own, nor will they develop those standards and values we would like them to, if left alone. “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Proverbs 29:15). How are your children to take on your characteristics if they’re never imposed upon them in the first place?
Our children become who we would like them to become only when they allow us to shape their lives. So too is it with God. Look, godliness is the capacity of God to reproduce Himself in you the same way your child will become who and what they allow you to reproduce in them. So…be very careful about what and how you teach and impose upon your children. Now, the command to be holy has another underlying tenet to it, and that is this…be willing and open to becoming holy…for God will actively produce holiness and godliness in you. Oh, in the same way children left alone bring shame upon their parents, if we choose to not allow God the capacity to produce godliness in us, we too will be left alone and fall way short of achieving any amount of tangible godliness in our lives thereby lessening our evangelistic opportunities and ruining our testimonies, as we’ll see later.
My favorite verse used to be my favorite for the wrong reasons…I misunderstood its meaning. “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (First Thessalonians 5:24). I used to have great faith in this verse because I believed that no matter what God wanted me to do, all I would have to do is be obedient, and He would give me the necessary tools, finances, opportunities, or whatever else was needed to fulfill His calling in my life. If He called me to be a pastor (just an example) I believed that verse meant that He would work out all the logistics to fulfill the calling of a pastor for my life. Maybe if you felt called to be a parent, God would work out the logistics to teardown every roadblock that stood in your way of fulfilling the calling in your life. But that’s not at all what that verse means.
In First Thessalonians 4, God calls us to godliness…holiness…sanctification: “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more, for ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor…” (First Thessalonians 4:1-4).
Now that verse makes different sense as it relates to what Major Thomas stated. He stated that godliness comes about by God reproducing Himself in us. Now look at First Thessalonians 5:24 again, “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.” God called us to holiness (1st Thessalonians 4:3) and He will achieve it in our lives (1st Thessalonians 5:24). If you just study chapter 5 of 1st Thessalonians, you’ll see that there are around seventeen different things God expects from us that it’s clear no one in their own strength would be able to achieve. We are to live peaceably and respect our ministers, pastors, and anyone else who has authority over us and we should do so with humility. We are to love and help the unruly who disturb the peace and unity of the church, while being willing to guide new believers while not forgetting those who may be spiritually weak and helping them before their wayward ways begin to spread to other morally weak Christians. Then God says to be patient with these people, as lashing out at them with impatience may hurt them rather than help them. We shouldn’t seek vengeance. We should be joyful no matter what happens. We should be ever vigilant to pray always for the things God has laid on our hearts to pray about. We should always be thankful regardless of circumstances. God does not want us quenching the Holy Spirit in our own lives by being cynical of ourselves or another one of the brethren. Rather, search all things heard and taught and then prove what is good and beneficial to hold to. Lastly, Paul implores us to avoid all forms of evil, as sin will go a long way in quenching the Spirit (vs. 12-22).
The very next verse, “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithfull is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (1st Thessalonians 23-24). Just study out verses 12-22 and decide if anyone can come close to doing well in their own power and strength. That’s why Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:13 that “it is GOD which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” He states in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” If your house burns down, who will make it so you have an attitude of joy and thanksgiving during such a terrible time? Will your flesh do it? Or will God do it?
In Romans 7:13-25, Paul knew that in his flesh he had no strength to achieve a high level of godliness. Paul even states that “if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (vs. 20). Why then don’t we understand that to achieve godliness and do those things which are holy is no more us that do it, but God’s Holy Spirit working in us? Why do you think in 1st Thessalonians 5:19 God tells us not to quench the Spirit? The answer is simple…because it’s the Holy Spirit that’s responsible for helping us to become godly and to display that godliness in ways described in verses 12-18 of 1st Thessalonians five.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to empower the Apostles as they began their respective ministries. In Acts 3:12, after Peter had received the Holy Spirit, he asked a man who was dumfounded at the miracle Peter had just done, “…ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? Or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we made this man walk?” Peter knew and wanted others to know that it was the power of the Holy Spirit that brought about the miracle and that it wasn’t by his own power. When Stephen was arrested in Acts 6:8-15, it clearly states that Stephen was full of faith and power. We’re not going to be doing miracles per se, but to display godliness amidst a sinful world is no less jaw-dropping to a lost world. If we can be thankful, joyful, and remain prayerful when our house burns down rather than come apart at the seams, it can only happen one way…by allowing God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to reproduce Himself in you. That is a modern day miracle to a lost world.
Let’s try to wrap this whole thing up in a neat little easy-to-appreciate package. If we are saved, the Holy Spirit of God indwells us. Jesus told the Apostles he would send them the Holy Spirit for one reason: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This power from the Holy Spirit did not only give them confidence and boldness, but allowed them to do many wondrous miracles. We who are saved have the same Holy Spirit, and we are called to be a sanctified, separated, holy, and godly people, able to demonstrate that godliness to a lost world. That is one reason we have the Holy Spirit and why God wants to reproduce Himself in us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit…to use us in bringing others to the same knowledge of salvation…to be witnesses no different than those in Acts 1:8.
One final thought about the power God has through which to make our lives effective for Him. Consider two flashlights. Both are made with the proper wires, bulbs, and switches. Each has the potential to be a great shining light capable of piercing the darkness. Put a battery in only one of them, and that power source makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Now, the flashlight with the power source is reaching its full potential and is able to be a light in a dark world. But consider this, as we wind down. No matter how much each flashlight tries, they can’t make their own bulbs shine. Even the flashlight with the power source, if it was not willing to allow the power source to do its thing, also wouldn’t light. Nope, only if the flashlight that had power allowed the power to begin flowing through would be able to give off light. Now, I ask you, since we are agreed that neither flashlight could shine its own bulb, who is responsible for shining the bulb of the flashlight that pierced through the darkness? The power source. The only active decision that flashlight made was to allow the power source to do what the flashlight could not do on its own…and that is to be effective.
Do you want a life that’s effective for God? Allow the Holy Spirit to do what God gave Him to us to do…make our lights to shine! Trying to be effective for God outside of His promise in 1st Thessalonians 5:24 is an exercise in futility that will yield little to no fruit. Yielding fruit is God’s responsibility. The only requirement for us is to be connected to the vine. I sum it all up with what Jesus Himself said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
Here’s Jesus giving a better analogy than my flashlight story, but the principles are all there. Without Him, we won’t shine for Him and produce fruit. No matter how much effort we put forth, without allowing His power to drive us…we can do nothing. The Christian life is hard enough without expending extra energies with little to show for it in the end. Do you want to be more effective? Let God do it…just be willing to allow Him to do it…He’ll soon have you shining.