[Column] Three Criteria for Godliness

Godliness is not formalism but a spiritual beauty emanating from the imitation of God’s holiness and righteousness. Our Lord rebuked the Jewish leaders for their false godliness and hypocrisy (Matthew 23:25). How can we discern genuine godliness? Apostle James provides three criteria for godliness: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. The religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:26-27).

Firstly, true godliness is keeping a tight rein on the tongue. One’s godliness can be assessed based on the language he or she uses. People usually speak as they think, believe, and wish. As Jesus Christ said, the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6:45). Those who speak angry words do so because their heart is full of anger; some people gossip and slander for their heart is filled with hate; others speak the language of pessimism for they have not yet been healed from negative experiences and bitterness. Regardless of the long history of church membership and involvement, those who speak carelessly have failed to achieve godliness. Especially, speaking in the midst of wrath and anger is akin to murder and fire from hell (James 3:6). The lip of the faithful must serve as a medicine to save the soul, not as poison to kill it. Someone once said, “The most important spiritual fruit as well as gift for pastoral and lay ministers is abstinence, abstinence of the tongue to be more precise.” This wise maxim demonstrates the remarkable power of language. Those who speak carelessly yet believe they are faithful deceive themselves (James 1:26).

Secondly, true godliness is looking after widows and orphans in their distress. Godliness dictates not only language habits but also spending habits. Using your own resources to confer generosity on others. That is godliness. Orphans and widows represent the poor and the lonely. The Bible refers to God as the God of the orphans and widows (Psalm 68:5). God commanded not to pick up grain, olives, and grapes that are accidentally left behind when harvesting (Deuteronomy 24:19-22). God tells us that these are for the poor and that He will bless those who help the poor and the needy (Deuteronomy 24:19). If we open our wallet for others, God also opens His “wallet” for us. If we, however, shut our wallet out of greed, God will also shut His wallet, so to speak. While people freely spend money for their own needs without reluctance, they have reservations about extending generosity to the needy, whom they see as “useless.” Extending generosity to the poor is essential for attaining godliness. Godliness is a benevolent and charitable heart. Faith as well as godliness is completed through brotherly unity and love (2 Peter 1:4-7).

True godliness is also safeguarding oneself from secular influences. In other words, godliness is keeping one’s spirit clean. This world is replete with sin. If there is a surveillance camera in heaven that records every sinful activity here on earth, we will be astonished beyond measure as we watch its video. When we went street evangelizing last week, I met a Jewish man who asked why Christ abolished circumcision. I responded saying, “People have failed to keep the law given by God due to their sinfulness. For this reason, God sent Jesus Christ out of infinite love to redeem us from sin and death through His death on the Cross. Jesus Christ did not abolish circumcision but instituted the circumcision of the heart.” No longer polemical, he grew even receptive to the message of Christianity. I said sinner’s prayer for him and obtained his email address to send more information on Christian gospel. Human heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9). Safeguarding our heart and soul must take precedence over secular success and the accumulation of wealth. There are many powerful and influential people with adulterated and corrupted souls. Even some of the long time church ministers, clergy and laity alike, have defiled their souls. Therefore, we the faithful must feed on the word of God and pray in repentance daily as we eat and wash ourselves everyday. There is no other way to attaining godliness than through the Word of God and prayer (1Timothy 4:5). We must train ourselves daily for godliness (1Timothy 4:8). The godly will exude the fragrance of Christ and true joy, rest, and blessing follow them.

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