the meaning of godliness

I recently preached a message on the subject of ‘Godliness and Dignity’ based on the two terms found in 1 Tim 2.2. The more I consider the subject, the more important I think it is. The concept seems to be disappearing in the collective mind of the modern church.

What is godliness?

Godliness is a manner of life dominated by reverence for God that is displayed in a respect for other men that is visible to outside observers.

The word translated ‘godliness’ in the New Testament is eusebeia. According to Kittel, the root ‘seb-’ has the idea of ‘shrinking back’ or ‘falling back from’. With the prefix ‘eu-’ we could call it the ‘good shrinking back’. It is good because the term eusebeia speaks often of a proper attitude to the gods – piety – which is reflected in one’s conduct to men. Perjury, for example, is not godly. Caring for a dying father is godly. This conduct reflects an attitude of reverence towards deity and respect towards men.

In the New Testament, the term is occurs mostly in the pastoral epistles where its meaning is very parallel to Greek usage. It refers to conduct in relation to God, conduct that is no ascetic constraint but is positive expression of faith in the new life that now is and the life that is yet to come (1 Tim 4.7-8). This conduct is displayed by care of widowed mothers because such conduct pleases God (1 Tim 5.4). It is a life that is motivated by the Lord’s return, a life lived with ‘eternity in view’, since the things of this life are to be destroyed (2 Pt 3.10-11).

Godliness isn’t just private piety – it is visible piety. The gospel of grace teaches us that we are to live it out in this present world, before witnesses (Titus 2.11-12). It is to mark out the man of God, who, in contrast to the deceivers who trouble the church, is to pursue godliness rather than riches, content with his reward in heaven rather than profit on earth (1 Tim 6.1-12). It is that life to which God has provided the things pertaining to its essence and its conduct through the full knowledge of who called us by his own glory and excellence (2 Pt 1.3). God is excellent, the believer is called to excellence in this life.

In 1 Tim 2.2, the term is connected with the term ‘dignity’ (translated ‘honour’ in the KJV). Godliness speaks to the conduct of one’s life before God; dignity speaks to the quality of that life by virtue of a transformed inner man.

Godliness is given lip service today. For many people, if considered at all, it seems to simply mean, “having the right theology.” In the ancient world, some thought godliness merely meant keeping the rituals of religion, whether it be the Law of the Jews or the cultic practices of the Greeks. I am afraid many Christians today are quite satisfied with that kind of godliness today. “Get the form right, and I am all right.”

What we are after is a heart religion that reverences God and accordingly respects men. A heart religion that is no friend of the world, but a friend of God. Can it be that Christians who embrace the world and its ways are also friends of God? Are they godly?

It may be that godly Christians will come to differing applications on some specific matters of conduct, but the life of every godly Christian will be headed in the same direction: with fear toward God and respect towards men that outside observers can see – and will not confuse with worldliness.

Godliness is a manner of life dominated by reverence for God that is displayed in a respect for other men that is visible to outside observers.



  1. Thank you for sharing your though-provoking research on this topic. If I may, I would like to highlight a particular aspect that I believe is significant. 2 Peter 1:3 indicates that true godliness (as well as true life) is made possible by the supernatural enabling of God. Hard as I may try, I am not able to manifest appropriate reverence for God and respect for other men unless I first appropriate the gift of God’s grace to do it. Godliness is as much a change of dependence as it is a change of attitude. God made it possible for me to reverence Him, because I couldn’t do it myself. Without question, no other God has given such a gift.

    • Thanks, Thomas.

      I am working on a comprehensive study of godliness/worldliness. It is going to be the content for our Sunday Bible Study hour for the next month or so. Certainly the way out of our problems in either category is the walk of faith by grace.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Will you continue to post content from your study here? I will look forward to it.

    I did some writing about worldliness in a blog series at This was based on a message I preached (

    There certainly is need for a clear understanding of these topics.

    • That is the plan. In fact, I was working on a follow-up post, it started getting involved, and I thought, “I really need to turn this into a Bible study for our people.” It will allow me a way to work into the music and culture issues as well, something I have been wanting to do for a while.

      Yes, I will turn it into articles for oxgoad. Thanks for your links.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3