Have you ever heard someone refer to another person as “godly”? Perhaps you have heard someone say, “My pastor is such a godly man!” or “The leader of our Bible study is one of the godliest people I know!” What does it mean to be godly? The term conjures up the impression of someone who is somehow above others in his or her relationship with God – a Christian that is perhaps a little closer to perfect than the rest of us; a little higher up on the ladder towards heaven than most. Yes, we use this term but is it Biblical?
There are only a very few times in scripture where a person is spoken of as “godly” and the term “Godliness” is found more often. But “God-fearing” is mentioned with greater frequency than either of these other two terms.
In other words, the concept of being Godly is only occasionally spoken of as something to be achieved in one’s lifetime – as a noun, if you will. Sometimes it is used as an adjective or adverb to describe something, such as “godly sincerity” or “godly sorrow”. Most often, however, the concept is presented as a verb or an action; something we do. This can be seen when the words God and fear are linked. The scriptures tell us to fear God as in to revere or worship God. They also shed light on what God thinks of those who fear Him. Confused? Hopefully, it will become clearer after taking a closer look at the terms.
The word Godly only shows up in the King James Version of the Bible fifteen times. Several of these verses use it as a descriptive word. One example of this is 2nd Corinthians 1:12 which refers to a godly sincerity. It is interesting to consider what Paul does not say in these verses. He does not talk about godly people. Rather Paul speaks of the people conducted themselves in a godly manor with godly sincerity.
One of the verses that uses the term godly is a call for action. Psalms 32:6 says, “Let everyone who is godly pray.” Another time, the term brings with it the warning that all who desire to live godly in Jesus Christ will be persecuted.” Yet even these verses seem to describe a manor in which to live, not an achievement to accomplish.
Only once do I find the tern used exclusively to describe a person or group of people. This instance is found in Psalms 4:3, “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself.” What a beautiful verse! But even this verse opens the door to a discussion about the total depravity of man – a discussion I will forgo at this point, except to say that I believe it is God who declares us godly. We are godly because has declared our sins forgiven and us covered by the blood of His Son, Jesus. We are godly because God deems us so, not because of any works of our own.
The terms fear and God together, on the other hand, show up 135 times in the King James Version of the Bible. If you do a word search on these two words you will be amazed at what you find! There are so many times people are told to fear God or are commended as one who fears God. And there are numerous promises too! God loves for His people to fear or revere Him and He lavishes His blessings on those who do.