The Mystery of Godliness

by Mike Ratliff

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:14-16 ESV)

The best place for a Christian to be is at the Cross, before the Saviour, in complete agreement with God that without His saving Grace he or she would be on their way to Hell, and without His sustaining Grace he or she would lose all ability or desire for His godliness. In fact, Christians are in a great deal of trouble when they think otherwise. Yes, we are commanded to obey God and to seek His Holiness, but we are completely unable to obey Him in the Spirit; neither are we able to seek His Holiness unless He first gives us the Grace to do these things. In fact, if we try to do either in our own abilities, we will fail miserably and find ourselves in an impossible situation of trying to attain favor with God by our own efforts in our own ability. This is a form of legalism, which leads only to frustration and disillusionment. 

God’s solution to this is the spiritual maturing of His people, their growing in Godliness, which is given to us in Sacred Scripture as a mystery. If you are like me, you want a 10 step plan that details what we have to do in order to attain the level of Christlikeness that will brings God glory and edifies us. When God saved me back in 1986, I remember digging through our church library for that volume that would show me how to know God’s will so I could do it. I wanted the plan. My pastor had pity on me though and let me know that what I was seeking was only available to us as we matured spiritually. Through this, God would manifest more and more of Christ’s character in us over time. I am a fast track person so this really did not sit well with me. I decided to pursue God with my all and find the fastest way there. I was able to stay on this fast track for about five years, but the next 10 or so were disastrous as I burned out.

I do not recommend that for anyone, but God is good. After I reached rock bottom, the end of myself, I was drawn into Spiritual boot camp. At least, that is what I call it. I got back to basics as God drew me to seek Him because I loved Him. Over about 8 months of this, I found that my love for God was white hot and deep beyond my ability to describe. I did not get to this place of joy and peace by following a manmade formula or by doing certain works. No, what God had me do was seek Him and He filled me with an insatiable hunger and thirst for our Lord and His Holiness. I could not get enough of worship, prayer, Bible study, and meditation. I was in this all day every day for about 8 months. He changed my value system. He changed my focus. He changed how I looked at the flesh and sin. He changed how I looked at religiosity. He changed my doctrine,  He humbled me then lifted me up. He gave me a deep desire for His Godliness to become manifest in me.

These things are hard to describe, to bring the focus down to a sharp definition. I am a photographer and a picture that is out of focus is pretty worthless, but when it all comes together with proper focus, lighting, film speed and a great subject then the end product can be breathtaking. That is what I wanted to do with how we attain Godliness, but that is not how it works. It is a mystery. This is so because God is the one who builds godliness in His people, we do not earn it nor do we deserve it. In fact, there is not one thing we can do on our own that will build it in us. No, this is done by God.  The godliness mentioned by Paul in v16 of 2 Timothy 3 (above) refers to the truths of salvation and righteousness in Christ, which produce holiness in believers. What is our part or do we have one? Our part is to believe the great truths about Christianity, through which God places us in right standing with Him and instills in us the motivations to pursue His holiness.

Here is v16 again, ”Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” First, our Lord and Saviour was manifest in the flesh, which refers to His incarnation. Think of it my brethren! The eternal, divine Son of God took on a human nature like ours, except without sin, and became incarnate in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-18). What does it mean that He was vindicated by the Spirit? This is His resurrection. Our Lord was executed by the Romans on the accusation of the Jews that He was a blasphemer and insurrectionist. He was crucified and died a horrible death, but He did not stay in the grave. His resurrection refuted these charges. It also served as the declaration that all His claims to be God’s only begotten Son are true (Romans 1:1-6). When was He seen by angels? This happened at His ascension to sit at the right hand of the Father. Here, He enjoys the worship of the heavenly host (Psalm 110; Revelation 5:6-14). This Gospel is preached throughout the world by the faithful. Our Lord is glorified as His Church spreads the good news throughout the world (Psalm 67:1; 1 Corinthians 15:25).

God builds His godliness into those who believe these truths and live by them in the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not believe and do in our own power; that only leads to potential burnout. However, as we seek His face, His glory, His truth, His way, all in His power in our utter helplessness, God does a miraculous thing. It is no different than our Lord taking a rough fisherman like Peter and making him into a humble preacher who knew he was nothing and Christ was all. God used Peter in miraculous ways, but Peter never took credit for anything. He failed our Lord terribly on the night of the arrest by denying Him three times. However, our Lord takes those who have hit rock bottom, turns them around, and uses them in their humility beyond anything they could ever imagine.

The mystery of godliness is that God builds it in those who do not deserve it nor do they earn it. They believe the truth and obey the Gospel and God changes them forever. The more they humble themselves the more God grows and uses them. The more they obey Him the more humble they become. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) are being manifest in them because this is Christ’s very character, which is given to those who belong to Him. Those who manifest this godliness are the ones who know the truth about themselves and this breaks them and drives them to their knees in their helplessness. Yes, this is how we grow in godliness, but we cannot remain on our faces doing nothing but bemoaning our helplessness. Instead, we move forward with our Saviour, bearing our crosses, following Him in self-denial, and doing good works as He leads. This is the mystery of godliness. We do the work God gives us to do, but we can only do it by His grace, which He gives freely to the humble.

Soli Deo Gloria!

10 thoughts on “The Mystery of Godliness

  1. Great testimony.

    One of my own breakthroughs was when I could honestly say to myself, “I hate my life.” I believe it was at that point that I stopped putting so must trust in my own flesh. My own efforts were mere vanity and futile.

    I know that many will shun me for this statement but I don’t care about that. Being honest with oneself so much to the point that we can admit that we loathe ourselves is a big step in becoming crucified with Christ. All of these sorrows and trials that we face have not come upon us so that we use the occasion to glory in our flesh. I believe that Job had this breakthrough too.

    When God wrought evil upon Job, we need to remember that God initiated Job’s trials when He asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” God could have easily told Satan, “Hey just know that I will not you anywhere near my servant Job.”

    But that is not the case. It was God who initiated Job’s trials. I believe Isaiah 45:7 supports that.

  2. Hi Mike
    This was wonderful reading – like a balm, and I am sure the Lord will use it to soothe many a tired, weary person seeking Him out and bring him or her to a place of rest.

    You mentioned the beatitudes. They are meant to make us feel utterly despaired in our flesh. We cannot ever attain to them in our flesh, and so we are left in utter despair and I believe the Lord intended them to do this to us. I used to avoid reading them way back, before the Lord took me into what you call “spiritual Bootcamp”, as I had no idea how I would ever manage to live like that and so felt failed before I had begun. As you have said above, God has to show us and bring us to the end of ourselves so that His spirit can do it in us. His grace, His power, His mercy and His love alone brings this as we learn with His grace to die to ourselves daily, pick up our cross and follow Him. More of Him less of us and eventually to all of Him and none of us… –
    “The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) are being manifest in them because this is Christ’s very character, which is given to those who belong to Him. Those who manifest this godliness are the ones who know the truth about themselves and this breaks them and drives them to their knees in their helplessness. Yes, this is how we grow in godliness, but we cannot remain on our faces doing nothing but bemoaning our helplessness. Instead, we move forward with our Saviour, bearing our crosses, following Him in self-denial, and doing good works as He leads. This is the mystery of godliness. We do the work God gives us to do, but we can only do it by His grace, which He gives freely to the humble.”
    Amen dear brother AMEN! :-D :-D

  3. I recall the day I was a crumpled heap on my bathroom floor and cried out “I can’t do this anymore, Lord. You take it!” That was a great turning point in my life, over 20 years ago. When you are at the end of yourself He can work mightily!

    Thank you for the encouragement, Mike.

    I still think you should bind your articles into a devotional!
    You’re up there with Oswald Chambers in my book!

  4. I pray that I will learn in a greater degree every day what it means to depend on Him for absolutely everything and to realize that it is His joy to supply all.
    After my “boot camp” experience 3 years ago when He took the idols I had in my life and smashed them to pieces, He showed me about the humility He desired to give me.
    The fear of man, needing to belong, people pleasing prison that I was in and that had such a consuming grasp on my life all those years was broken and I thought it was nearly going to kill me! :) What great glory He gained for Himself when He showed me that those very things I feared were going to be the way He was going to use me.
    Glory to His Name. He is strong in my weakness. It is very humbling to see that in my life. All power is His. Miraculous changes in people. New creations doing His will by His power with His desires placed in them. I want to be ever falling before Him at the foot of the cross.
    Bless you today, brother.

  5. Heather, Thank you for the encouragement my sister and Amen where you said, “When you are at the end of yourself, He can work mightily!”

  6. It is amazing that when our flesh is mortified how we can then see that God will use us for his glory right where we are. It saddens me to hear Christians say that they want to start a ministry but they need money. The first part that saddens me is the idea that they have been misled by man made relgiousity which leads them to believe that they first must go and obtain a high title of ‘pastor’ or ‘reverend’ before they can labor for the kingdom. The second part is that they indicate that God always needs money to make the gospel go forth. And the third part is the assumption that once they have a large amount of money, nice sound equipment, salaries, 401k’s, and a comfortable building, that they will have reached ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ is that they were trying to obtain. This kind of thinking is fleshly, immature, not crucified, unbroken, haughty, and of the world.

    I think the scriptures call this false ‘zenith’ Mt. Samaria. God is most glorified when men are lowly, humble, patient, and tried by fire. The Lord uses men right where they are. It is just that simple.

  7. Amos 6:1-7 is a great illustration of what happens when men are given over to pleasure (lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God). It is good to look up these verses in a commentary to get a better understanding of it. One commentary I read explains that ‘loving pleasure’ more than God shows that there is no regard for the judgment of God, his holiness, nor one’s own neighbor. God had blessed them with a great abundance of this and that, but they ‘regarded not’ the Lord. The had reached that ‘pinnacle’ or ‘zenith’ according to the world’s standards, but they lacked what pleases God.

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