preaching “godliness” is not good enough

I’m not picking a fight with anyone here. I’m just saying. Church culture must stop doing what Jesus told the Pharisees to stop doing – preaching “godliness” as good enough. 

Do this. Don’t do that. Do this at least three times a day. Don’t do that ever, especially if it is rated R. Do this every morning for four hours or you are not practicing your spiritual disciplines. Don’t do that – don’t you know that dancing will get that girl pregnant. 

You think I’m kidding. If you have never heard that stuff in church culture, then you are blessed. 

Here’s the problem. Preachers have taught that if you do this good stuff, then you will godly, and you will be blessed. When this type of behavioral modification is preached, and when “spiritual disciplines” are preached as change agents for godliness, and when “favor” is proclaimed as the reward, then people begin to expect results that are rewarding. They begin to expect to be rewarded for their “goodness.” They begin to hold God like He owes them something. Maybe not consciously. But they really don’t know they are doing it until tragedy strikes.

Then, they walk away from Him, disappointed at Him when they should be disappointed in the false teachers who sold them religion instead of the Gospel of the God who came near and wants to walk with them.

Furthermore, Jesus wouldn’t even take the compliment “good.” He said only God the Father is good. He also rebuked the religious leaders who were showboating godliness but taking all the credit. 

Only God can make someone “godly.” It’s not self-made. It’s not a reward. It’s not the result of a certain type of living. If it was, then Jesus died needlessly. 

Further-furthermore, the only spiritual discipline Jesus ever spoke of was in Luke 9:23. Denying me and surrendering to God’s mission for my life. That’s how Jesus defined following Him. And taking up a cross is no “reward” that marketers can spin into a sell. It means death. Not favor. Not a good parking place.

Instead of preaching “godliness,” what if we preached following Jesus? What if we preached trusting Him, that what He did was enough for me “to be made right” or to be “godly” enough? What if we called people to die to themselves and commit to the mission God intended for them, even if it means literal death. Even if it means not being safe and getting “what God owes me” for my godliness. 

Matt Chandler puts it well in this video clip:

May we quit highlighting responsibilities and expectations and encourage people to walk with Jesus daily, responding to Him and living in expectancy of where He will lead them next. Of whom He will lead them to love next. Not do and don’t. More a who type of thing. Loving God and loving people type of stuff. Living in freedom from responsibilities and expectations that we falter in and grow weary in. Living in the fullness of a life yoked up with Him.

Sounds weird to even say it, but may your goal not just be godliness. May it be, instead, to know God. He’s pretty godly. Enough for the both of us.

8 thoughts on “preaching “godliness” is not good enough

  1. You hit the nail on the head. We must get the focus off the externals and get people focusing on an intimate personal relationship with God. When you focus on God and that relationship, you DO the right stuff… not the other way around.

  2. Jason… oh gosh how this makes us miss Westpoing more and more… this post was water to our souls… thank you!! Miss you , jen, the kids, and our westpoint family

  3. Jason,
    Great stuff, bro, but I have to ask: You’re not saying that there is no place in the Christian life for legitimate, biblical spiritual disciplines, are you? I agree 1000% that they will not improve your standing with God, but prayer, fasting, solitude, etc, can be extremely valuable tools that we can use to follow Jesus more closely.

    • Hey Chris. Always great to hear from you, bro. I am not saying there is no place for spiritual discipline. However, I would suggest that what commonly has been called “spiritual disciplines” may be misunderstood. Jesus never spoke of reading the scriptures or praying or fasting as something I force myself to do in order to experience God.

      You might say, “I didn’t say anything about stuff I do to force myself into experience with God.” Well, maybe you didn’t, but one of the foremost respected authors and speakers on the subject did. He went so far as to say they help to “drag us into an encounter with God.”

      In Jesus teachings, it seems like reading the Scriptures are like nourishment and water, prayer is like breath, and fasting a secretive way to listen more closely to God. When Jesus did speak of “discipline,” he used terms like “deny yourself” and “take up your cross” and “make disciples.” It was all about living like we don’t know it all and can’t live independent from God, and instead surrendering self to embrace God’s purposes and learn from the One who does know how my life works in abundance.

      I am not at all saying this kind of discipline needs to be absent from the life of Christ-followers. It absolutely does, for the very reason that we are disciples – learners, that is – of Christ. I am simply saying that a focus on dragging myself into experience with God is a self-righteous attempt to make myself right with God. That emphasis alone is what I mean by preaching godliness, and it is not enough. We must not emphasize this inward focus on spiritual self-help, but rather emphasize the selfless approach to loving God and people and letting His fruit blossom in us as we deny ourselves and follow Him.

  4. Hey Jason,

    Amen.

    Here’s the deal. Grace is just there, free, gratis, for nothing because Jesus took the nails for us. We should ‘run’ from all that is ‘church culture’, get away ok the baggage. In Scotland he have a ‘church’ that to many is the big stone building with pointy spire and bell, that is a beautiful piece of architecture gifted in 1920’s. The modernization of halls, meeting rooms and washrooms cost some $1m a year I’d so back as it simply wasn’t fit for current purpose. Did that generation of 1920 realise they would be storing up headaches and heartache and a cause for division amongst their childrens children.

    We are a travelling people on a journey with Jesus and we needn’t hide behind walls that those most in need would never even think about climbing over or breaking through.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the holiday week-end and offer you, Jen and the kids much love.

  5. Thanks so much for this statement “Church culture must stop doing what Jesus told the Pharisees to stop doing.” The Pharisees had a lot of qualities that most written “discipleship” tools try to instill in new believers. Jesus said that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees, so why are we training people to become like them?

    Outward disciplines do not result in inward transformation. However, inward transformation shows up beautifully on the outside.

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