How do we grow in godliness?
“And everyone who thus hopes in [God] purifies himself as he is pure.”1 John 3:3
“But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”1 Peter 1:15-16
When reading verses like 1 John 3:3 and 1 Peter 1:16, we can become overwhelmed by such a high calling. Be holy as God is holy? How in the world can I do that?
I mean, doesn’t it also say in 1 John that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1:8) and we make God a liar (1:10)? I’ve asked myself this question many times, striving for perfection and becoming discouraged whenever I fail, but I think the point that is being made here is not that we should have instant godliness. That’s impossible. Instead, I think that these writers are calling us to pursue holiness with all that we are.
Godliness Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Read 1 John 3:1-3.
John starts off chapter 3 of his letter to various churches by reminding his readers of their position before God: beloved children. Because of the love that God has lavished upon us, we are brought into his family. Not because of anything we have done or ever will do, but simply because he has chosen to bestow his love on undeserving sinners.
Once we have been saved, we are called to live lives that are different from the way we were before. Second Corinthians 5:17–18 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself . . .”
You may be wondering, if I am a new creation in Christ, then why do I keep on sinning?
We know that God sent his son to live the perfect life and die on our behalf to display his perfect love and justice, which brings him the ultimate glory. Because of this, we have been set free from sin and are called to live according to this new identity, this new life, that we have received in him. John, in these verses, is speaking to the “already-but-not-yet” state of the believer.
We are positionally holy—we have already been brought into the family of God through the work of Christ—therefore we must be practically holy because we are not yet perfect as Christ is. This is a process. Godliness doesn’t happen overnight.
We will not be entirely like him until we see him face to face, yet we are still called to diligently seek to be like him. And we are guaranteed to be like him when he returns: “we know that when he appears we shall be like him . . .” (1 John 3:2, emphasis added). True children of God remain children of God. Colossians 1:21-23 says,
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard . . .”Colossians 1:21-23
We’ve been reconciled to be presented blameless before him if we continue in the faith. That doesn’t mean we can lose our salvation, Scripture promises the permanence of true salvation (e.g., John 10:28-29), but it does mean that we are called to pursue the holiness we were saved to. Continuance in our faith is proof of the reality of our faith. An unbeliever is unable to persevere because they do not have the Holy Spirit, but a true believer, though he falls, will rise up and press on (see Proverbs 24:16).
Growth in Godliness Can’t Happen Apart from the Word of God
We cannot grow in godliness apart from the Word of God. Jerry Bridges, in his book The Pursuit of Holiness, says that:
“Every Christian who makes progress in holiness is a person who has disciplined his life so that he spends regular time in the Bible. There is simply no other way.”1Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness
We have to come to God’s Word daily, seeking to know God and what pleases him. The Word of God is just that—God’s very word that he has chosen to reveal to us. What a blessing it is that God has not left us in the dark when it comes to righteousness, but has provided us all that we need in his Word to know how to live lives that are pleasing to him.
But godliness doesn’t happen instantly. It takes work and discipline. Author and biblical counselor Jay E. Adams said:
“You may have sought and tried to obtain instant godliness. There is no such thing….we want somebody to give us three easy steps to godliness, and we’ll take them on Friday and be godly. The trouble is, godliness doesn’t come that way….It is by willing, prayerful and persistent obedience to the requirements of the Scriptures that godly patterns are developed and come to be part of us.”2Jay E. Adams
And not only discipline to obey the Word of God, but also to keep our eyes fixed on the return of our Savior. As we read the Word of God, our hearts increase in longing for the return of our Savior. If we are consistently hoping in the Lord and in his return, would we not seek to grow in godliness every chance we get? With Christ, purity is a fact, and it had to be in order for him to take our place. But with us, purity is a process, we have to actively purify ourselves. We must actively and continuously grow in godliness.
After we are saved our hearts are changed and we should desire to grow day by day into the image of our Savior, to be pure as he is. Not because godliness is what saves us, we already know that nothing we could ever do will bring us in right standing before God, but because, out of the joy we receive in our salvation, we strive to live according to the calling of Christ Jesus our Lord.
- The idea of being God’s children is stated once in 1 John 3:1 and again at the beginning of verse 2. Why do you think that is? What do you think is the significance of being called children of God and how can the reality of that play out in our lives? Read Ephesians 2:1-5 in the ESV translation to help you answer.
- If you knew that Christ was going to return tomorrow, how might that change the way that you live today?
1 Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2016), 77.
2 Jay Adams, quoted in Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2016), 75-76.
Photo credit: Michael Marcagi
Elizabeth is recently married and is from Cleveland, Ohio. She is currently working to be certified in biblical counseling, and works in youth ministry at her church. She has been a blogger since 2017 and runs an Instagram page called Binding the Word, where she seeks to encourage women to store up God’s Word in their hearts, to understand more of who he is, and to exemplify Christ in their daily lives.