The Mystery of Godliness

We have reached the moment in our series on “learning Christ” in which we finally tackle what Paul meant by “the mystery of godliness.”  (And then we’ll spend a few weeks walking through 1 and 2 Peter, and a few passages in Mark’s Gospel, keeping in mind that both Peter and Paul are among those Jesus designated for us to listen to.  We will listen, specifically looking for how to continue learning, and how that relates to this “mystery of godliness.”  

Take a moment to ponder our main text before we dive in:

14 I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one should act in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. 16 Beyond question, great is the mystery of godliness:

He who was revealed in the flesh,

was vindicated in the Spirit,

seen by angels,

proclaimed among the nations,

believed on in the world,

taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3:14-16

Think back for a moment on Creation and the Fall of mankind.  God created man, male and female, in His image.  In His image.  This is not merely an outward look, but all encompassing; our entire being reflected Him, inward and outward pointed to and reflected His glory. 

But in the fall, that image was marred.  One thing that was marred was our ability to know, understand, and delight in the truth.  In this fallen state, the condition of all mankind (not just some) has been to suppress the knowledge of God in our quest for redefining ourselves apart from Him.  (see Romans 1).  

Thanks be to God who releases us from this, frees us, regenerates us that we might once again know Him rather than suppressing that knowledge and pretending we are the captains of our own ships.  This is part of the glory of His great salvation.  

In Christ, we have been reconciled, renewed, redeemed, regenerated.  We are His workmanship!  He is at work in each of us–His work is not “just rescue and let her be…”  It was Him making us a new creation (Ephesians 2); bringing us to Life though we were dead.  Renewed to a true knowledge of God and self and world.

We are also now part of His kingdom, the community of those who simply are to the praise of His glory.  We have been brought into the community of the godly.  This community needs to know “how to act” and to know her identity as the “church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”   

Godliness is multifaceted, but let’s talk about just two: growth and renewal.  

Growth

19 So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Always growing, until we are home.  Consider the imagery in Psalm 92, growing tall and strong and purposeful and delightful like a cedar of Lebanon. Even in old age, remaining full of sap and very green.  Not a withered old weed waiting for death–but an old, deeply rooted, tree full of sap, engaging in good deeds, eagerly awaiting His return, still speaking of His righteousness.  Still speaking implies of course that we are doing it now!

And so this mystery of godliness mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 is growth in knowing and understanding God as He has revealed Himself in Christ. 

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He who was revealed in the flesh,

Was vindicated in the Spirit,

Seen by angels,

Proclaimed among the nations,

Believed on in the world,

Taken up in glory.

The only Son, sent by the Father, made God known, and we remain committed to Him.  Think through each phrase of this early church creed, journal through each–noting which portions of the Gospel accounts or history books they point to.

Knowing Him according to His own self revelation, abiding in Him, remaining in His words, praying without ceasing–as we know ourselves to be in communion with the Living Triune God.  We do not “know Him” because of how we feel, or what we imagine. We do not reason from the ground up, we listen to what our Mediator has said.

We listen, and we grow; growing in grace and knowledge (which we discuss at length much later). We press on to know (Hosea 6:1-3).

We persevere in this knowing though doubts arise and false teachers arise and the love of many grow cold; yet we cling, we know we have confident access to Him and bring all our thoughts and questions and doubts and troubles to Him.  

Renewal

This work is begun by the Holy Spirit as He regenerates us at first (Titus 3:4-7). He renews us to a true knowledge, renewing our minds (Colossians 3:10). He continues this work in our lives daily, illumining our understanding as we come to the Word. This work is His throughout, we “continue by the Spirit” (Galatians 3).

This renewal is also at work in our disordered desires. As we once suppressed the truth of who God is, it meant we suppressed the truth about how lovely, how good, how delightful, how adorable, how majestic, how compassionate, how loving… And we set out to find goodness and delight and love apart from Him. The Holy Spirit renews us that we may know that true pleasure is in His right hand (Psalm 16); and seeking Him becomes our one true delight (Psalm 27:4).

While describing the work of Christ, Paul reminded Titus that His incarnation was the appearing of grace.  And when He came, Jesus Christ taught; He instructed.  This teaching is not merely pleasant words to enjoy hearing–this teaching is to be continued in, (“If you abide in my teaching, you are truly disciples…”  John 8). 

Jesus’ instructions are a call to obey as well; if we believe, it becomes part of us, and impacts us; the living and active Word of God draws us into obedience.  The Spirit uses this word to mould us, making us more like Jesus (Romans 8:26-29). As we keep in step with the Spirit, we obey.  Romans 8 and Galatians 6 picture this as a crucifying of the old man and his desires, as we put on the new man and the corresponding godly desires. To the Philippians, this instruction includes pressing on to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings…thinking upon those things that are true… Out obedience is active, it is Spirit-led, it is inward and outward, it is by His power and begins with His renewal.

Press On

To one who knows God, loves Him, and is devoted to following Him, comes this directive: Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness…(1 Timothy 4).  I want to challenge you to commit time and space in your life for truly meditating on this chapter for the next week. Read it often, read parts of it and pause, journal through each phrase. Turn parts of this into your prayer, ask Him for wisdom to know and understand, to become the disciple He desires you to be.

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord… but join me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…

2 Timothy 1:8-10

He brought it to light, He made it known, it is a mystery to us no longer.  Let us live and walk in His light, confident that we know Him who is true, and are in Him who is true (1 John 5:20).  

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