‘Cross Fit’ Godliness

January 19, 2015

by David Garner

Writing the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle Paul makes “godliness” (Greek, eusébeia) primary. Some have perceived here a theologically incompatible, and hardly “pastoral,” fixation. It might sound strange to hear the apostle of grace making such a big deal about our godliness, our works. Wasn’t he himself saved from moralism (cf. Galatians 1:11–17)? Isn’t the redemption he preached all about the freedom of grace rather than the condemning chains of personal piety?

Has Paul, in these last letters of his ministry, lost his way? Does he, in an act of apostolic madness, abandon the gospel? Or does the senior apostle suffer a series of senior moments, exchanging grace with godliness, substituting fidelity for faith, replacing forgiveness with fear? Does Paul lose sight of the cross?

Or perhaps, it is worse—that the Pastoral Epistles evidence no senior slippage at all. Maybe Paul had a change of heart. After all, as he faces the end of his ministry, the Church stands on the threshold of major risks. Aging, suffering and dying, the apostles are passing off the scene; the Church will soon find itself with no more apostolic presence and no more apostolic preaching. Perchance Paul, burdened by the moral corruption around him, sees the need to preach a desperate though disparate message. Enough about grace! The Church will only survive if it stays godly!

What are we to make of Paul’s preoccupation with the moral state of the Church? What are we to make with his repeated insistence upon godliness? What are we to make of his urgent mandate to pursue good works, even to “train . . . for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7)?

…continue reading on Place for Truth.

David Garner

Dr. Garner (PhD, Westminster) is associate professor of systematic theology and vice president for advancement at WTS.

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