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A GODLY PERSON IS THOROUGHLY TRAINED IN RELIGION
by Philip Owen

 

            Godliness does not just happen. God does not work in the same fashion as portrayed in the old movie about the life of Sergeant Alvin York. York was riding along on his horse one day when, suddenly, he was struck by a lightning bolt and got religion. While it is certainly true that the moment of salvation occurs at a definite moment in time and that in that moment “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Cor. 5:17), the attainment of true godliness requires the will and effort of each believer. For that reason, Thomas Watson is correct when he identifies one of the qualities of a godly person as being thoroughly trained in religion. 
 
            If by religion Watson meant to suggest merely the practice of various external rituals and observances of some faith, then we must dismiss this characteristic as a measure of godliness. But if by religion he meant the acquisition of knowledge about, belief in, and practice of the doctrines propounded in the Word of God, then surely he is correct. No one who is careless about what the Word of God teaches in any of those three ways—understanding, faith, obedience—can truly be said to be godly.
 
            Churches that downplay or even dismiss the value of the doctrine taught in the Bible, may be producing “religious” people but they are not promoting godliness. We will begin with what is ostensibly the proof text on this issue: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15). A godly person “studies” (“gives diligence”) to be approved of God. Such diligence begins with “rightly dividing” (lit. “cutting straight”) or accurately handling the Word of God. Though most pastors have enjoyed formal seminary training for that purpose, it is incumbent on all who would be godly to delve into the Word with every possible effort and using every tool at their disposal. Bible study is not optional, but essential.
 
            The very fact that God has given us His Word is tacit evidence that He wants to communicate truth to us and that we should devote ourselves to being trained in the truth. From the Old Testament, which instructs parents to teach their children in the way and to bind the Word to their foreheads and hands (Deut. 6:8), to the New Testament, which requires a minister to “commit . . . to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” the truth of God that he has been taught (II Tim. 2:2), the Bible is consistent and insistent in its demands that believers, as Watson said, be “thoroughly trained in religion.”
 
            In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul enjoined him: “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. . . . Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (I Tim. 4:13, 15, 16). Similarly, to Titus, Paul wrote, “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (1:9). That this thorough training in religion was not considered to be the exclusive province of ministers is clear from other Scriptures. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle” (II Thes. 2:15). And John gives this solemn general warning: “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (II John 9, 10).
 
            Finally, it should be made clear that godliness involves more than learning the truths of the Bible as academic principles. The concept of training involves the idea of “disciplining.” To be thoroughly trained in religion, then, entails, not simply the ability to recite facts or even to understand and explain doctrine, but the activity of inculcating those truths into the life, of being guided by the Word of God, and of living a life that is submitted to and in conformity with God’s Book. A godly person is thoroughly trained in religion so that he lives a life that is governed and empowered by the Bible.
 

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