When describing the character and actions of people in the “perilous times” that will come (and which are here now), Paul made a fascinating observation. He said that these who are proud, lovers of pleasure more than God, covetous, boastful, disobedient to parents, unthankful and unholy, among other things, will also be marked by this characteristic:
2 Timothy 3:5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
Outwardly, there will be a semblance of godliness – but inwardly, there will not be any evidence of the transforming power of Christ. In fact, these will “deny” the power of true godliness, which is to know Christ as Saviour.
In this verse we can find a truth that illustrates a major difference between first generation Christians and their children or grandchildren. By a first generation Christian, I mean someone who got saved, got into church, and then raised their children in church. Unfortunately, the faith of the parent does not always become that of the child; too often, we see kids grow up in church and then run off to the world when they reach adulthood. Why does this happen?
Allow me to point out three different scenarios:
- The first generation Christian who experiences the true power of godliness on the inside. He got SAVED. This was a radical decision at the time, and it led to radical changes in his life. Because of what took place on the inside, his life began to take on the “form of godliness” on the outside. He began to practice principles of Christian living. He turned from sinful things and embraced godly activities. He began to live by wise and scriptural standards, to protect the fellowship that he had with God and to live righteously in this world. The power and godliness came FIRST – the FORM came after.
- The second or third generation Christian who has “grown up in church.” His parents took him every service. Nursery roll, Sunday School, youth group, camps, revivals, etc. Perhaps there was a decision for Christ made at an early age. But there was no real, radical change necessary in his life because it was the only life he knew. BUT, some of these never really got saved – or, if they did, somehow they never really began to have a personal walk with Christ. The “form” was by compulsion – his parents had the standards, and he had to live by them, but there was nothing INSIDE, and no real desire on his part to live the way his parents lived. For a while, this person only has a FORM – they look okay, but inside it’s empty, or all wrong. Then, the form is tossed aside and what is inside becomes what is outside.
- I should add that there is another kind of first generation Christian – the kind that gets saved and adopts the form of godliness, and then lets his spiritual walk and growth deteriorate until there is nothing left but the form. This Christian has good outward standards but may have a rotten life. Some may wear modest clothes but maintain a rebellious and critical spirit, or a filthy imagination, or dirty habits, or a lousy attitude, or a prideful disdain of others. This sort of shallow Christian living is too common among those who have been in church for years – but stopped growing on the inside, and stopped cleansing their spirit (2 Cor. 7:1). Such Christians often raise the kind we mentioned in point 2 – but then say about their prodigal children, “Well, we raised them in church. I don’t know where THEY went wrong.” Maybe they were turned away by the carnal – but “separated!” – lives of their parents.
Everyone needs a personal salvation experience. God doesn’t have grandchildren – only children, each of whom was born again by the grace of God, individually. Salvation is not inherited or genetic – it must come from God to the individual sinner.
Every Christian needs a personal fellowship with God – a personal walk with Christ. We need more than a “form” of standards, rules and practices. Such a form is fine when there is real godliness – but without it, we have only a shallow Phariseeism that denies the power of God to transform us from within.
Scriptural standards are necessary things – we are called to live sober, godly, righteous lives in a corrupt world.
But standards alone are not godliness.
As a parent who is a first generation Christian, I have prayed for all of our kids to have a personal knowledge of Christ as Saviour and a personal walk with Him. When they were small, we read the Bible to them. When they got older, we emphasized reading the Bible for themselves. We have had high standards for our family – but no standards without reason, or without scriptural basis. They have been in church unless sick or providentially hindered since before they were born. They go soulwinning, sing in the choir, play instruments, go to all the youth activities – but it is the heart that matters most! Not the form!
Parents should not take it for granted that their children will grow up to love God. They must be pointed in that direction, and led consistently in that direction. Love is a matter of the heart, not a matter of FORM. Love will bring about a form. My wife and I love each other. The love came first. We have a relationship, and standards protect our relationship. But standards alone do not make for a great marriage! There must be love in the marriage.
The important thing is not that our children mimic our form when they are teenagers, but that they LOVE the same God that we love. When they love Him, they will obey Him (Jn. 14:21).
Do you know Christ personally or have you just been wearing the form? Have you experienced the power of the gospel? Do YOU love Jesus – or are you being dragged behind others who love Jesus?
Do you still have godliness within? Or has that withered away until there’s nothing left but the FORM around a carnal and worldly excuse for a Christian on the inside? Do bitterness, jealousy, lust, laziness, filth, or a mean spirit indwell a life full of outward standards?
Good things for us to consider.
Thank you for reading. God bless.