In his second letter to Timothy Paul tells him to avoid people who have a form of godliness but deny its power. What did he mean by this statement? Who were these of people? Are there any of people around today? Are you one of them?
2 Timothy 3:1-5 (HCSB) 1 But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, 4 traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people!
Paul was writing about the people in Ephesus who were teaching a false doctrine in the church there. They were teaching things that sounded good but were false and misleading. These people claimed to have all knowledge but never came to the knowledge of the truth to be saved.
1 Timothy 1:3-4 (HCSB) 3 As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine 4 or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.
We know that without faith it’s impossible to please God!
Paul said that these folk wanted to be teachers of the law, meaning that you had to obey the law and all the trappings that go along with it including the genealogies and the myths that they dreamed up, but they didn't understand what they were saying and insisting that the people do.
They even claimed to be Christians but they believed that God was so ultimately good (and He is) that he would have never created anything as evil as man so there must be other gods or intermediaries, and other hoops between man and God. Some of them believed that the resurrection had already happened. This heresy considered the body, and all matter, to be evil and, therefore, denied Christ's humanity. (See notes to Paul's Letters to Timothy - Session 5 by clicking this LINK)
What I just gave you is a very brief description of what is called Gnosticism. The people Paul was writing about were perhaps practicing a form of Gnosticism. If you’re interested in knowing more there is a great deal of research available on the Internet and in written documents about it (LINK).
These people had a form of godliness, they were religious, but they denied the power of God to change man because they didn't believe that the sacrifice of Jesus could give man access to the grace of God because Jesus was, in their opinion, one of the intermediaries between this totally wicked matter, man, and God.
What about Today?
Do we have people today, Christians and those who claim to be Christians (there’s a difference but that’s another blog post), who have a form of godliness but deny it’s power?
People who have a superficial form of godliness, that is, they say and do things that appear to be good. The Greek verb that Paul uses when he said “denying its power, is more forceful than our English translation. The Greek verb means “having denied the power thereof.” This gives the sense that these people have been confronted with and have rejected the truth, deliberately and willfully substituting the form for the substance. They substitute religion for righteousness
These are people who keep God in a box in the heavens where He can accomplish nothing in His own creation. They replace supernatural faith with natural works, while at the same time talking of faith and in the name of God. They are very religious; they promote religious activity, but they reject the power of godliness. Freely using the name of Christ and invoking the power of the Spirit, they are lacking Christ and the Holy Spirit; they lack His cleansing work from sin; they don’t acknowledge His power to invigorate and motivate. Their efforts—though religious and impressive to the flesh—have no power to transform lives, to cleanse from the guilt of sin, to deliver from the power of sin. In the name of all The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they “pump-up” man and the flesh. Do you know any of these people, organizations, or churches?
Paul tells Timothy and us that we must examine everything done in the name of religion in the light of the whole counsel of God’s Word. Where we find those who replace real godly righteousness with mere religion, we are warned to avoid them. This includes much of the stuff we hear on television and radio; and, churches where error is preached as truth. The lives of these people are just like the lives of the unbeliever once church service, or bible study, or prayer meeting is over.
My focus in this post is Christians and Christianity but just a few words about other religions in the world today. Islam claims to know God but they think that they have to conquer the world for Him and they deny His Son. Judaism claims to know God but they still deny His Son. Eastern religious and new age religions claim to know of God or gods but they think that they will exist on earth until, by their own efforts, they become one with the higher powers of the universe. Most in religion today have a form of godliness but they live as if God does nothing supernatural. They live as if God can do nothing outside of the efforts of man. Their God is no God at all.
The Power of God to Change Us
The word "power" was translated from the Greek word "dynanmis." Here’s the definition from Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary from <G1410> (dunamai); force (literal or figurative); specially miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself) :- ability, abundance, meaning, might (-ily, -y, -y deed), (worker of) miracle (-s), power, strength, violence, might (wonderful) work.
In the context of Paul’s instructions to Timothy, it refers to the "power which those who only have an outward semblance of piety toward God and not the inward reality, refuse to allow access to their lives that they might be saved" (Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, Volume 2, p. 145).
This is the same word that Jesus used in referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1:8 (HCSB) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Here is what that power that is activated in your at the time of salvation does:
2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (HCSB)16 From now on, then, we do not know anyone in a purely human way. Even if we have known Christ in a purely human way, yet now we no longer know ⌊Him in this way⌋.17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, ⌊he is⌋ a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.
Romans 8:28-30 (HCSB)28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.
Romans 6:1-7 (HCSB)1 What should we say then? Should we continue in sin so that grace may multiply?2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?3 Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?4 Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.5 For if we have been joined with Him in the likeness of His death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of His resurrection.6 For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin’s dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,7 since a person who has died is freed from sin’s claims.
Colossians 3:1-17 (HCSB)1 So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God.2 Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.4 When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.5 Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.6 Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient,7 and you once walked in these things when you were living in them.8 But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator.11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.12 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,13 accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also ⌊forgive⌋.14 Above all, ⌊put on⌋ love—the perfect bond of unity.15 And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful.16 Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Now that’s power!!
What about Those Confessing Christians Who Display a Form of Godliness but Deny His Power?
Godliness refers to the duty which man owes to God. Those why deny its power renounce, repudiate or deny the inward power and renewing influence of true godliness in their hearts and lives.
How do we recognize these people?
Keep in mind the fact that one may have a semblance of religion but this semblance might not in reality correspond to true godliness. All of the following attributes are found in the opening scripture of this post, 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
"Without self-control" is translated from the Greek word “akrateis”. Here’s the definition from Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary from <G1> (a) (as a negative particle) and <G2904> (kratos); powerless, i.e. without self-control :- incontinent.
The idea is that this person is unrestrained. We can conclude that those who do not control their desires, passions arid appetites and who at the same time claim to be religious, only have an outward semblance, not the reality of true religion. The Holy Spirit enables us to restrain ourselves so that we can conform ourselves to the image of Christ.
Those who are unholy have a disrespect for things pertaining to God. Their hearts like the things that are not sacred. They have no real relationship with God.
The Greek word translated irreconcilable is “aspondos”. Here’s the definition from Strong's Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary, from <G1> (a) (as a negative particle) and a derivative of <G4689> (spendo); literal without libation (which usually accompanied a treaty), i.e. (by implication) truceless :- implacable, truce-breaker.
This person is one who will not make a truce with or become reconciled to his enemy, who in this instance is God. His character is such that once he is an enemy he remains one far he will not make a truce or be reconciled.
A boaster is a person who makes empty pretensions about themselves in order to claim importance. We could say that it is his disposition to make excessive claims about his own importance.
Boasters become proud, arrogant and overbearing. Boastful and proud people become conceited to the point that they find it impossible to see other people in their proper perspective.
This kind of person acts on impulse without consideration and wise reflection and they become headstrong. People who are headstrong are thoughtless, reckless, rash, and rush into an act without the reflection that should characterize a thoughtful person who is godly.
Conduct Toward Others
Speaking evil, using abusive or indecent language is what a blasphemer does. Generally it is used of speaking evil against God and holy things but it is also used to mean evil speaking about things in general. Based on the context of Paul’s letter the reference to blasphemers is apparently all manner talk both against God and holy things, and man.
Those who accept favors without appreciation and gratitude are unthankful. Ingratitude for kindnesses and benefits received is what is here meant.
Being without natural affection means to be unloving, and detached from those who are near and dear to us. Included in this group would be one's parents, children, wife or husband, or other relatives. There should be love and affection present which grows out of the ties that bind together.
A person who lies in order to injure someone else is a slanderer. Satan is the great accuser or slanderer. The Greek word that Paul uses in our scripture is “diabolos”, which is also the word translated devil.
Revelation 12:9-12 (HCSB) 9 So the great dragon was thrown out—the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the one who deceives the whole world. He was thrown to earth, and his angels with him. 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Messiah have now come, because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown out: the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives in the face of death. 12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the earth and the sea, for the Devil has come down to you with great fury, because he knows he has a short time.
“Inhuman and savage behavior is the meaning of fierce. A person characterized by this term is brutal, untamed, cruel, coarse and ruled by sensual passions without that sensibility which should be in a human being.” – From Truth Magazine article :Having the Form but Denying the Power written by Clinton D. Hamilton, V:12, pp. 8 September 1961
Traitors betray a trust so they can’t be trusted often in a time of need.
Children who are disobedient to parents often mistreat their parents
Center of Affection
These people are selfish to only do what benefits them often at the expense of others. Their motivation is their own comfort. These people are often lovers of money being so fond of it that they become determined to get it at all costs and after getting it hoard it.
Luke 16:13 (HCSB) No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t be slaves to both God and money.”
1 Timothy 6:10 (HCSB) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
Lovers of pleasure are intent on gratifying their own desires. The idea us that they don’t practice self-denial in anything. That person lives like the way Paul says the Ephesians lived before their conversion.
Ephesians 2:3 (HCSB) We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.
These people are not lovers of God that’s why Paul says they are lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
Those people who have and operate in these attributes may have and outward appearance of religion and godliness but they resist its influence and power to change them. Paul says that we must avoid them. Now that we know what having a form of godliness but denying its power is we must be alert so that we don’t become as one having the form, but not the reality, of godliness. Do you have a form of godliness but deny its power? If you are saved and yet fit this description remember that God does forgive and that with salvation came the Holy Spirit who lives in you and through Him you have the power that causes you to change from having only a form of godliness to the reality or godliness.
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Donald Jacobs is an ordained minister with the spiritual gift of teaching. He is the Associate Pastor of a non-denominational church in Los Angeles, CA.