Over the weekend, I did a little more reading in Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees and appreciated Tom Hovestol’s summary of true piety in contrast with the false piety Jesus exposes in Matthew 6. “How can we acquire the true piety that Jesus recommended to His disciples, while avoiding the false piety He exposed? Matthew 6 offers several clear clues.”
- True piety is difficult, not natural. The practice of false piety is a real danger for religious people. Pointedly, Jesus introduced the topic with the word “Beware!” There is a subtle, sinister, and seductive pull to piety. If we are not careful, we will naturally slip into false or superficial piety. The Bible well illustrates that acts of piety can easily become a substitute for authentic piety. (See, for instance, 1 Sam 15:22; Ps 51:16-17; Prov 15:8; Isa 1:11-17).
- True piety is practical, not mystical. We must not let the fear of hypocrisy and publicity keep us from practicing our piety. Piety is to be active, not passive. In Matthew 5:15 Jesus told His disciples to let people see their good deeds, but in such a way that glory is diverted upward.
- True piety is often unnoticed, not publicized. Public piety works! This is precisely why it is so dangerous. Religious practices result in substantial earthly and temporal rewards. Public piety brings ‘honor’ to the pious (v. 2) and has its rewards (vv. 2, 5, 16)….True piety concerns itself with what is really going on inside and with the One who sees all (Hebrews 4:13).
- True piety is vertical, not horizontal. At the heart of piety is our motivation. Why and for whom do we do it? If we are honest, we will have to admit that we sometimes give either out of obligation or to please the treasurer, that often we pray for the ears of those who are listening, and it is hard to avoid dropping hints about our devotion to God. God desires a pure relationship with us alone. We must sincerely covet God’s favor, not human praise.
- True piety is simple and discreet, not showy. Jesus said that one of the best ways to check our natural tendency to make our piety public is to do it secretly and simply. Our stewardship should be unself-conscious and unpublicized. Our prayer life should be far superior in private than it is in public.
- True piety is social as well as spiritual. We must not forget that there is a connection between our piety and our public lives, but not the connection that we usually make. God’s forgiveness of us is in some ways predicated on our forgiveness of others. Our lack of forgiveness of others is a certain indication that we have not internalized the forgiveness of God for us.
Let us remember that true piety (godliness) can only be experienced by those who are regenerated and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The professing Christian who is not truly saved will only be able to produce a form/appearance of godliness because he or she lacks supernatural power within (2 Timothy 3:5). As we counsel one another with biblical truth, let us resist the temptation of placing before each other easily-attainable “forms” of righteousness that do not flow from a heart transformed by the gospel.