What is godliness? Is it measured by conformity to a list of man-made rules and regulations? Does it consist primarily of prohibitions? These are questions that Jerry Bridges answered for me many years ago in his book The Practice of Godliness, the sequel to The Pursuit of Holiness. In his first book, the emphasis is on our responsibility to put off the sinful deeds of the flesh in the power of God. In the second book, the emphasis is upon the righteous character traits we are commanded to put on in place of what has been put off.
But it’s more than that; it is godly attitude in action. Commenting on Enoch’s epitaph, “He walked with God,” Bridges writes,
“Enoch walked with God; he enjoyed a relationship with God; and he pleased God. We could accurately say he was devoted to God. This is the meaning of godliness. The New Testament word for godliness, in its original meaning, conveys the idea of a personal attitude toward God that results in actions that are pleasing to God. This personal attitude toward God is what we call devotion to God. But it is always devotion in action. It is not just a warm, emotional feeling about God, the kind of feeling we may get while singing some grand old hymn of praise or some modern-day chorus of worship. Neither is devotion to God merely a time of private Bible reading and prayer, a practice we sometimes call ‘devotions.’ Although this practice is vitally important to a godly person, we must not think of it as defining devotion for us….Devotion is not an activity; it is an attitude toward God. This attitude is composed of three essential elements: the fear of God, the love of God, and the desire for God.”
It is the attitude of one’s heart toward God that ultimately determines whether he or she will live out practical righteousness. Practical righteousness is not the basis of a godly person’s relationship to God, but the overflow of it. In a nutshell, I like to say it this way: Practical righteousness is the Spirit-empower outworking of the positional righteousness that is ours by virtue of imputation and union with Christ. It is only when we are connected to the Vine—in union with Christ—that any of us can bear fruit that is pleasing to Him (John 15:1-4).
Therefore, as we seek to make progress in our pursuit of holiness, and the practice of godliness, let us always keep in mind that attitude is everything. Maintaining a humble attitude of submission to God will keep the pursuit of practical holiness from becoming “oppressive and legalistic.” Jerry Bridges’ book, The Practice of Godliness, has been instrumental in helping me understand this.