I have had a few thoughts simmering in my mind this Easter on the difference between spirituality and godliness. At first glance these terms appear at least alike if not synonymous and both indicate a belief or acknowledgement of a God or higher power which informs behaviours and activities of some kind.
For me, the word spirituality conjures up images and actions such as surfing at sunrise and enjoying, feeling, experiencing and connecting with nature and creation.
On the other hand, godliness gives a more traditional, religious connotation inclusive of church going and the practice of deeply personal prayers. I think it would be fair to say from these demonstrations alone it is possible for one to be spiritual and not godly – that is not acknowledging or deferring to God himself.
When we look more closely we can see that these two positions are indeed startlingly different. To be spiritual is not at all to regard God. In fact spirituality points to the importance of one’s own experiences, beliefs and desires in expressing our innermost soul. We are who we are and we can express that freely as we like. Spirituality is about me and my agenda.
Godliness, far from being synonymous with spirituality as first thought, is the antithesis of this position. Godliness begins at the very first when a person acknowledges the importance of God and His agenda in this world and submits themselves to it instead of their own.
One’s beliefs, desires and experiences are hinged on who God is and expressed as He would have them expressed in love for Himself and others. Godliness, not surprisingly is about God and His agenda.
Spirituality and the fight
I have been a Christian for near on 11 years. I work in a church and have a degree from a theological college but sometimes I can see that spirituality has crept into my life as a Christian. This very week I am seeking to get a jump start on all of my Christmas shopping for family, friends and special people I would like to thank for their support in my life and ministry this year.
Some of the friends I would like to thank, I find myself also wanting to impress with the perfect gift. Not just anything will do! I must aim for a gift that is the perfect amount of thoughtful, trendy and looking way more expensive than it is!
So, instead of godliness producing an act of generosity and love towards God and others I find myself battling the rise of spirituality and my own agenda for acceptance and love.
What I find very interesting is the often similar actions which exude from competing positions of godliness and spirituality. From the outside looking in no one is likely to know if I am giving a gift to make myself appear fantastic, generous and amazing or if I am giving a gift out of thankfulness and pure generosity.
I always think of the Pharisees and religious leaders in Jesus’ time who were very diligent in their actions but always seeking to appear holy. One of the best illustrations we have recorded of this in Scripture is the parable Jesus tells of a Pharisee who was desperate to be seen as favoured and right with God loudly and boastfully praying and thanking God He was not as lowly as his neighbour the tax collector.
The humble tax collector also prays – quietly and unobtrusively “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke Chapter 18 verses 9-14) It is the tax collector who Jesus identifies as justified before God.
For us it can be fairly easy to tell the difference between a person who is desperately wanting to be known by the goodness of their acts and a person who quietly goes about doing God’s work. It was easy for Jesus to spot way back then and easy for Him to detect the very motives of our hearts to this day.
What are you promoting?
You see the key difference between spirituality and godliness is whom we are promoting. Spirituality promotes self. Godliness always, always promotes Christ and what He has done.
From the very first humility is necessary to come to Christ. Humility is paramount for remaining true to God’s agenda daily and growing in godliness. Let’s not forsake it!
“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke Chapter 18 verse 14)
Hannah Edwards has recently graduated from theological studies, is an avid shopper and is learning to cook. She is currently ministering to women in Brisbane in both church and community spheres, empowering women to reach their fullest potential. Hannah is also the founder of the online community Harvest Joy Women. Further material is available from www.harvestjoywomen.com