Outward godliness, but denying its power


2 Timothy 3:1 You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power.

Again, Paul is writing to his protege Timothy. Several things strike me about this passage. First, there is the phrase, “…in the last days”. Much of Paul’s writing suggests he was expecting Jesus to return any day. One would think he’s writing to Timothy about this because he expected Timothy to see Jesus return in his lifetime. We’re still waiting.

Second there is this laundry list of transgressions in v.2-4. When I read the list I expect people like this have been present the entire time from Paul’s ministry days to now. One assumes Paul expected the existence of persons with these characteristics to be a distinctive of the end times, but I’m not so sure.

Lastly there is v.5 “holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power”. Here’s a note I wrote two years ago about this verse, “Paul here speaks to the issue of those who appear to be religious, receive instruction after instruction, but do not put their faith into practice – thus they are unfruitful. Forms of faith without the power and practice of faith was problematic in Paul’s day, as well as ours.”

As much as I would like to think Paul is referring to other people, I’m not so sure. It’s not that I don’t want to be changed, but the sin within me resists it. Even when I manage to make progress, demonstrating real transformation of the heart, it’s only a matter of time before the old Ernie rears his ugly head. It’s as the scripture says, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) I am a sinner. No denying it.

But then there is the very next verse, “9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So this morning I’m owning the fact that I am, at least in part, among those Paul describes in this passage – but I am also a redeemed child of God in Jesus Christ. Lord thank you for your amazing grace. Do a new thing in me today. Amen.

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