Appearance of Godliness But Denying Its Power

We could probably all name someone who fits each description in 2 Timothy 3:2-4.  There are many, many unbelieving people who live lives exhibiting such sin.  They need the gospel yet we aren’t to judge them.  We can’t expect Unbelievers to live as Believers should.  We are told not to judge unbelievers in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, God will judge them.

1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (ESV)

12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?
13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

We are to share the hope of the gospel with unbelievers.

Yet we are told to judge those in the church.

1 Corinthians 5:12b Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

Not only judge, but to even purge the evil person from among us.  Who might that be? Paul tells us about some evil people in Timothy 3.

Let us look at 2 Timothy 3 verse 5, it adds a little different twist to who the people in verses 2-4 are.

2 Timothy 3:5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.  Avoid such people.

That is a tough concept.  Appearance of godliness without the power.  What does that mean?  These people appear for all intents and purposes to be very godly.  That means they fulfill the religious expectations placed on them.  They may be part of a church. They may be baptized. They appear to serve the Lord.  Yet there is still a lack; a lack of power.   They are hollow shell “Christians” who will easily break under pressure.  Just like those hollow Chocolate Easter Bunnies there is nothing to them and they crack under pressure.

When a man is a Christian in name only, and not in reality–in outward things only, and not in his inward feelings–in profession only, and not in practice–when his Christianity in short is a mere matter of form, or fashion, or custom, without any influence on his heart or life- -in such a case as this the man has what I call a “formal religion.”  He possesses indeed the “form,” or shell, or surface of religion, but he does not possess its substance or its “power.”

Formal religion pleases the natural laziness of man.  It attaches an excessive importance to that which is the easiest part of Christianity- -the shell and the form.  Man likes this.  He hates exertion in religion.  He wants something which will not meddle with his conscience and inner life.  Only leave his conscience alone, and, it will want to do works or actions.  Formalism seems to open a wider gate, and a more easy way to heaven.

J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) in FORMALISM.


Now let us look again at those people described in 2 Timothy 3:2-4, that whole list is people who are maybe in the church appearing godly and yet without the power.  It could include anyone of us sitting here.  They look good on the outside but inside are rotten hollow corpses.  Since they have an appearance of godliness then it would appear that the sinful characteristics listed in verses 2-4 are not real blatant such that you would instantly see them.  They may even be the more hidden sins of the heart which often are only revealed during stress or sometimes in their speech.  Yet generally they appear godly.

They are like the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked.

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Matthew 23:27-28

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

They look clean on the outside but the inside is full of filth.

Who is the ultimate example of this?

Judas Iscariot.  Often children think that Judas was some monster, that he was this obviously horrible person.  But that is false he wasn’t obviously horrible and deceiving.  He appeared to be godly. He was one of twelve chosen by Jesus to be one of his disciples.  Judas went out with the disciples casting out demons and healing people (Matthew 10:5-8).  Judas was so apparently “godly” that the disciples trusted him with the money bag (John 13:29).  The disciples weren’t even concerned when Judas left during the last supper.  Yet we see that Judas was lacking in true godliness.

We aren’t left having no clue who are the true Christians and who are the fakes.  We are told you will recognize them by their fruits.

Matthew 7:15-23

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?

17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.

18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

There will be those who have a form of godliness who are eager to lead you astray if you will let them. They often seem so nice and holy in the process of leading others astray.  To guard against being made captive to false doctrine you must fill your heart with true Biblical Doctrine so that you can recognize the false doctrine.

We are to be like the Bereans and examine everything we hear in light of Scripture.

Acts 17:10-12 (ESV)

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.
11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.

Don’t take anything that you are taught without examining it according to Scripture.  Don’t take anything I’ve said without examining to see if it is correct.  Don’t take anything a pastor says, not even a MacArthur, Piper or Sproul, without examining it to see if it is correct according to Scripture.  Paul even tells the Galatian church to examine his teaching and make sure he isn’t teaching a different gospel from previously.

Galatians 1: 6-9

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—

7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

So if an Angel was to appear right here and tell us that all religions lead to Christ as long as the person is sincere, that would be contrary to Scripture and we are to reject it even if from an Angel.

For the full series of posts in order click below:

Renewing the Attitudes of our Heart Series


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