The Standard for True Piety and Godliness (Kuyper)









Sometimes when one Christian sees another Christian’s practices of piety he or she thinks, “That’s a good practice, I should do it.” At one level, this isn’t a bad thing. Those who follow Jesus in faith and obedience should be good examples for others who follow him. On a different level, however, this can be dangerous since the ultimate standard for piety and godliness is not found in one person’s specific practices, but in Scripture. In other words, if one Christian wakes up early to pray for an hour each day, while that’s a very commendable practice, it’s not binding on other Christians. Furthermore, other Christians should not feel badly if their practices of piety and godliness don’t match up with other Christians’ practices of piety because Scripture is our ultimate standard.

Abraham Kuyper addressed one aspect of this topic quite well in a chapter of his devotional, To be Near unto God. Here’s a section from it:

There is an evil among devout friends of the Lord, which must be resisted. In spiritual things each desires to impose a law of his own upon the other. Piety is said to be bound to a given form. One’s own way of piety must be the standard for every one else. Minor differences may be tolerated, but in the main the same sort of piety must manifest itself in all God’s children alike. And so it follows that the piety which they practice is the standard for all their spiritual examination and criticism.

…Our fathers used to say, that this is putting oneself in the place of the Word of God. Not from oneself, nor from any saint whatever, but exclusively from God’s Word the standard must be derived which determines geniune childship, and the true gold of our godliness. These censors did not deny this; only they tried to show that God’s Word posits the claims and marks of true grace, which they themselves imposed upon you, and which they sternly applied in their own circle. But one thing they forgot, and this became the cause of all this injurious spiritual unnaturalness; they did not see, that God’s word, as in every thing else allows play-room in the spiritual life for very great diversity, and in this very diversity seeks strength.

If now the spiritual life of piety is forced into a selfsame mould, the work of man counteracts the work of God; then there ensues spiritual unnaturalness, painted flowers, but no real flowers; then no virtue goes out from it, and this sort of imprinted piety does not bring one nearer to God, but rather builds up a wall of separation between the soul and God

…As God clothes the lilies of the field differently, so he weaves an own spiritual garment for each one of his children.

Abraham Kuyper, To Be Near unto God, ch. 88.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christian Women, Braids, Clothes, and Jewelry

IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament

In 1 Timothy 2:9 Paul tell us that adult Christian women “are to dress in suitable apparel, with modesty and self-control. Their adornment must not be with braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothing, but with good deeds…” (NET Bible). Peter says something similar to Christian wives in 1 Peter 3:3: “Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;  but let it be the hidden person of the heart…” (NASB).

Does this mean that Christian women are sinning against God if they braid their hair to go for a jog or a hike? Is it a sin for Christian women to wear a gold wedding ring in public or buy a nice wedding dress for that big day? Do women have to repent of these things? Or in other words, should churches put women under discipline for braided hair, wearing gold rings, or going to Bible study in nice clothing?

In a word, no. The apostles’ words quoted above are not an 11th commandment. Nor are they trampling on Christian liberty in a legalistic way. Here are some helpful comments from the IVP NT Background Commentary:

(1 Tim. 2:9) Whereas many men in the Christian community were quarreling (2:8), many women appear to have been violating a different matter of propriety in public prayer: seeking to turn others’ heads. Most Jewish teachers allowed wives to adorn themselves for their husbands, but both Jewish and Greco-Roman moralists ridiculed women who decked themselves out to turn other men’s eyes. Jewish writings warn especially of the sexual temptation involved in such adornments; Greco-Roman writers also condemn wealthy women who show off their costly array. Hair was sometimes braided with gold, which Paul might have in view here; men were especially attracted by women’s decorated hair. Like most other writers who condemned such gaudiness, Paul should be understood as attacking excess, not as ruling against all adornment.

(1 Peter 3:3) Hair was braided in elaborate manners, and well-to-do women strove to keep up with the latest expensive fashions. The gaudy adornments of women of wealth, meant to draw attention to themselves, were repeatedly condemned in ancient literature and speeches, and Peter’s readers would assume that his point was meant in the same way

Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993).

Howard Marshall also has a helpful comment on 1 Peter 3:2:

It is true that Peter’s statement might well be translated: “Your beauty should not so much come from outward adornment … but rather it should be that of your inner self.” Though desire to be beautiful and attractive is manifestly a commendable one, outward beauty, however much desirable, is secondary to beauty of character. The desire for out ward beauty can easily lead to the sins of pride and vanity as well as of a wrong use of money.

I. Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), 1 Pe 3:2.

Finally, Edmund Clowney’s words are also worth reading:

The point is not a legalistic ban on beauty of attire. (The father of the prodigal welcomed his returning son with the best robe and a ring!) The point is the vastly superior value of inward beauty and the danger of extravagant and sensual fashions in dress.

Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 131.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


The Two Kingdoms and Christian Ethics

One of the worst misrepresentations of the Reformation teaching of God’s two kingdoms that I’ve heard goes like this: “Two kingdom theology means that we only have to live as Christians on Sunday but not the rest of the week.”  This notion is completely mistaken in every way; it is absolutely not at all an implication of two kingdom theology.  Here’s how David VanDrunen touches upon two kingdom theology and ethics in chapter seven of his book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms.

“…Christians have a responsibility to be involved in a broad range of cultural endeavors, that they can and should honor God by their righteous pursuit of such activities, and that they should perform these activities, as activities of the common kingdom under the Noahic [common grace] covenant, alongside of and in cooperation with unbelievers.  Christians are Christians seven days a week, in whatever place or activity they find themselves, and thus they must always strive to live consistently with their profession of Christ.”

“Every Christian has the obligation to make morally responsible decisions about his cultural endeavors.”

“…Believers must strive to perform all of their cultural activities in a way consistent with their Christian identity, and this means, as a subject matter, that the Christian’s cultural activities should always be fundamentally different from unbelievers’.  Christians are called not only to act in accord with God’s law at all times but also to do all things from faith (Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6) and all things for God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31).” …Here then is one way in which cultural activity should be uniquely Christian: even in their most ordinary and mundane tasks, Christians must act from faith, in accord with God’s law, and for God’s glory.  Whatever they do, they should ‘work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men’ (Col. 3:23).”

Of course, some advocates of two kingdom theology misunderstand the teaching and live ungodly, reckless lives.  But someone who rightly understands the Reformation teaching of the two kingdoms will certainly not live like a Christian on Sunday and a pagan on Monday.  Two kindgom theology not only includes the Reformation slogan soli Deo gloria, but also the third use of the law which says the Christian must obey God’s precepts to show him thanks for the salvation Christ won for us.

Finally, if you want to see how two kingdom theology works out in the realm of Christian bioethics, VanDrunen also wrote Bioethics and the Christian Life.  The third chapter of this book, “Christian Virtues,” is an outstanding exposition of faith, hope, love, courage, contentment, and wisdom.  I highly recommend both of these books.  And again, to be clear, consistently Reformed two kingdom theology goes hand in hand with godliness, solid piety, obedience, and a life aimed at God’s glory.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Godliness: Not By Our Strength

Image 1 One of the best books on the topic of godliness is Willem Teellinck’s (d. 1629) The Path of True Godliness.  These lines stood out for me as I was writing a sermon on godliness:

“We must therefore begin to practice [godliness], not in our own strength, which means absolutely nothing, but in the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the strength of our life and by whom we can do all things.  [Here Teellinck quotes Eph. 6.10, Phil. 3.3, 2 Cor. 3.5, and 2. Cor 9.8).”

“Take careful note of this, for surely many a man begins the practice of godliness and then gives up in discouragement and withdraws from his work.  Since he began it in his own strength, he makes a mess of things.  It’s exactly the same thing as when a little child, in his own strength, wants to build a big castle.  It is a fact that our own strength means nothing in the building up of the Christian life.  Unless the power of the Almighty comes upon us, we cannot build anything that will last.  That is why we call it godliness; it reminds us that without God and his holy help we would never be able to accomplish this work.”

“How the devil tries to keep this fact hidden from the eyes of men!  That is why there are found everywhere so many who now and then put on holy airs as if they henceforth want to be godly, but you see after only a short time they have returned to the world, having so very quickly lost interest.  This happens because they began in their own strength; therefore, they found their work too much for them and quickly tired of it because they found no more joy in it.  Therefore, all students of true godliness who wish to begin this work well and truly wish to bring it to completion must renounce their own strength.  They must surrender themselves entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is ‘the Author and Finisher of our faith’ (Heb. 12.2)….”

That’s worth reading a few times for sure.  By the way, RHB has Teellinck’s book on sale for $11 right now.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Bonhoeffer’s Prison Prayers

   This is a sweet book.  It captures many of my interests at once.  First, I appreciate Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writings in general.  These letters and papers are especially edifying because I can see what is “behind” some of his other works, so to speak.  Second, I love reading about the tough issues: What does it mean to be a Christian (or a church) under intense pressure?  You’ll find answers to this question in this book, Letters & Papers from PrisonThird, having read many volumes of WWII history, these letters/papers fascinate me from a historical perspective. 

Here are a few of Bonhoeffer’s prayers that are quite moving, especially considering he penned them from a Nazi prison.  I recommend reading these out loud.

“In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me.”

“Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And in distress, a captive and forsaken as I am.
You know all man’s troubles;
You abide with me
When all men fail me;
You remember and seek me;
It is your will that I should know you
And turn to you.
Lord, I hear your call and follow;
Help me.”

 “I remember in your presence all my loved ones,
my fellow-prisoners, and all who in this house perform their hard service;
Lord, have mercy.”


shane lems