Monday, January 16, 2006

The Mystery of Godliness

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,
Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world,
Received up in glory.
(1 Timothy 3:16)
Paul presents us with a powerful confession of faith concerning the “mystery of godliness.” The Greek word for “without controversy” literally means “confessedly.” To confess means to agree, to say the same thing. What Paul presents is what the apostles taught and what the Church has confessed from the beginning.

A mystery is a secret God is revealing to His people, and through His people to the world. The mystery of godliness is the revelation of what the Christian faith is about. Paul presents it in six phrases.
  • “God was manifested in the flesh.” This is the mystery of the Incarnation, the revelation of God in human flesh. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
  • “Justified in the Spirit.” Though He was in manifested in the flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ was vindicated in the Spirit. He was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:17-21; Acts 10:38). Paul opens his letter to the Romans with this two-fold mystery of flesh and spirit: “Concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:3-4).
  • “Seen by angels.” Angels attended and announced both the incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus. They were present to minister to Jesus after the temptation in the wilderness. The author of Hebrews demonstrates the superiority of Jesus, Son of God, over the angels of God. Angels are not to be worshipped as some false teachers taught (this was one of the errors Paul addressed in his letter to the Colossians). Rather, Jesus is worshipped by the angels. When He ascended to the throne of heaven, angels surrounded Him. Peter said that the angels greatly desire to look into the mystery of the Gospel, the Christian faith (1 Peter 1:12).
  • “Preached among the Gentiles.” The Greek word for “Gentiles” is ethnos. The coming of Jesus the Messiah was not just for the Jews, but for the whole world — every tribe, every tongue, every ethnic group — the nations. Peter learned the depth of this mystery in Acts 10, when He was sent to Cornelius, a Roman who reverenced the God of the Jews. Paul understood His own calling to be especially to the non-Jews, apostle to the nations.
  • “Believed on in the world.” These mysteries of the Spirit are very improbable to our natural perceptions, which have been turned upside down by the deceptions of the evil one and the bondage of sin. And yet, Light entered the world and blind eyes have been enabled to see by the proclaiming of the mystery, the preaching of the Gospel. “Faith comes by hearing,” Paul says, “and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).
  • “Received up in glory.” Forty days after His resurrection, the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven and was received up into glory. The kingdom of God has broken into the world, and the King has taken His rightful place on the throne of heaven to reign in glory forever as Lord of heaven and earth. Paul tells us that every believer in Jesus Christ is now seated together with Him in that heavenly dimension (Ephesians 2:6).
These mysteries have been revealed for our benefit, that we may fully enter into the life Jesus came to give us. They demonstrate the depths of God’s grace toward us. Good works do not bring us to this place. Godliness is not primarily what we do but what we receive by faith in Jesus Christ. And so we are changed.