2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. (2) For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, (3) heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, (4) treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, (5) having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
This is the second installment in this series – which is going to have quite a few installments before we are finished. As I mentioned last time, my intent is to end up compiling these posts, including many of your comments and insights, into a book by the same title – An Appearance of Godliness.
The Apostle Paul warns us here that the last days, that is, the church age in which we live and which will terminate with the return of Christ, is not going to be an easy time for Christ’s true people to live in. There will come times of difficulty. But the difficulties Paul had in mind are not things like economic downturns, pandemics, car crashes, or broken water lines. No.
Paul leaves us in no doubt. He lists the kind of things that are going to make life in this wicked world difficult for the godly. Specifically, he means wicked people. People will be…. In fact, the Bible gives quite a lot of emphasis to this so that we will not miss it. But many professing Christians have missed it with willful blindness. Consider:
1 Timothy 4:1 ESV Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,
1 John 2:18-19 ESV Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (19) They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
Jude 1:17-19 ESV But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. (18) They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” (19) It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
If you will look carefully at these verses (and this is VERY important, so I hope you hear me), look carefully and ask yourself “what kind of people are these wicked ones that the Bible is talking about here? Are they people of the world who make no claim to religion at all? Well, they are people who “depart from the faith,” who “went out from us,” and who “cause divisions” and are “devoid of the Spirit.” It is apparent then that the kind of people whose wickedness is the source of the difficult times are people within the visible church. People who make some claim to belong to Christ. People who insist that they are Christians.
Why is it so vital that we get hold on this? Because most of us have been taught just the opposite. That about everyone who claims to be a Christian is, and that it is wrong for us to assume anything else about them. But if we are so naive, then we are not hearing God’s Word. We are not listening. We are not carefully digesting His Word but just lazily swallowing whatever is being dished out to us from the pulpit or in books or other sources. And in the end most people in the visible church won’t even know what a Christian is anymore. I conclude that this is the very situation we find ourselves in today. that most professing Christians do not even know what or who a Christian is.
So the difficult times we live in are difficult for the righteous because we are surrounded by the unrighteous. By those kind that Paul lists – overs of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy…and on and on.
But there is more to these creeps. They are not only wicked, but they claim to be righteous. They put on a disguise of “godliness.” Jesus said we must examine the fruit in order to know the character of the tree. Nowadays people pick rotten, decaying, stinking fruit, take a bite, and declare that the tree is good! Difficult times are caused by wicked people wearing disguises – of wolves in wool. And they creep in among us.
What is the second thing they do in all of this? They wear the disguise of godliness, but they deny its power. What does that mean?
Well, the power of true godliness is the Holy Spirit in us. It is the new birth – being born again, being a new creation in Christ. It is the power of God that is the power of godliness.
Romans 8:8-9 ESV Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (9) You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
It is the truth that Jesus declared to Nicodemus – you must be born again. But the creeps, the fakes, the Pharisees, the wicked disguised with an outward show of godliness – by word and deed deny the necessity of the new birth. Their religion is entirely outward:
Matthew 23:27-28 ESV “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.
Study the history of the church age and this is precisely what you will find. People with corrupt, wicked, evil and unbelieving hearts parading as the finest saints and church members in the church. And we have been falling for their evil for far too long. We have not been as wise as serpents about evil. Like the people of Jeremiah’s day we have lazily kicked back and believed the diet served up by the false prophets and priests.
God’s Word cannot be any clearer than it is right here in Paul’s words to Timothy, and to us. It is long past time for us to wise up and stop being enslaved to the bondage that comes when the wicked come in among us and put themselves off as the greatest examples of godliness to be found.
(5) having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.