8 Rules for Growing in Godliness

By Joe Thorn:

In my desire to be like Jesus I have to guard against the temptation to merely focus on the external. Addressing the outside of our lives is easy and has nothing to do with real sanctification. Superficial godliness is no godliness at all. It is nothing but a thin gloss over a man’s life. A kind of religious manliness that neither addresses or changes the heart. But the other danger is doing nothing, and simply hoping that God makes us grow without any cultivation.

Our growth in godliness is a grace from God, derived from our union with Jesus, and is a work of the Holy Spirit, and yet we are active throughout in both killing sin and living unto righteousness. So all the effort, action, and work on our part in the process of sanctification must spring from faith in Jesus and be aimed at our hearts, not just our behavior.

This means we need to grow in faith and communion with Christ while seeking to obey him. One of my favorite books on godliness is Thomas Watson’s, The Godly Man’s Picture. This work focuses on what godliness looks like experientially and how one pursues it practically. Towards the end of the book he has 8 “rules” or helps for growing in godliness. They are summarized below.


Be intentional and consistent in the use of the means of grace. Seek to know and become more like Jesus through prayer, Scripture, corporate worship, etc. Use every means God has given you to know him and grow in his likeness.


“The world eats the heart out of godliness, as the ivy eats the heart out of the oak.” The world, as a system and kingdom, is at war with the Kingdom of God and the life of faith. Know its dangers and guard yourself against its charms and temptations.


“Accustom yourself to holy thoughts.” Growing in godliness is connected to where your mind and heart dwell. Be sure to give yourself to the biblical discipline of divine meditation on the truths revealed in Scripture.


Guard your thoughts and affections by praying against sin and watching against temptation. “The heart has a thousand doors to run out from,” so we must watch it carefully and lead ourselves, again and again, back to the gospel where we find our identity, hope, confidence, strength, and salvation.


“Time misspent is not time lived but time lost.” It’s not that time itself is precious, but that we “work out our salvation” in it, making it a precious commodity. Use your time thoughtfully for all good things: work, recreation, rest, spiritual disciplines, etc.


“There is but a span between the cradle and the grave,” and this should move us to make the most of our days. God has not promised us tomorrow, but as he has given us today. This realization should promote the priority of godliness as we live now, preparing for the life to come.


“God never sent a man into the world only to eat, drink and put on fine clothes, but that they might serve him in holiness and righteousness (Luke 1:74, 75).” Just yesterday I quoted Sinclair Ferguson who said, “If the glory of God is the ultimate goal of all things, including our sanctification, conformity to Christ is the immediate goal of that sanctification. We are called to be like him. Our corresponding responsibility is to become like him.” I like saying we are his to know him and make him known. The pursuit and experience of godliness lies at the heart of that.


“Be often among the godly. They are the salt of the earth, and they will season you.” You need their counsel, prayers, love, and fellowship to grow and remain healthy in godliness. The fellowship of the saints will sharpen and strengthen you.

The Cure for Cold Religion

From Erik Raymond:

So encouraging to know that neither the problem nor the solution has changed in the last 350 years:

“The reason our affections are so chilled and cold in religion—is that we do not warm them with thoughts of God. Hold a magnifying glass to the sun, and the glass burns that which is near to it. So when our thoughts are lifted up to Christ, the Sun of righteousness, our affections are set on fire. No sooner had the spouse been thinking upon her Savior’s beauty—but she fell into love-sickness. (Song of Sol. 5:8).

O saints, do but let your thoughts dwell upon the love of Christ, who passed by angels and thought of you; who was wounded that, out of his wounds, the balm of Gilead might come to heal you; who leaped into the sea of his Father’s wrath, to save you from drowning in the lake of fire! Think of this unparalleled love, which sets the angels wondering—and see if it will not affect your hearts and cause tears to flow forth!”

— Thomas Watson (The Great Gain of Godliness), p. 87

Hearing the Word Preached

Here are 10 instructions for hearing God’s Word preached on Sunday from Thomas Watson (found on pages 129-130 of Sola Scriptura).

1. When you come to God’s house to hear His Word, do not forget to prepare your soul with prayer.
2. Come with a holy appetite for the Word (1 Peter 2:2). A good appetite promotes good digestion.
3. Come with a tender, teachable heart, asking “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” It is foolish to expect a blessing if you come with a hardened, worldly-minded heart.
4. Be attentive to the Word preached. Regard the sermon as it truly is–a matter of life and death (Deut. 32:47).
5. “Receive with meekness the engrafted word” (James 1:21). Meekness involves a submissive frame of heart, a willingness to hear the counsels and reproofs of the Word.
6. Mingle the preached Word with faith (Heb. 4:2). Put on Christ as He is preached (Rom. 13:14); apply the promises as they are spoken.
7. Strive to retain and pray over what you have heard. Don’t let the sermon run through your mind like water through a strainer.
8. Practice what you have heard. “Live out” the sermons you hear. Be doers and not merely hearers (James 1:22).
9. Beg God to accompany His Word with the effectual blessings of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44). Without the Spirit, the medicine of the Word may be swallowed, but it will not result in healing.
10. Familiarize yourself with what you have heard. When you come home, speak to your loved ones about the sermon in an edifying manner. Remember each sermon as if it will be the last you ever hear, for that may be the case.

(HT: Justin Childers)