On April 20th, of the year 2020, I began a journey through the Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin. Today is July 9th of the year 2021. My perspective on the meaning of piety has changed more in the past year than in the preceding years. Over the past year, Calvin’s insights alongside voices from the ancient church have fueled great amounts of contemplation for how my life ought to look.
For much of my life, Piety was a vague notion. Piety seemed to be for “special people.” Piety was richly intellectual and intensely religious and sometimes a point of controversy. I didn’t know what it meant to be Pious until well after the first version of this article was written on April 21st, 2020. I eventually understood that striving to reach it as though Piety was a goal or something to be grasped was inaccurate. I learned this as I pored over my bible, wanting to know God and know more about Him. Piety in Calvin’s and many older perspectives is not something that describes what you do in terms of habit or behavior. It is much more intimate. Piety is a one-word answer for the question of “why do we do things?”.
To be Pious means that our motivations become surrendered to God over time. The effect of this surrender should be that we no longer recognize ourselves as owning our motivations, and the implication of that understanding expands as time passes. The observed result of this process ought to be that we are either acting upon God’s motivation or acting upon a morally incorrect motivation. One of the implications of this for practical living and thinking is that the idea of not worshipping God with an action or behavior is something that saddens us and draws us into a spirit of remorse.
The results of this kind of Piety are unsettling in their extremes. The first is that we have no ownership of anything in our life; we are merely responsible for things but not owners of things. This concept includes free will. The second is that our approach to scripture and reflection upon God is not stagnant. We should fervently be chasing to more fully be within the bounds of God’s nature in all our actions. It is not merely enough to strive to know God and be in a relationship with Him. It is essential that, through the relationship, we pursue absolute reverence of God, who is the supreme author of everything.
This pursuit of reverence will begin to create a contrast between God’s motivations and other immoral motivations. In short, Piety is not an action. Instead, Piety is the deep love and reverence of God that comes from the understanding that God owns everything. Piety suggests that our natural motivations change through our relationship with God.
With Piety described, let us journey together into its movement within the church in the modern world. Christians often seem to reserve Piety as a rare discipline. I have often heard statements like the following: “not everyone serves like that.” While on the surface, this statement is true. It is indicative of an illusion that fools generations of Christians. God speaks in the quiet moments. God whispers in the good times and shouts in the bad. We have raised generations of believers who only hear God when things are going bad. The people we say are pious are not doing anything beyond the expectation of God (2 Peter 1:5-9). They are listening to God even as He whispers on the softest of winds.
We are at a turning point within the family of God. We can march forward in the name of progress, or we can turn back in the name of tradition. It is my conviction that we should prioritize moving with the whispers of God.
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