In 2 Timothy 3:12, God, through the Apostle Paul, says, “. . . all that will [or desire to] live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” This is a promise from God: everyone who desires to live a godly life in spiritual union with Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. This may beg the question of many of us: if I desire to live a godly life, then why am I not suffering persecution?
In order to be able to give a correct answer to that question, we must understand what this verse means, and understand how we and our lives relate to it.
First, let’s think about what it means to desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. To begin, we must understand that Paul is assuming that those who desire to live godly are in Christ Jesus. This means that they are spiritually united to Him by faith in the gospel about Him.
But what does that mean? It means that they are trusting only in the good news that God became a man without ceasing to be God, died to satisfy God’s justice and wrath toward people’s sins, and came back to life, as the only basis for God’s forgiveness of their sins against Him. To be more specific, they are believing that Jesus, who is both God and man, died to take the punishment that they deserve from God for their sins against Him, came back to life, and on those grounds alone have complete and total forgiveness from God for their sins. This requires one to actually see their sins as deserving of the punishment and wrath of God, and by implication, the monstrous, disgusting, and diabolical things that they are. This also requires one to acknowledge that Jesus is the true God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things and created persons, who is worthy of perfect obedience, love, delight, honor, glory, praise, worship, devotion, reverence, awe, and submission.
Now that we’ve established what it means to trust in the gospel alone for forgiveness from God, let’s move to what it means to be in Christ Jesus: The term “in Christ Jesus” has at least two main shades of meaning. First, it simply refers to being spiritually united to Him. That is, to be in Christ Jesus means that the one in Him shares in His very divine and human life. This means that all of the blessings that He earned from God through His perfect life belong to the one who is in Him. This includes eternal life, the forgiveness of one’s sins, a future glorified body, peace with God, God’s treatment of one as perfectly righteous, adoption into God’s family, God’s fatherly love, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, transformation into a new creature, help from God, answer to prayer, as well as every other thing that the Christian receives from God, including every circumstance of life, which God gives for the Christian’s eternal well-being.
The second main shade of meaning is a concept with the theological title of “federal headship.” With relation to those who are in Christ, federal headship applies in this way: Christ is the federal head of those who are in Him. That is, Christ is their human representative before God, as they belong to a different race of humanity, a redeemed race that will inhabit the new heavens and the new earth as children of God. As their human representative before God, Christ’s actions affect the entire race of the redeemed humanity. This is similar to how Adam’s actions affected the entire race of mankind: Adam’s one sin brought about God’s response of condemning the rest of mankind at all times because he was the federal head of every other human being who would ever live. In the same way, Christ’s one righteous act of obeying God to the point of dying on the cross allowed for God’s fatherly treatment of every human being who had or would ever be given new supernatural life by the power of the Holy Spirit by being born again.
So far, we see that the people who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus in the verse we are considering are spiritually united to Christ, and have Christ as their federal Head before God, so that they share in Christ’s divine and human life both now and forever. So, are you in Christ Jesus by faith alone in the gospel alone?
Now, what does it mean to desire to live godly? Well, if we look at what Paul says shortly before this verse, in verses 10 and 11, along with verse 12, we are able to get a general understanding of what this means: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
Clearly, when Paul says that all who desire to live godly will suffer persecution, he is alluding to himself living godly, as described in verses 10 and 11. Therefore, we can get a general understanding of what it means to desire to live godly from those verses.
First, Paul says that, as he desired to live godly, he had doctrine, or teaching. This means that he both believed in the teachings of the Old Testament and of Christ. In addition, it means that he taught the teachings of the Old Testament and Christ. Teaching, both in one’s mind, and in one’s speech, is one mark of a person that desires to live godly. The Lord gave His church a Great Commission, and it requires teaching to be believed and to be shared: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you . . .” So, do you give attention to the Bible’s teaching, and teach others to do the same?
Second, Paul says that, as he desired to live godly, he had a certain manner of life. Obviously, this means that desiring to live godly affects one’s manner of life. Simply wanting to live godly without actually living godly reveals that that desire is not genuine. Does your desire to live godly, or God-like, actually push you to live God-like? Is your manner of life a godly life?
Third, Paul says that, as he desired to live godly, he had a certain purpose for his life. Evidently, this purpose is the same purpose that he commanded the Corinthian church to have in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” What does it mean to do all things to the glory of God? It means that the purpose of all that you do is to glorify God, or manifest His attributes. What does this mean? It means to imitate Him. This means to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – and in so doing, to exhibit such attributes as wisdom, righteousness, and justice.
However, another passage that goes hand in hand with the Corinthians passage is 2 Corinthians 5:9: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” To be accepted of Him means to be pleasing to Him. This requires one to glorify Him. Therefore, one could also say that the purpose of one who desires to live godly is to please the Lord. So, what is the purpose of your life? Is it to glorify God and please Him? That is one mark of one who desires to live godly.
Fourth, Paul says that the one who desires to live godly has faith. This means that one believes the teaching that one gives attention to and teaches. However, one could also say that, in relation to faith, Paul also had faithfulness. That is, he was dedicated to his spiritual family, and he strove to be faithful to God. He did not want to be unfaithful to God by sinning, nor specifically by being a friend of the world, nor by loving worldly things. He was loyal to his spiritual family, and he was loyal to God. This required that he had faith in God and in His Word. So, do you have faith in God and in His Word, and are you faithful to Him, His Word, and His children? Those are two marks of one who desires to live godly.
Fifth, Paul, as he was desiring to live godly, had longsuffering, or patience. This refers to the act of calmly enduring suffering or offense, especially suffering or offense coming from other people. Are you patient with people and the uncomfortable circumstances of life, or are you quick to speak unwholesome words, or quick to be angry with people who offend or harm you? Being patient is one mark of a person who wants to live godly.
Sixth, someone who wants to live godly has love. This is the love that the Apostle Paul had, and that Timothy saw in action. Therefore, we can infer that it is Christian love. 1 John defines Christian love as laying down one’s life for others. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded the church to love one another as He loved them, and to love all people as they love themselves. This is love of action, love that gives, that is selfless, and that was demonstrated by the ultimate act of love described for us in 1 John 4:9-10: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation [atoning spiritual and physical sacrifice] for our sins.” In this passage, we see that God manifested His love by sending His only begotten Son from heaven into this world, for the purpose of His people living through Him. Furthermore, God’s love, which is the source of Christian love, is defined as being given by God whether or not the recipients love God, as being an action done to those recipients, and as being sacrificial, in that God sent His Son in order to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. So, do you have Christian love, which is selfless, sacrificial, and demonstrated by action?
For our purposes, since this is the last thing that Paul mentions which is not persecution, let us also mention that one who desires to live godly has patience, or perseverance. This means that they persevere in their teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, and love while suffering trials. James 1 talks about this when it says “blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has passed the test [the trial], he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” The crown of life refers to eternal life in the next life. This implies that all those who are truly trusting in the gospel alone for forgiveness persevere under trial. So, how have you done while under trial? Have you continued to give attention to the teaching of the Word, to conduct yourself accordingly, to purpose to glorify God, to believe the Word, to be patient towards others, and to love others? This is another mark of one who wants to live godly.
So, how do you compare to Paul, the example of one who desired to live godly that we have been looking at? We’re not talking about perfection, but we’re talking about a lifestyle that includes biblical teaching in thinking and speech, that includes godly conduct, a righteous purpose, faith in the Word, patience toward others, love for God and for others, and perseverance in those things.
Again, Paul implies that all who have a character that somewhat resembles Paul’s in verse 10 will suffer persecution. And again, the question may arise, why am I not suffering persecution? Well, let’s keep in mind that persecution does not just refer to imprisonment, torture, or martyrdom. Persecution is simply ill treatment of any kind that is the result of the natural evil nature of humans, and living godly in front of them. Therefore, suffering persecution requires one to be living godly in front of a persecutor. So, do not think that the absence of persecution necessarily implies that the person experiencing that absence doesn’t desire to live godly. However, the verse PROMISES that those who desire to live godly will suffer persecution. Therefore, if you have not ever suffered persecution, then you either have not desired to live godly, or you have not lived godly in front of unbelievers. If you desire to live godly, then you will be persecuted. However, if you desire to live godly, then that knowledge will not deter you from living godly.
The point of this article is not to encourage you to seek persecution, but to examine yourself to see if you desire to live godly, and to encourage you to live godly.
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”