A Bible study through 2 Timothy
The world is a dark place. Our moral culture is sliding and people are getting closer and closer to doing whatever is right in their own eyes. In America, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in cultural norms as families have broken apart, moral standards have loosened, and disunity has riddled our nation. However, none of this has taken God by surprise! In fact, He warns us through the Apostle Paul that difficult days are coming during which time sin would run rampant in people’s hearts. Here’s what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
This is a pretty sobering description. Look at all those negative adjectives! And sadly, we are seeing these traits lived out in full color within our culture. How many teens and young people are disobedient to their parents? How many career seekers and workaholics tirelessly toil after the love of money? Abuse is high, and callousness towards violence and evil is tragically prevalent.
If you look closely, you’ll find all of these dismal qualities present in our culture today. While all of these characteristics are sad and depressing, there is one attribute that I believe is outright dangerous to the Christian. It’s dangerous because of its subtle camouflage and ability to go undetected by naïve believers; however, these kinds of people hold the power to derail, distract, and disqualify followers of Christ from finishing their race. This treacherous element is people who have the appearance of godliness, but deny its power.
Of all the types of people listed, this is by far the scariest. These people deceive themselves and deceive others. They have an outward appearance of godliness, but are actually dead inside. Like the Pharisees in the gospel, these people are hypocrites and possess a dangerous appearance of spirituality, but not a heart softened and transformed by the truth.
In the Greek, the term “appearance of godliness” literally means “form of devotion, knowledge of the gospel, or piety.” Therefore, these deceivers look like devoted followers of Christ on the outside. They attend church regularly, say the right things, use Christian vernacular, tithe, volunteer, give to the poor, and attend Bible study.
However, they deny the power of God living within them. Their minds and hearts are not open to allowing God to have full control of their lives and unleashing His transforming power inside of them. The literal Greek meaning for the phrase “deny its power” is “contradict the force or miraculous power.”
Interestingly, the Greek word for power Paul uses here is dynamis, the word from which we derive our English word dynamite. It means force or miraculous power that in and of itself is a miracle. So the people Paul is talking about in 2 Timothy deny or contradict the divine, miracle working power of God. They’re willing to maintain the outward trappings of religion and go through the motions of Christianity, but don’t want anything to do with the power of the Holy Spirit that comes with His indwelling.
They would rather stay safe than experience divine power. They prefer keeping rules to experiencing the power of a regenerated life. They want predictable but not life-transforming change. They want to keep God in a neat and tidy box and not give Him full access to their heart. These people possess a dangerous appearance of Christianity, because one cannot truly follow Christ and deny the power of God at the same time. It is impossible! To follow Christ means to fully embrace His life-changing, miraculous power and allow it to change you from the inside out.
Therefore, Paul warns Timothy to avoid such people. This is a warning we should also heed, because these types of people can weaken our faith and cause us to become complacent in our walk with God. Instead of spurring us on, they might encourage us to compromise. Instead of exhorting us to know God more, they might tell us that we’re doing pretty good and don’t really need to be more spiritual.
Avoid such people! And learn from this passage that often the most dangerous people to our faith are not the most obviously evil individuals. Rather, we must be most wary of those with the outward appearance of godliness, but a heart that rejects and denies the very power and presence of God. So watch out for these people and be careful not to join their ranks!