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  • Jake Poetzl

Powerful Godliness

Luke 5: 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

6When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

I live on the Puget Sound in Washington state and one of my kids' favorite things to do while at our rocky shores is to turn over large stones when the tide is low. As soon as light reaches into the hole where the rock used to be, you will see tiny little crabs (about the size pennies) scurry every which way trying to hide, trying to cover themselves from being exposed to a world much larger and more powerful than them.

Peter experiences that same sense of exposer in the light of Christ. Fascinatingly, Peter’s fear is not articulated as physical dread, but as ethical dread, “I am a sinful man.” And this doesn’t really make logical sense given how Jesus shows his power, not specifically as righteous superiority, but as benevolent provisionality. Jesus simply fills Peter’s boats with so many fish that they begin to sink. Think of that! Jesus displays so much kindness that he almost destroys Peter and his fishing partner’s livelihood. This is dangerous generosity.

For some the raw power of the the ocean sucking them out to sea is what elicits the cry of repentance. But for Peter, it's the magnificent power of God’s kindness, the Lord’s unmerited favor, that drops him to his knees. Paul says after his own encounter with Jesus, “…God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance…” (Romans 2:4b).

But it’s not just Jesus’ kindness that wrecks Peter. It’s also his holiness. Historically, fishermen, like other tradesmen, are rather salty folk. I’ve worked a lot of construction in my life, and I can assure you it’s not the place for holy men. But Jesus shows up there. I love that about the Lord. He’s out-of-this-world but down-to-earth; He’s un-sophisticated but brilliant; He’s relatable but holy; and as Tim Keller says, “He is humble but in no way modest.” Jesus commandeers Peter's boat to preach and then has the audacity to tell him how to fish. Jesus’ authority is commanding. It’s one of the main qualities that folks in Galilee recognized in him when he first began preaching.

Mark 1:22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.

So this holy, authoritative, powerful Jesus, fills Peter’s boats with a dangerous generosity, and the outcome is total transformation of a fisherman into a fisher-of-men.

The American church, in my opinion, has done a good job offering the generosity and grace of God, but an ineffective job of demonstrating and articulating the holiness of God. As a pastor in one of those churches, I hold myself accountable. Second Timothy chapter three has been haunting me for about a year now; because I think it calls out the state of many of our congregations:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power.

We have tried to grow our churches in many ways in these last 50 years. We’ve adopted business methodology, mastered marketing strategies, bankrolled theater and concert-style experiences, built massive facilities, implemented virtue signaling programs and sermon series, and harnessed people’s gifts to expand the footprint of our local congregations. We have used every type of power available to us to move the Church forward except that which is the most effective in transforming the soul: the power of godliness.

Godliness is demonstrating the attributes, characteristics, qualities and attitudes of God. It is, essentially, Christ-likeness. Godliness is at once gracious, forgiving, kind and utterly holy and untainted by sin. In general, we have dismissed the slow, difficult, painful process of death-to-self, the work of crucifying the flesh, and the transformation into the image of Jesus as being something that can change people. We are brainwashed by our culture to believe that outward displays of power and beauty will change people’s hearts. And many clergy doubt that our interior life with God has the strength to get the job done. So we have many churches that have the form of godliness without the power of godliness.

Ironically, instead of presenting a dangerously generous and dangerously holy God, we have given the world “safe environments to explore their faith journey.” I don’t know what to make of that…it just doesn’t do Jesus justice. Simply put, everyone who experiences the Lord, doesn’t feel safe at all. Usually they are struck by fear, overwhelmed by their own darkness, and thrilled by His grace all at the same time. Just like Peter.

Nobody captures this experience of experiencing the real, as opposed to a projection of) Jesus better than C.S. Lewis. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when Susan finds out that that King Aslan is a lion she says:

“I’d thought he was a man. Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

As members of Jesus’ gathering, we too must make known the fullness of who Jesus is known. We must live, teach, and demonstrate the power of godliness; both in dangerous kindness and well as powerful holiness.

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