Biblical piety begins and ends in knowledge.
There is a tendency to locate piety either in the emotions or in the will. It is attractive to make piety part of emotion, because of the power of human feeling. Piety is not the same as the feeling of being content in the Lord or being happy or even “being on fire for God.” If that is the case, piety becomes man-centered rather than God-centered. Human emotion is certainly part of this creation, and a feeling of contentment is a good gift of God, but we should not confuse the two. Piety can certainly exist even in trying times.
Likewise, piety is not part of the will. This too is a man-centered approach. While the will of the regenerate man is certainly engaged and desires to please God, placing piety there makes it the work of man. Man does not act so that God may react. Rather, God is the one who gives and sustains faith, so that the regenerate man responds to what God has already done.
Rather, piety is located in knowledge. For who can worship the Lord if they do not know Him to be their God? As Paul says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard” (Romans 10:14)? Likewise Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
This knowledge is divided into two parts: (1) the knowledge of God, and (2) the knowledge of one’s condition before God. Both of these must be held together, because if one is lacking, the other is invariably skewed. To know God but to not know oneself is to walk the way of self-righteousness. To know oneself but not to know God is to walk the way of despair. But to know God and to know oneself rightly is to fear God and give him glory and to worship Him who made heaven and earth.
The knowledge of God consists in confessing what He Himself has revealed to us. Though we are but creatures who cannot comprehend God as He is, yet God has lowered Himself in love to us to proclaim clearly who He is. He is the holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the creator and sustainer of all that is. He is almighty, all-knowing, perfect, present everywhere. The Lord is righteous, holy, faithful, just. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)? God depends on nothing, yet His creation depends wholly on Him. While this description hardly covers everything, it must be said that to deny anything which God has said about Himself is to worship something other than God. The Lord is who He says that He is, not what men presume to say about Him.
The knowledge of oneself consists in recognizing the depths of our own sin. Though Adam was created in perfection, yet he sinned. As he was our head, so the body of the human race suffers together with the head. “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7). “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
Further, knowing our own condition rightly also points us back to the knowledge of God. To know that you are a sinner is to know that you need a Savior. And to know Jesus Christ as your Savior is to be brought out of darkness into light, out of death into life. This too is part of a right knowledge of God, because God has revealed Himself not only as our Creator and our Judge, but also as our Redeemer. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23).
Piety also ends in knowledge, because we are pressing forward to the goal of being before God in righteousness and purity forever. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9). “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4). “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name” (Psalm 86:9).
Beginning with the next article, we will discuss the Biblical forms of piety and their basis. Now that the foundation is laid, we need to look at the structure of the temple, so to speak. Once that is completed, we will look at practical questions, which may be likened to the outward appearance of the building.