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Monday, September 26, 2022

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What Does the Bible Say about Piety?


In its simplest sense, piety is devotion to God or to religious practices. While piety in our society can be seen in both a positive and negative light, I want to present it in a biblical light. What does the Bible say about piety, and is this something we should be striving for today? When you look closely, I believe you will discover this trait of piety is not only desirable but it is also necessary.

What Piety Is Not

When some people think of piety, they think of locking themselves away from everything in the world and using that as proof of their devotion to God. There may be some people God has called to do that, but I can say confidently that is probably not you. You are called to be a difference maker in the places God has positioned you. Your piety should be something that identifies you as being different than the world, but it should not take you out of the world. In other words, piety is something that should be on display, not in an arrogant way, but in a way to demonstrate who God is and to point people to Christ. This is what Jesus said.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. – Matthew 5:14-16

3 Verses to Understand What the Bible Says about Piety

The word piety itself is not used very often in scripture. However, if we use the definition of piety as devotion to God, then the Bible speaks a lot about this. Let me show you three different uses of this word which will hopefully broaden your understanding of its meaning.

1 – Piety as righteousness.
“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 (RSV)

The Revised Standard Version (RSV) is one of the few translations that use the word piety here. When you consider some other translations, you get a sense of the scope of this word and what it means.

  • NIV – Righteousness
  • KJV – Alms
  • NKJV – Charitable deeds
  • NLT – Good deeds

In this verse, the use of piety is tied to your righteous living or your good deeds. On the surface, it might initially seem like a contradiction because Jesus just said a few verses earlier to let your light shine before men and now he says be careful about doing your good deeds in front of other people. The difference here is the motivation. A person who is truly walking in piety does good deeds and righteous acts to bring glory to God, not attention to themselves. So one way to think about piety is righteousness or right living.  

2 – Piety as godliness.
“And when Peter saw it he addressed the people, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? – Acts 3:12 (RSV)

Again, the RSV uses the word piety, but the RSV is not alone because other translations use that word as well. In this instance, what does it mean? In this verse, piety is referring to godliness. The reason either of these words is acceptable is that they have similar meanings. Here is a definition of godliness I found on Bible.org, which will help you further understand piety.

“Enoch walked with God; he enjoyed a relationship with God; and he pleased God. We could accurately say he was devoted to God. This is the meaning of godliness. The New Testament word for godliness, in its original meaning, conveys the idea of it, a personal attitude toward God that results in actions that are pleasing to him. This personal attitude toward God is what we call devotion to God. But it is always devotion in action. It is not just a warm, emotional feeling about God, the kind of feeling we may get while singing some grand old hymn of praise or some modern-day chorus of worship.”

I hope you are beginning to see the picture here. Piety is right living and right actions that come from a devotion to God that is based on our love for him and flows from our relationship with him. True piety comes because you love God, not because you are afraid of him.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. – John 14:23

3 – Piety works inside out.

“These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” – Colossians 2:23 (NRSV)

“These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.” – Colossians 2:23 (NLT)

This verse provides a different truth about piety. True piety must flow from the inside out and not from the outside in. This was the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees and the religious leaders of his day. However, this is still a problem that exists in many people’s lives even now. 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.” – Matthew 23:25-26

Many people focus on the outside of the cup, and their piety stops there. Their devotion to God is only on a surface level. When they are in church or in the public eye, they look pious. However, when the public eye is not present, neither is their devotion to God. Let me say this as I feel it, “that ain’t piety.” True piety is when the outer life is simply a reflection of an inner transformation. Without that, all you really have is hypocrisy. If you desire to be devoted to God, make sure that devotion is birthed from within your heart, for that is where real piety begins.

What Does Piety Look Like in Your Everyday Life?

As we consider what the Bible says about piety, let me ask you. What should piety look like in your everyday life? Here are four things that should be present in your life if you are truly living a pious life.

1 – Holiness

2 – Obedience

3 – Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.)

4 – Humility

If you are wondering why I would choose these four to represent piety, it’s simple. All of these are birthed from the inside and work their way outside. If you are going to be devoted to God, you will live holy. You will walk in obedience. God’s character will be formed in you. You will walk in humility. When you add it all up, it equals piety.

What Does the Bible Say about Piety? – Final Thought:

Hopefully, you have a good starting point to understand what the Bible says about piety. As you can see, piety is devotion to God, but it must go deeper than a surface level. It must be birthed out of your love for God and flow out of your relationship with him. The last thing I will tell you is this. If you really walk with God, you don’t have to try to be pious, you will want to be pious. Therefore, focus on developing your walk with God, and out of that, your piety and devotion will flow. As you draw near to him, he changes you. That, my friend, is the beginning of piety happening in your life.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/COROIMAGE


Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.





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