A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law — Book Review

If you choose to read this book, you will definitely find it to be an exercise in humility. It isn’t an easy read, and it will challenge you to closely examine your sins, the sincerity of your repentance, and your desire to amend your life and become a holier person. In a number of chapters, the author contrasts imaginary characters to illustrate the different behavior of those who are attempting to devote their entire lives to Christ with those who compartmentalize their faith, allowing the culture to determine most of their behavior. As he puts it:

“If therefore we are to live unto God at any time, in any place, we are to live unto Him at all times and in all places. If we are to use anything as the gift of God, we are to use everything as His gift.”

In other words, piety is not reserved for Sunday morning, and does not involve rote compliance with Christian rites and rituals. It is a way of living that should affect all that we say and do. He’s perfectly right, and these are things we should all think about seriously.

However, for Lutherans, you will also find that in places Law errs on the side of works righteousness. He implies that complete repentance of every particular sin is necessary for salvation, turning repentance into a work that we can accomplish through our own will. He also has a tendency to turn his own suggestions about prayer into rules that must be followed.

VERDICT: 3 STARS. Worth reading if you are able to discern some of the fallacies in his theology.

For more book reviews see these posts:

A Praying Church by Paul E. Miller– Book Review

Quilt of Souls by Phyllis Biffle Elmore — Book Review

The Gates of Hell by Matthew Heise–Book Review

Open Your Heart to True Piety

“Persons that are well affected to religion, that receive instructions of piety with pleasure and satisfaction, often wonder how it comes to pass that they make no greater progress in that religion which they so admire.

Now, the reason is this. It is because religion lives only in their head, but something else has possession of their hearts; and therefore, they continue year to year mere admirers of piety without ever coming up to the reality and perfection of its precepts.”

William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

I posted earlier this month about having an open heart. This quote reminds me that I also need to open my heart to Jesus, to allow Him to change the way I think and the way I behave. True piety isn’t an intellectual exercise, it is directing our entire life to God, allowing Him to truly be our Lord.

For more posts about piety see:

True Piety

Part 3–Our Piety

False Piety

True Piety

Yesterday I posted about false piety … today I am listing the qualities of true piety, as taken from my Via de Cristo talk.

  1. First, true piety is authentic.  It springs from a desire to know God and must honestly reflect our beliefs. Acts of true piety are not about earning God’s favor.  They are a grateful response to His love.
  2. True piety nurtures our relationship with God. We will come to see ourselves as children of the Father, brothers and sisters of Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit.
  3. True piety requires courage. It takes courage to live up to the potential God sees in us, to be a light in the dark world.  And it takes courage to call others to do the same.
  4. True piety is natural.  God doesn’t call us to become a different person, He calls us to be the person He made us to be. Our piety is to be lived out in everyday life, in the place and with the people He has given us.
  5. True piety is joyful.  Living a truly Christ-centered life is exciting.  We will find the strength to do greater things than we ever imagined, things that will attract and inspire others.

God promised that we would not have to walk through life alone, so authentic piety is only complete when it is shared. When we direct our lives to Christ that primary relationship will affect every area and every other relationship in our lives. We will experience a radical change of perspective that will alter the way we interact with God, ourselves, others, and even the world.

For more about piety see these posts:

A Mother’s Piety

What Does Piety Look Like #2

Piety and Me

False Piety

In my last post, I wrote about what John Newton had to say about piety. I also mentioned that I’ve been working on a talk for an upcoming Via de Cristo retreat weekend. In that talk, forms of false and true piety are described, and I thought those ideas might be of interest to our readers. In this post, I’ll be writing about false piety and the forms it can take.

All Christians are sinners, and we sometimes engage in superficial or deceptive behaviors that masquerade as piety. Such false piety is destructive because it keeps people away from the church and from coming to a true understanding of God and His purpose for their lives. I’m going to list some of the forms false piety can take, and if you’re honest, you’ll see yourself in at least one of these four examples.

  1. One way we can be falsely pious is to wear our salvation as if it were a badge of honor. This can cause us to retreat from the world, becoming self-centered and self-righteous, more concerned with looking like a perfect Christian than the salvation of others. I saw a bit of this in myself when I recently had the opportunity to meet someone from a different culture and religious background. My first reaction was to stay away. Then I remembered that Jesus befriended all sorts of people. He didn’t see anyone as contamination to be avoided — He saw them as human beings who needed to hear the good news. If Christians like me avoid others, they may never hear about Jesus.
  2. Another form of false piety occurs when our faith life becomes mechanical. We go to church, pray before meals and participate in other Christian activities thoughtlessly. It’s just part of our routine. Do you ever find yourself rushing through the Lord’s Prayer without really contemplating the meaning? Have you forgotten the thrust of the sermon before leaving the church parking lot? Been more intent on getting to your after-church lunch date than worshipping God? There are times when I have. If you allow this to become your regular habit, your faith will be stagnant instead of growing — your piety will be based on what you do instead of who you are.
  3. We’re all familiar with the false piety known a hypocrisy. The hypocrite claims to be virtuous while behaving in a way that contradicts her expressed values. My tongue sometimes leads me into this kind of behavior. Before I retired, the employees in my small office would often eat lunch together. The talk would turn to complaints about the boss, other employees, or our spouses. It was so easy to join in, to criticize or share a bit of juicy gossip. But the Bible tells us that our speech should encourage and bless others. My co-workers knew me to be a Christian, and when my words didn’t match my beliefs, I wasn’t being a good ambassador for Christ.
  4. Finally, there is the social butterfly. This Christian goes to church in order to see her friends, or to enjoy church programs. I’ve always belonged to small churches, and part of the appeal is being needed, and being involved in many church activities. Sometimes during Sunday worship my thoughts were consumed with who I needed to see afterwards about an upcoming meeting or event. When this type of behavior begins to dominate our faith life, we are treating the church as our club instead of the body of Christ.

As you can see, false piety is self-centered while true piety is God-centered.

More about true piety tomorrow …..

For more about piety see:

Part 3–Our Piety

Piety Part 1- by Jim Edgel

What Does Piety Look Like #2

The Simple Life

Recently I was called to do a talk on an upcoming Via de Cristo weekend. The title of the talk is Piety. As I read and studied in preparation, I came across a concept promoted by John Newton — gospel simplicity.

Newton’s premise is that the faithful life, a life of true piety, is simple but challenging. He wrote:

“If I may speak my own experience, I find that to keep my eye simply upon Christ, as my peace, and my life, is by far the hardest part of my calling.”

How do we know if this dedication to Christ has taken place? Well, there are two aspects: simplicity of intention and simplicity of dependence.

Simplicity of intention means that we have one overarching goal in life — to please and glorify Jesus through all of our actions. Our happiness and God’s glory are inseparable. It is self-denial–denial of self-righteousness, self-wisdom and self-will. It is imitating Christ in all things.

If simplicity of intention is about our aim in life, simplicity of dependence is about trust. All of our pain and trials are made worse by unbelief. When we direct our lives completely to God, we accept everything we experience as coming from God’s hand, and ultimately all of these things will be for our good and for His glory.

These two “simple” qualities will lead to a mature Christian life of genuine obedience. It won’t come automatically, because we are constantly distracted by sin which muddles our intentions and motives. Newton suggests that in every decision of life, we ask ourselves these two questions:

  1. Sustained by the all-sufficiency of Christ, am I motivated by God’s glory alone?
  2. Eternally secured by the blood of Christ, am I dependent upon God’s wisdom, timing and His power alone?

Are you living a life of gospel simplicity? It’s good food for thought.

For more about John Newton see these posts:

Out of the Depths — Book Review

Amazing Grace — The Musical

How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds

Part 3–Our Piety

This brings us to the second area pointed out in Pastor Huglens paper (about the AFLC)– our piety. It’s unfortunate that the word piety in the worldly language around us is treated with such disrespect, for it is a critical part of any believer’s life. Our piety is how we worship, how we pray, how we relate to God, how we relate to the world as citizens of God’s Kingdom. One of the things the founders of the AFLC sought to do was to cling to the pietistic roots from which they had come. They wanted to remain steadfast in their worship lives as well as living properly, to live in a godly manner in the world. Too many Christians today have a disconnect between what they say and do on Sunday morning and what they say and do the rest of the week. And I want to make clear, if I am chiding you, I’ also chiding myself, because, my ways are not always God’s ways. I have much for which to be forgiven every day. As do all the people in our association.

Still, our goal is to have an experiential faith–a faith that not only give us a sense of security about our salvation, but a faith that will be lived out and visible. Those who formed the AFLC were afraid that seeking after a living faith would decline or possibly even die if they strayed from their roots. And frankly, they were right in that. Some of the congregations that entered the merger managed to retain their focus on pious living and when the ALC(American Lutheran Church) merged with others to form the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) some of them even came back to their roots and are part of us today. But many were lulled into a false sense of security and failed to focus enough on the life we live as followers of Jesus.

Come back tomorrow for part 4 — Our Theology ……

For more on piety see:

Piety and Me

What Does Piety Look Like #2

Practicing Piety

Confronting Christianity – A Book Review

Rebecca McLaughlin has written a book that tackles 12 hard-hitting questions that most Christians should be able to answer but shy away from, whether from an inability to answer or afraid of the answer, remains to be seen.

The chapters are divided into topics such as slavery, the denigration of women, homosexuality, and God allowing suffering are just a few.  Each chapter gives detailed Biblical reference to the position stated and additional references from noted theologians.

The book is so detailed in the response to the questions that I would argue it is more than a one time read. It is an armchair reference manual to be studied regularly and absorbed. I feel more comfortable in explaining several of the questions asked but will take more time to read and digest them all. I applaud the author for this undertaking and feel that she has done a tremendous job of equipping Christians to answer those hard-hitting questions.

I give this book a stellar 5 stars. This review is based on the thorough, detailed explanation and thought that went into the compilation.

You may purchase this book at the link below:


I have received a free copy of this book in return for an honest and fair review – Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR Part 255

The Motive is Love

“If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”  1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Without love for God and for others there is no true piety.  All our pious actions are worthless if they are not motivated by love — love for God and love for others.  This is what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees and what Paul is teaching us here.

God is love.  If we, as followers, are to reflect His nature to the world, we, too must be loving. Not just to our family and friends, but to everyone we meet, and yes, even to those who seem completely unlovable.  Not to earn God’s approval, not because He needs our love, simply out of gratitude for the grace and mercy He extends to each of us.

This goes back to Beth Ann’s post about personal piety.  Truly pious people are not looking for a reward.  They don’t need to attract attention or be held up as shining examples of sainthood. Pious people have internalized Christ’s character.  They are humble and unassuming. They are focused. The engine that drives them is simply love. Guess what?  If you think you’re pious, you’re not there yet!

Will we ever become truly and 100% pious? Not in this life.  That’s why Lutherans think of piety as an ideal, and sanctification as a process.  The more we study, pray and worship, the more we walk and talk with Christ, the more like Him we’ll become.  Love will be our motive.


Piety and Me

We’ve been blogging about piety this month and my thought is this:  What does it look like in real terms?  I usually get this vision of a person standing or kneeling with their hands together as in prayer with this light shining off them or a halo over their heads.  Hmmm, maybe not.  OK, how about someone who is always doing something “Godly” like going to church, doing good deeds for others….  No…  How about a monk or a nun who never leave the convent or cloister?

Since we live in a world where we can’t all just run to the nearest convent or cloister, we have to look at this from a real-world view.  We can’t withdraw from the world and spend all our time praying to the Lord and studying the Word.  We need to support ourselves and our families.  So, what do we do?  What does piety really look like and how do we go about starting to live this way?

Let me preface this with the statement that this is my personal view on piety.  I’m still working this out in my own life, believe me, it’s a process and I know that I’ll never see an end to it.  Why?  Because there is no end until Jesus returns.

Piety is personal and is between a person and God.  A person may think that if they do an hour of devotionals in the morning and an hour of Bible study every evening, go to church 2,3, or however times during the week, that they are “pious”.  Not that doing all that is bad, that’s not what I’m saying.  But why are you doing it?  Are you doing all that to impress God?  You want a gold star at the end of the world and a pat on the head? That’s not going to happen.  Doing “works” is good only if it comes from the right place in your heart.  Doing something to impress God or others doesn’t cut it.  Jesus said it like this:

 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  Matthew 6:5-6

I think that passage says more about personal piety than anything I’ve seen.  Pray in secret.  Just between you and God.  Stay humble.  Go to church, study the Bible, pray, do devotionals everyday or when you can.  Work it out in your life.  But keep it between you and God.  Cause when you start looking for pats on the head is when you are doing all this for the wrong reason.

False Piety #2

“Two men went up into the temple to pray;  one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee standing by himself prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.”  Luke 18:10-14

The Pharisee is this parable is an example of what the Via de Cristo talk Piety talk calls “Mechanical Mike.”  He prayed, tithed and fasted because he was a Pharisee and that’s what Pharisees do.  It was part of his routine. Not only that, it made him feel superior to others, those who did not have the same training and habits.  Many “Christians” feel the same way.  They go to church every week because their parents did, their spouse wants them to, it’s good for the kids, it’s a way to make business contacts, they get to associate with nice people.  It’s just what they’ve always done. They think that being part of a Christian congregation and doing all the right “religious” things makes them an exemplary example, a pillar of the community.  In reality, they don’t have a real relationship with God and are without a clue about how to get one.

The tax collector wasn’t doing the right things, but he had the right attitude.  He recognized his sin and God’s gracious mercy. His focus was on God, not his own works.  This is a starting point for authentic piety.

It’s easy to fall into the “routine” if you’ve been a Christian for many years, we all do it.  We sing and recite the creeds, we say certain prayers by rote, we set aside our weekly offering — we may even feel pretty righteous about doing this.  The problem is, we’ve forgotten about the God we’re supposedly worshipping with our actions.

How can we avoid this sort of false piety?  One way is to periodically do an examination of conscience.  This can serve to remind us of how sinful we really are. Realizing how much we need Christ will quickly direct our attention to Him (there’s nothing like desperation to focus us).  Christian friends can help, too.  How are others praying?  Studying?  Serving?  Maybe we need to break our routine and try something new.  Christian friends inspire and admonish us.

Don’t get stuck in a rut.  Stay alert.  Pay attention.  Be truly pious.