Webster’s 1828 dictionary gives the definitions in use when Joseph Smith was receiving scripture:

GOD’LINESS, noun [from godly.] Piety; belief in God, and reverence for his character and laws.

1. A religious life; a careful observance of the laws of God and performance of religious duties, proceeding from love and reverence for the divine character and commands; christian obedience.
Godliness is profitable unto all things. 1 Timothy 4:7.

2. Revelation; the system of christianity.
Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness;
God was manifest in the flesh. l Tim.3.

The english word “godliness,” at it’s roots, means  “the quality of being godly, or like god”.

The new testament uses that word as a translation of the greek “eusebeia” and it’s derivations, which also carries connotations of “holiness” or “piety”.


That is the Strong’s Concordance entry for that greek word. Click on the entry number at the left of that page (2150) to see everywhere the word and its derivations is used in the new testament.

The Book of Mormon says that those who have “a strong faith, and a firm mind in every form of godliness” will be visited by angels (Moroni 7:30).  Since God sends his angels to instruct and gather “those who will be heirs of salvation,”  that seems to me like a good incentive to understand and pursue godliness (Hebrews 1:14, Alma 12:9, Moses 7:27, D&C 77:11).

The New Testament warns that in the last days, there will be many who have a “form of” that godliness/holiness/piety, but “deny the power thereof”. It does not explain what “the power of godliness” is. That same phrase was used by Christ when talking to Joseph Smith in the First Vision (JSH 1:19). By the time that Joseph wrote those words down (1838), he had previously dictated a revelation defining “the power of godliness,” as the ability to stand in the presence of God while in mortality, per D&C 84:20-22.

The concept of holiness/godliness/piety is a tricky one. It is very different from being religious. Being religious is easy, and is nearly universal among humans. There are a million ways for you to give yourself the false impression that you are godly (which is self-righteousness). There is only one way to actually be godly. Very few people are willing to dig deep enough to discover that one way.  As many as do will find themselves gathered by angels into God’s presence.  True godliness is as rare among human beings as those things, because those are the result of godliness.

To be truly like god (to have godliness) requires you to learn true things about God, which only come through careful thought, study, time, and experience. To be holy you have to understand what true holiness is. Fake holiness, and false ideas about God, cannot get you into God’s presence, as amply demonstrated by the religious history of mankind. That was a primary condemnation of mankind in 1820, according the First Vision: plenty of wonderful religious folks, but none of them being redeemed; “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof”.

When D&C 84 says that “in the ordinances [of the greater priesthood] the power of godliness is manifest,” it is not just talking about LDS religious ceremonies. We have falsely limited the word “ordinance” to only describe our rituals. In reality it is much more expansive. The same word is also used to describe the dictated movements of planets and stars (Job 38:33, Jeremiah 31:35). The word means “ordained path/action”.

The path into God’s presence includes ceremonies and rituals, but it also encompasses all aspects of pursuing a life directed by God. When God sends a messenger to command you to repent, that repentance is an ordinance for you. When God gives you instructions and commandments personally, those instructions are an ordinance for you. Following those ordinances is, arguably, more important for our salvation than participating in earthly religious ceremonies. That is the connection between “godliness” and “ordinances”.

To choose to follow the ordained path of God is to begin an apprenticeship of godliness. The “power of” that godliness is that it allows you to be in God’s presence. To be godly is not to be perfect. We are light-years from perfection. It is more about our whole-hearted desire to be like God, our humility and consciousness of your own limitations, our longing for God, our meekness, and our charity for our brothers and sisters, than it is about our skill in doing everything right. Our capacity will grow with time and experience. The first step is desire and a soft heart.

When you demonstrate sufficient willingness to follow the quiet voice that speaks to your soft and humble heart, apparently, angels can come visit you. That condition, I think, is godliness.