Piety is often misunderstood. When Paul instructed Titus to look for those who were “pious” he didn’t mean to look for those who “looked” pious. Looks can be deceiving. Jesus was always confronting those who “looked” pious and put on religious heirs before the public, yet they were filled with decay on the inside like a casket. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the casket. When Howard Carter and his associates found the tomb of King Tutankhamen, they opened up his casket and found another within it. They opened up the second, which was covered with gold leaf, and found a third. Inside the third casket was a fourth made of pure gold. The pharaoh’s body was in the fourth, wrapped in gold cloth with a gold face mask. But when the body was unwrapped, it was leathery and shriveled. Whether we are trying to cloak a dead spiritual life, or something else, in caskets of gold to impress others, the beauty of the exterior does not change the absence of life on the interior.

Paul doesn’t tell us we “cannot” observe rituals or ceremonies, but he does tell us not to be controlled by them. Further, he does not condemn works of righteousness. He commends them! James suggests that it is good deeds that make faith pure. He says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). It seems that without these acts we cannot be pious, but it is not these acts that make us pious. Piety is more associated with motive than behavior.

I once read that There are four great compelling motives that move men to action: Fear, Hope, Faith, and Love—these four, but the greatest of these is Fear. Fear is first in order, first in force, first in fruit. Indeed, fear is “the beginning of wisdom.” Scripture summarizes the chief cause of sin and crime: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Indeed, piety is seen in those who fear the Lord.

“And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1