Exercise yourself unto godliness [1 Timothy 4:7].
Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to get back to the gym, exercise more, and be healthier?
At the start of a new year, we make resolutions to exercise, get in shape, eat better, lose weight, take up a new hobby, be more dedicated in relationships—a myriad of promises. Some people take it seriously and pursue whatever goals they set. Yet others start strong and fade along the way. Success requires prioritized, dedicated, intentional effort.
Through many years in the gym, I suspect few people are there for serious training or exercise. Some are there for the social aspect—they talk more than they exercise. Others appear more habitual as they half-heartedly go about their usual routine—possibly an escape before facing their work or home responsibilities. Then there are the muscle-heads who take shortcuts—bulking up with steroids or other performance enhancers. But I can usually identify those who are dedicated to health and wellbeing. They are courteous but not overly social. Headsets usually keep others from distracting them. Their routine includes certain body parts on specific days—ensuring muscle exhaustion and growth, but avoiding injury. And their workout covers the entire body. Watching them confirms they are serious about their health and fitness.
What’s the Point?
Pragmatists may wonder, “Why spend all this effort to improve or enhance a physical body that will one day die?” Skeptics may question each person’s motives for such rigorous routines and time spent. Religious dogmatists may doubt the benefits and eternal significance of such efforts. The apostle Paul clearly stated, “Bodily exercise profits a little” [1 Timothy 4:8]. Yes, there are benefits to physical exercise. But compared to eternity, such exercise lasts only a short time and doesn’t prevent the inevitability of death and the hereafter.
For most of my life, I’ve been a health nut and gym rat. I get why people do it. The physical strain makes me feel better and keeps my body functioning as it should. When I miss a few days, I feel sluggish, more fatigued, mentally tired. By stressing my body, by getting my heart pumping, I get more oxygen to my brain, am more mentally alert and more physically fit. This, in turn, helps me fulfill “my Father’s business” here on earth [Luke 2:49].
By applying these observances to my spiritual health, I understand why I sometimes feel spiritually lethargic. Thank God, His Word reveals what I need to do to remain spiritually fit and the associated benefits of “exercising myself unto godliness.”
Spiritual Exercise Regimen
Daily, Prioritized Routine
Just like eating regularly each day, daily exercise is beneficial to peak physical performance. Sometimes it feels great to exercise and I look forward to releasing some stress. But other times, I don’t feel like doing it even though I know is good for me. The best way to create the habit is to schedule exercise for the same time each day. Carve out the time and prioritize it. Whether it’s a hard or light workout, the point is to commit to it.
Similarly, we must prioritize regularly scheduled, daily time with God’s Word and in prayer. Our spiritual strength depends on it. We hide it in our hearts to avoid sinning [Psalm 119:11]. Hearing and applying it is a characteristic of a true child of God [John 8:47]. God’s Word is truth [John 17:17]. It clarifies what’s right, what’s wrong, how to get right, and how to stay right [2 Timothy 3:16]. It’s a guiding light to our everyday steps and lifelong journey [Psalm 119:105]. Amazingly, it’s the only offensive weapon of our spiritual armor [Ephesians 6:17]. The key to spiritual health includes daily, prioritized time whereby we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” [2 Peter 3:18]. Why wouldn’t we want to spend daily, prioritized time with it?
Undistracted, Intentional Mindset
A meaningful workout requires focused attention and deliberate involvement. Talking, socializing, and other distractions slow the rhythm of the heartbeat, breathing, and timing of muscle strain. Sure, there is time for a quick hello or friendly banter, but not for long. A great workout involves intentional focus on the particular exercise, specific muscle, proper form, correct breathing and posture, sufficient reps to stress (not strain) muscle, and timing between reps. Again, commitment to the task is imperative—focus while avoiding distractions.
According to 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, spiritual exercise requires mental toughness and discipline. Strongholds must be pulled down. Arguments, agendas, philosophies—anything conflicting with God’s truth—must be rejected. Every thought must be brought into captivity to the obedience to Christ. Additionally, spiritual exercise involves putting on the mind of Christ [1 Corinthians 2:16] and allowing the mindset of Christ full reign in our lives [Philippians 2:5]. Such a spiritual mindset is the way to life and peace [Romans 8:6]. May we learn to discipline our minds as part of our spiritual exercise.
Full Coverage, Not Preferential Areas
Sometimes, we can become focused on one body part or muscle. If we want large biceps, we overload the curls. When we want massive chests, we max out the bench press. It’s fascinating to see people in the gym who look disproportionate because they’ve only focused on certain muscles instead of a full body workout. A guy can have huge arms and chest yet scrawny legs or huge arms attached to a so-so torso. Some of us have overlooked the abdomen area…guilty! Peak physical fitness involves a full body workout so the entire body is strengthened together.
In the spiritual realm, we can also get disproportionate by focusing on favorite or preferential Scripture. We love John 3:16 but overlook 1 John 3:16. Oh, we revel in God’s love but struggle with self-denial. We celebrate Christ’s Saviorship but struggle with His Lordship. Some seek to know Him better and rejoice in the power of His resurrection but shy away from the “fellowship of His sufferings” [Philippians 3:10]. Here again, spiritual exercise involves a “full body” workout. The entire body of Scripture is ours to read, meditate, learn, and apply to our lives. Everything we do in this world positions us for the world to come [2 Corinthians 5:10]. May we embrace a “full body” spiritual exercise now to avoid being disproportionate for eternity.
Strengthening, Conditioning, and Resting
There are two basic approaches to workouts: building strength (bulk) and building stamina (conditioning). There was a time when I considered replacing my entire wardrobe due to my upper body size. Most recently, however, I’ve focused more on conditioning my entire body. Walking. Working the core. Stretching. Making sure all parts still work, still have range of motion, and still prolong the arthritic effects of aging. The entire effort makes me anticipate my glorified body! Disciplined, serious gym rats devote the time to do their entire workout right and get the most benefit.
Several Scripture verses encourage believers to “Be strong”—most notably Joshua 1:9 and Ephesians 6:10. But there is also instruction about endurance [Hebrews 12:1]. patience [James 1:3-4; Romans 15:4-5], steadfastness [1 Corinthians 15:58], abiding [John 15:1-8], and resting [Hebrews 4:9]. Jesus knew the benefit of resting as He invited the disciples to, “Come aside…and rest a while” [Mark 6:31]. Starting strong is great but we need conditioning and rest to finish strong. In our “exercise unto godliness,” may we strengthen ourselves, encourage each other, focus on overall conditioning, and also get proper rest. Let’s devote sufficient time to spiritually exercise right and get the most benefit from it.
Don’t Forget the Cardio
Along with strength training, overall conditioning, and rest, we cannot overlook the cardio portion of our workout. Cardiovascular health is foundational, possibly more important, than core strength. Lungs deliver oxygen to the entire body. A strong heart delivers oxygenated blood everywhere. Both invigorate stressed muscles and are vital to overall health. Imagine bench pressing three hundred pounds yet getting winded going up a flight of stairs. At that point, any strength training seems useless.
In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is sometimes synonymous with breath. The Hebrew word ruach means wind or breath. This word identified the Spirit of God that moved upon the surface of the earth [Genesis 1:2]. Job combines both spirit and breath: “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” [Job 33:4]. Ezekiel used ruach for wind, breath, and the Holy Spirit of God in the valley of dry bones [Ezekiel 36]. Jesus breathed on the disciples so they could receive the Holy Spirit [John 20:21-22]. Finally, in Acts 2:1-4, we find the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost accompanied by a mighty, rushing wind.
Any spiritual exercise must involve the power—the very life-giving breath—of the Holy Spirit. We are to walk in the Spirit [Galatians 5:16], live in the Spirit [Galatians 5:25], not quench or hinder the Spirit [1 Thessalonians 5:19], pray with the Spirit [Jude 1:20], and even sing with the Spirit [1 Corinthians 14:15]. In other words, a genuine believer does everything in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is to be as natural to the spiritual as breathing is to the physical. As the body cannot live without breath, spiritual life cannot exist without God’s Holy Spirit. May we fill our spiritual lungs each day with the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 5:18].
To achieve peak physical shape and performance, we stay away from junk food. Although quite convenient and tasty, it has no nutritional value, clogs arteries, and increases body fat. Eating healthy takes a dedicated, disciplined effort. Yes, healthy food is more expensive than processed, fast food. It also takes more time to prepare—although the investment is well worth it. Even one unhealthy meal made me feel sluggish while derailing my fitness goals. But what is important gets prioritized. To be truly effective, long-term physical fitness must be more important than immediate appetite satisfaction.
In the same way, spiritual exercise involves a healthy spiritual diet. It cannot include things that promote spiritual sluggishness and derail our spiritual growth. Since our “exercise unto godliness” in this world prepares and positions us for the world to come, our spiritual fitness goals must include the long-term view. 2 Corinthians 5:10 confirms all believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ “that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” We will receive either rewards for jobs well done or rebukes for missed opportunities and poor spiritual performance.
In essence, we are striving toward earning gold, silver, and precious stones or wood, hay, and straw (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). Why is this important? Because our life’s works will be “tried by fire.” Only what survives God’s refining, testing fire will last for eternity.
Additional Honing and Toning
- Run away from immorality, uncleanness, and unrighteousness (1 Corinthians 6:18). This is the junk food and garbage of this world.
- Reject the world and the things that are in it (1 John 2:15). This is the deliberate withdrawal from anything distracting or derailing us from our spiritual fitness goals. The “things” mentioned include entertainment, fashion, culture, business, agendas, careers, music, hobbies—anything. Yes, even if we like it Even if it entertains us. Or we think there’s nothing wrong with it. We cannot become more Christlike while ingesting this world’s fast food.
- Faithful, deliberate reps from God’s spiritual playbook. “Put off…your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind…put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-23).
- Evidence of fitness. We bear much spiritual fruit for the cause of Christ and His coming Kingdom (John 15:5, 8). This is the out-working in life of what Christ is in-working. Faithful exercise reveals physical fitness. Spiritual fruit reveals our spiritual regimen. May we be rooted and grounded in Christ, with a strong spiritual core, and demonstrate His fruit in our lives (Ephesians 3:14-19).
- Set Goals. Live with eternity in mind. Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10). Our spiritual fitness for eternity depends on how we live each day and our surrender to God’s transformation into His likeness “till we all come to…a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). This is the ultimate goal of our exercise unto godliness.
Just like physical exercise is hard and takes great effort, a spiritual regimen involves no less. But the outcome is standing before the Lord in perfect shape! So, here’s to a great spiritual regimen for the rest of our lives, not just a sporadic workout or a great start followed by a slow fade throughout the year. Happy 2022 and beyond!