Training in Godliness
“Do not waste your time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8 NKJV
Paul makes a clear connection here between the physical and the spiritual which is significant. As humans, we are anchored to our bodies and that can makes it difficult for us to understand spiritual truth. So being a good teacher, Paul makes the analogy to the body. Something everyone, regardless of culture, can understand.
His point is obvious: if you want to get strong you must train. Getting physically fit is not hard. You go to the gym, you move heavy things, eat healthy, rinse and repeat. And yet so few of us ever achieve our physical goals.
Well, at the end of the day it's just plain easier to open that bag of chips than to hit the gym. It turns out, the problem with exercise isn’t theory but discipline. And as we will see, discipline is the key to both physical, and spiritual vitality.
When we lift weights, we are putting our body through incredible stress. During the workout, our muscles tear! Talk about intense. And here-in-lies the paradox of physical training: it is only possible to get stronger by tearing the muscle we already have. That’s why after a good workout you feel sore. Our bodies adapt, our endurance builds, and we are stronger for having endured the pain.
In the same way, we can only grow in godliness through the consistent exercising of spiritual disciplines.
As D.A. Carson once said,
“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith or delight in the Lord.”
Just as in the physical world, if we are to be spiritually fit and robust it will take grace-driven effort. As the writer of Hebrews declares:
“Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”
As believers, we are on a path towards godliness. Scripture calls this “sanctification”. Sanctification is the process by which God makes us holy. Just as physical training is not easy, so it is with spiritual training. Yet unlike a good workout at the gym, this holiness will last for all eternity.
Yea, the idea of "training" for spiritual purposes is interesting and probably often misconstrued. I like your reference to DISCIPLINE as being "training". It definitely does take practice and endurance like your example of physical training does, and it's clearly necessary.
What I don't necessarily subscribe to is the idea that "what you practice becomes what you are", as has been said in the Christian community. I'm glad to see that is not where you seem to be taking this and am interested in more of your thoughts.