Lately I have been thinking a lot about physical fitness, namely, because many of my friends have been talking about it. On the positive side, it has greatly encouraged me to once again take up the mantle of working out on a semi-regular basis and try to live a healthier life. Some of my friends have been doing this through supplements, and it seems to have worked for them. I have been trying them as well, but to me, it didn’t feel quite right. It was then that God hit my mind with a thought.
How does the gospel relate to physical fitness and health? I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ relates to every area of our lives, not just whether or not we go to heaven. If that is true, then naturally, it must in some way relate to our health. Is physical fitness important to God? If so, how important is it, and why?
1. Our bodies belong to God
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Cor. 6:19-20
When a man becomes a Christian, he has effectively given his body over to Christ for His use in His Kingdom. It is only logical then that God can do whatever He wants with our bodies. Often, what He does is He reverses the sinful actions that we once did with our bodies, and returns them to His glorious purpose. This is why Paul says a few verses before this passage that we used to be idolatrous, lustful, thieving, murderous people (v. 11); but we are no more by the grace of God and the blood of Christ. Eyes that once looked upon women with sinful pleasure now see the needs of the broken world; hands that once stole or balled up into fists to fight now give out their strength and ability; hearts that once were exalted towards low, base, and vile things are now lifted up towards heaven.
So then, how does this relate to fitness and health? It is not uncommon knowledge that the citizens of the United States have something of a health problem. Where does this problem stem from? I believe it stems from the fact that…
2. Our bellies are our gods.
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. Php. 3:18-19
I remember stumbling across this phrase, and it stood out to me. I will say that this phrase does refer to every kind of desire and appetite, such as our sexual appetite, but that does include our appetite for food. Perhaps it is because we are used to such good food. For whatever reason, we find it so easy to eat whatever pleases our bellies, even if it isn’t the best thing for our bodies. I understand that there are genuine health issues that prevent someone from losing weight, and these need to be combated on their own. However, for the average person, their problem is not that they are unable to lose weight; they are simply unwilling. I include myself in this. Far too often, I stuff myself to the brim, far beyond what I actually need. There are times when feasting may be appropriate, but there are also times for fasting. Our problem with food is then primarily a sin problem, and for any sin problem…
3. The Gospel is the solution
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Rom. 6:6
Let us call our sin what it is: sin. Or you may call it by its proper name, gluttony. If you struggle with a desire for eating food, not to nourish your body (though of course this isn’t the only reason for eating; but that is for another post), but that you may satisfy an urge to excite your taste buds, then that is a sinful desire. There is nothing wrong with eating tasty food, let me make that clear. But just as God made sexual desire to be fulfilled in a proper context, so He created our appetite to be fulfilled in a proper context and a proper way. Too often we are addicted to our food. We need a Savior.
To put it simply: you need nothing but Jesus to become healthy. You do not need anything else, supplements of any sort. They may help and be a catalyst towards greater health, but your primary need is Jesus Christ. Through Christ, I have been set free from my need to fulfill my craving for food! I remind myself about this on an almost daily basis, but that does not lessen the power of the fact. Just as I have been set free from the need to lust after women, I have been set free from my need to lust after food.
Not only that, but Christ has kicked (and is kicking – sanctification) my laziness and slothfulness with the boot of grace. Is exercising for me painful? Yes, just like any mortal man; but unlike every mortal man, I have the grace of God behind me, to help me deny myself, and improve my body.
All this leads to a question: why do I exercise and improve my body?
4. For the Glory of God
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Cor. 10:31
And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you… But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. 1 Cor. 9:23, 27
For me, my main reason for working out is so that wherever God calls me to be, I will be ready to go. I have a desire to live in a third-world country in those conditions. In order to do so, my body must be ready for that if God calls me to do so. I have heard that one of the greatest causes of death among missionaries today is cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest typically happens only to those whose bodies are not ready to endure physical hardship. Therefore, I run to the glory of God, that, were He to call me far away, I would be ready. I repeat Paul in saying, “This I do for the gospel’s sake.” I want to be ready to spread the gospel.
I once took a fitness class under a very godly man. He told us at the very outset, “If you want to work out so that you can look cute, or look good, or fit in such and such clothes, or get big muscles, then you should not be in this class.” While those may be fine goals for the world, we are not of the world. Our goals must be for Jesus and Jesus alone, not for any selfish gain. Because…
5. In the end, physical fitness is not that important.
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. 1 Tim. 4:8
Whereas there are many who struggle with gluttony and slothfulness, there are those that are addicted to the work out high and pride. Though God wants us to take care of the bodies He has given us, He does not want us to rely upon our own ability. That is the purpose of Paul’s exhortation. The profit, the gain, from physical fitness and health may in the now seem really great, and in some ways they really are; but in the end, it won’t matter how fit you were, if you missed the Center of the universe, Jesus Christ. Bodily exercise affects only our lives now; the pursuit of God affects today and all eternity. It’s simply a matter of far greater value.
It doesn’t matter if you are fit in this world if you are not “fit for the kingdom” (Luke 9:62). 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 tells us, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” Few are called, because few see their need. Just as a prostitute may see her need for Christ before a priest, a muscle warrior may be blinder to his need than a glutton.
God does not care how buff you are; He cares about what is inside you. Eliab, the oldest son of Jesse, was probably physically much more worthy of the role of the King of Israel; yet the Lord rejected Him and chose David, the scruffy youngest brother. 10,000 men would have been much better to fight the Syrians for Gideon; yet God sent so many away there were only 300 left. God delights in taking those things that are weak and making them strong. Our inability is His opportunity for His ability.
To sum up: We must fight our sins, whether they be gluttony, laziness, or pride, with the grace God gives us. He has already won the victory in Christ. Our greatest need, in this life and in the next, is Christ and Christ alone.