Sermon Podcast Audio
Over the last four weeks we’ve been talking about how we can get fit in multiple areas of our lives. We’ve talked about being healthier, so that we can serve God and others and continue the work that Jesus started, the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. Our physical health impacts that.
We’ve talked about our relational health: making sure our relationships are where they need to be, being intentional about the people we have in our lives, and cleaning up relational messes when necessary.
We’ve talked about our emotional health and learning to pay attention to our emotions. Our emotions shouldn’t dictate everything in our lives, but they are there for a reason and we need to be aware of what they are telling us. We should not ignore them or lose ourselves in them, but draw closer to God through them.
And last week we talked about the dirty little secret in most American churches and that is the struggle many people have with mental health. Depression, PTSD, and anxiety are very real issues. And even though sometimes these issue can be caused by spiritual issues, like sin in our lives, very often they are caused by physiological issues in our bodies. We need to break the cycle of shame and isolation associated with this topic. And as a church, we need to be willing to run right into the darkness to help those who have to deal with issues like this every day.
Evidently, this message about mental health hit a nerve, because it is the message that I have received the most feedback on in some time. For those of you who are impacted by mental illness personally or because of someone in your family, it is a very real issue that we cannot ignore any longer.
And today we get to what I believe is the most important area where we need to get fit: Spiritual Fitness. I believe it to be most important for a couple of reasons.
It is the most important because it impacts our lives every moment of every day. It impacts how we live and why we live. It also has importance that extends beyond the here and now.
I also think it is important because it can be the one area of fitness we most neglect. We make some dangerous assumptions about growing in godliness. We assume that because one day many years ago we prayed a prayer, our spiritual growth will simply be automatic. Or we believe that if we come to church a couple times a year, do a good deed occasionally, but don’t really pay attention to God or our relationship with Jesus, everything will be okay. But if we are honest, we know that it simply isn’t true. Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen.
If we hope to be more spiritually fit at the end of 2016 than we were at the beginning of the year, we are going to have to stop neglecting our spiritual health. Just like it takes work, effort, and discipline to get physically fit, we are going to have to take some time, put in some effort, and exercise some discipline to improve spiritually.
Just as if we never push away from the table and we never do anything to improve our physical health, if we never spend time getting to know God and we fill up on spiritual junk food, like self-help quotes on Facebook, or watching television shows with no real basis in Christ, we will miss out on a deep and rich spiritual experience.
We will miss out on the entire reason that Jesus came to the earth: that God himself took on human flesh, ministered to the people around him, eventually died on the cross, and rose again. This all happened so that we might know God and we might be reconciled to him. He didn’t come just so that we could be religious, living by a bunch of rules and regulations. He came to rescue us from ourselves and our failed attempts to find our way back to him. He came to bring us life and life to the fullest, not just in the future, but full life here and now.
The More Important Thing
The Apostle Paul actually wrote about spiritual fitness and how important it should be in our lives.
Paul had a young man that he mentored named Timothy. And in the New Testament, we have access to two letters that Paul wrote to this protégé. In the book of First Timothy, we find Paul writing to help him with some issues that were happening at a church Paul had left Timothy to work at. The overall theme of the letter is that the true message of Jesus will lead to visible changes in the lives of those who believe.
We can look at 1 Timothy 4:6-8 to see what Paul has to say about being SpiritFit.
If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with the godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. —1 Timothy 4:6-8
“These Things” — The True Message of Jesus
Paul is highlighting the differences between physical training and spiritual training. Paul isn’t diminishing the physical; he is just putting it into perspective for us. He says physical training is of “some value.” But when contrasted with the spiritual training we need, he says it falls short.
Spiritual training has “value for all things.” We have to make sure we aren’t neglecting these more important things. Our physical heath is important, but it is only useful for the here and now. There are two things certain in life: death and taxes. And no matter how physically fit we may be, when life ends, so does the need to be physically fit.
Our spiritual fitness has impact here and now, but also in the life to come, in the life that follows our death. What does it matter if we have a ripped body, 6 pack abs, and look great in a swimsuit, if our spiritual life is a big fat slob that won’t put down the potato chips and can’t even pull itself up off the couch?
Unfortunately, we live with the present in mind too often. We need to live with the life to come in mind. I am not saying that we drop everything, sell our possessions, move to a hilltop, and just wait for the end to happen. I do think that we can be so future-minded that we are no good now.
However, what you do right now to grow spiritually is important, not just for today, but for eternity. And just as being physically fit allows us to work harder and enjoy life more, being spiritually fit shapes us into a person who reflects God’s image. And if we want to be SpiritFit, just like if we want to be BodyFit, training is required.
Now I realize as much as anyone that for most of us, the idea of training is about as exciting as getting a colonoscopy. But I also know that without it, there is no growth. With training comes health, strength, and endurance.
Paul says, “train yourself to be godly.” Here’s the part to impress your friends with at the next dinner party. “Train” here is the Greek word gymnazo (yim-nah-zoe). What does that word look like to you? Gymnasium. And what takes place at the gym? That’s right. Working out. Physical training. Preparation for an athlete.
The imagery of training would not have been lost on Timothy. He would have certainly understood what Paul was referring to. He would have had the images of the athletic culture of Greco-Roman society.
Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book several years ago called “Outliers: The Story of Success.” In the book, he has a chapter called the 10,000 Rule. He asserts that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. He uses Bill Gates, the Beatles, and others to prove the point that if you want to be great at anything, yes, natural talent helps, so does intelligence, but to become truly great, you must put effort into it with practice and stretch yourself as you go.
As we talk about becoming spiritually fit, I don’t want us to fall into one of two categories and the temptation is certainly there. One category we can fall into, especially after hearing a rule like Gladwell’s, is legalism. Legalism is strict adherence to the letter of the law rather than the spirit. In our world, it is the idea that salvation is gained through good works. It is the judging of conduct in terms of adherence to precise laws.
We do not need to get in our minds that if we do certain things, like read the Bible, pray 30 minutes a day, and so on, that we will automatically become godly. If we are doing it to earn our way to God or to check it off our to-do list, most likely growing in godliness will not happen.
But even though just doing those things might not cause it to happen automatically, not doing them at all will guarantee no growth at all. And that is the other category: laziness. If we are lazy and never pray, or read the Bible, or serve someone, or spend time with God, we can guarantee that growth won’t occur.
I can think about working out all day, but until I actually put down the Cheetos and get up off the couch, nothing will change. Ryan sent me a quote from a book he’s reading that said this, “What I have discovered is that it is easy to cast aside spiritual discipline and label it legalism to gratify our inner sloth.”
We must guard against both legalism and laziness.
The point Paul is making is that there is struggle in spiritual growth. It is not easy. Just like an athlete, we need to commit ourselves to vigorous training, so that we become more like Christ. I know for many it is shocking to think that our spiritual life is something to be worked at, and even more shocking to think that it may actually require as much work as someone training for athletics.
At the root of this training is self-discipline, a word we don’t like to use often. We are Americans. We want freedom and that means freedom from self-discipline. But when Paul says “train,” it includes the idea of discipline.
Begin the Training
Paul is saying we need to exercise ourselves into godliness. So how do we do that? A few weeks ago, I sat down with the staff and asked them the question: What are the most important things someone needs to know to help them have a solid foundation, to get started to becoming spiritually fit?
We came up with seven things that we believe are the beginnings of spiritual fitness for everyone following Jesus. We will blog about these seven things in more detail very soon. Today, I share them as seven questions we need to answer for spiritual fitness.
1. Who Am I?
This is the ultimate philosophical question and an equally important spiritual question. Where do you find your identity? In yourself? Your accomplishments? Or do you find your value and significance in Christ and what he has done for you on the cross?
The Bible speaks a lot about who we are in Christ. We are a new creation, completely transformed. We are adopted as his sons and daughters. Who are you?
2. What is Holding Me Back?
We read in the Bible that when we come to Jesus our sins are forgiven and we are set free. We are free from the bondage of sin, free from shame, free from condemnation. But some of us have trouble accepting that. We can’t get beyond this step because of past sin and strongholds (areas where we haven’t quite let God have control.)
These strongholds keep us from experiencing the freedom we should have in Christ. Strongholds can be bitterness, unforgiveness, and rebellion, or they can be like idols (things in our lives we place more importance on than God) like success, career, or leisure.
Are you really willing to follow Jesus wholeheartedly? Are you ready to view him, not just the one who saved you from a future in hell, but as your Lord, the one in control of your life today, even if it means surrendering completely to him and following him wherever he may lead?
As you think about being spiritually fit, what is holding you back?
3. What is Shaping My Life?
We all have influences that shape who we are. What are you allowing to influence you? Are you spending time growing spiritually or are you listening to the latest pop psychologist to get your grounding?
We need to dedicate ourselves to spiritual formation (putting in place spiritual practices that will draw us closer to God.) These spiritual practices include: learning how to read and study the Bible and mediate on it, learning how to pray (not just vomiting our laundry list of needs to God, but also listening to the voice of God), fasting, worshiping, giving, serving, seeking solitude. All these are practices that can help us grow spiritually, if and only if we spend time doing them.
What spiritual food are you eating? What is shaping your values and your character?
4. Where do I Fit In?
God has created us for community. There is no such thing as a Lone-Ranger Christian. We need one another. I need you and you need me. We don’t want that. We want to be self-sufficient. But we need community.
So, God gave us Christian communities: churches, discipleship groups, places where we can be real and authentic and others can encourage us and challenge us. Have you found your place to fit in?
5. What Can I Do?
At some point, it becomes necessary to get off the sidelines, stop sitting and soaking, and get in the game. If you follow Jesus, you’ve been given the Holy Spirit. He lives within us and the Spirit gives each of us gifts, not for ourselves, but for the building up of each other, and for the betterment of the church.
Regardless of age or how long you’ve been following Jesus, or past history, every one of us can engage in what God is doing in the world around us. God is active. He is doing things around us. And when we see it, it is our invitation to jump in and get involved in the Big Story of God.
Are you sitting on the sidelines or are you engaged?
6. How Should I Live?
We aren’t saved just for ourselves. As I said, we are saved to be a part of a community. But we are also saved to tell others. You have a unique story: your life before Christ, how you came to know Christ, your life now. That story is uniquely yours and God wants to use your story in helping others in their faith journey, to help bring others to Christ.
Have you thought about your story of faith? Have you thought about what God has done in your life? And more importantly, are you sharing that story with those around you, not strangers, though that may happen at times, but have you shared it with those you live around, your coworkers, your family?
Learning how to share your story and actually doing it are all a part of being spiritually fit.
7. Why Am I Here?
This is the other great philosophical question we wrestle with. We are here not just for ourselves, but to take care of one another. We are here to reach out into the world, to care for the widows and orphans, to love justice and show mercy, to make an impact in our world.
We are here to multiply, not just to have physical children, but to multiply spiritually. We are called to make disciples, to pass on what we know about God to others, to help guide them into a deeper knowledge and relationship with Jesus.
Can you truly answer why are you here?
These seven things are critical to be SpiritFit. Unfortunately, we allow ourselves to get hung up on that journey. We forget who we are or why we are here. We doubt that we have been gifted to do anything, or if a community could actually be important to our life.
But if we are going to be spiritually fit, we need to see all seven things as a part of who we are. We can’t get hung up in one area. We need to keep actively working out and pushing through to become all that God desires us to be.
The reason we desire to be spiritually fit is not for more knowledge. Timothy was battling false teaching. And Paul told him that the best way to combat it is not to gain more knowledge, although that’s not a bad thing. It is not to go and argue with those who are promoting these false teachings, although that may be required at times. Paul’s answer to confronting this wasn’t an arsenal of theology.
What Paul was telling Timothy is that the best way you can combat those teaching something other than the truth is to live a godly life. True godliness is interchangeable with true, genuine, and visible faith. Live out a faith for the world to see.
That may sound familiar to some of you. Even Jesus himself said,
“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” —Matthew 5:16
Exercise your faith, so that you live it out and others take notice. Live so that they can visibly see your faith in how you live each and every day. This happens when we discipline ourselves to answer those seven questions, engage with the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, fasting, worshiping, meditating on God’s word, fasting, servicing others, confessing, and living with margin in our lives. Often, we are the busiest people ever, but we are so busy in the wrong things. And we can be the laziest when it comes to spiritual things.
But if we are going to get SpiritFit this year, we need to commit ourselves to working out and exercising spiritually. We need to get off the spiritual junk food and forget the spiritual quick schemes. We need to train daily in godliness, so that when difficulty comes, or we are confronted by false teaching, we can weather the storms with a solid footing in Christ, confident in the God we know, confident in Jesus who bought our salvation, confident in the Spirit who secures us, knowing who we are and whose we are, and living in such a way that our genuine faith and godliness shines for all who see and impacts the world in which we live.