Whether it’s getting ready for the Super Bowl or just heading out for a jog, everyone knows that you have to train in order to succeed at a sport. No good coach expects a team to be ready for a championship on day one. It takes steady, disciplined training to develop toward that goal.
I was reading Scripture the other day when these words of the Apostle Paul arrested my attention:
Have nothing to do with 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 4:7-8)
When Paul says the words “train yourself to be godly” he’s talking about, as one scholar writes, “a vigorous development and application of all his strength and ability.” The Greek word used here is the same one from which we derive our word ‘gymnasium’. Simply put, Paul is talking about some serious exercise.
Many of us, when we think of our faith, focus on the part about getting saved by grace. That is always true and incredibly important. But it is not the end of the story. We are not “in” with God so that we can kick back until the end of our lives.
That makes as little sense as a rookie joining a professional sports team and taking it easy. “Yes! I’m on the team!” he says. “Now it’s time to kick back because now I’ve arrived.” We all know that it is nearly the opposite that is true. Once an athlete makes it to the pros, they have to work hard to be at the top of their game. It doesn’t matter how many sweat bands they have on or what shoes they’re wearing. It’s not the externals that make them a real athlete. Once they are selected to the team, that’s when the real training kicks in.
It’s the same with our faith. Once God calls us out of death and sin to follow Christ that is the time when the real training kicks in. We cannot rest upon some abstract claim to salvation, but we must enter into the new sort of life with Christ that God intends. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3). It is an ongoing, relational knowing that is the key to eternal life. It is, as Paul might say, the beginning of training with the coach. ‘Train yourselves to be godly.’
So, as we continue on with God today, let’s take time to get our training plan in place. Let’s make sure we’re applying all our strength into developing toward maturity in Christ. This is when things really start.
[For a related post see: “Working It Out with God“]