The term “fitness” is one of the favorite marketing buzzwords that has attracted many to health clubs and spas, and it even has an appeal for those who are so out of shape that it remains yet wishful thinking. There is little doubt that the physical part of life just seems better when one is physically fit.The Bible gives some credence to this idea in 1 Timothy 4:8, where Paul tells Timothy that bodily exercise profits [a] little. The verse continues, “but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” In other words, godliness, which is the spiritual exercise of living out what the Word of God teaches, is significantly more to be sought than “bodily exercise” in order to improve a believer’s everyday life on earth as well as to yield rewards in one’s eternal life.
The goal of spiritual fitness, according to the Scriptures, must be godliness. The Apostle Paul exhorts Timothy to “exercise thyself” unto godliness, and Peter declares that God has given believers “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7; 2 Peter 1:3). I hope that every believer reading this desires to achieve that goal no matter how far short of it he might feel that he comes right now. The good news is that there is good news, no matter what one’s condition!
In the sports world, when a team is struggling in more than one aspect of the game, many coaches have their teams return to practicing the fundamentals of the sport. That usually gets things turned around and headed in the direction of improvement. Such an approach may also be helpful for those who want to achieve spiritual fitness but are not exactly sure how to go about it. (And I am not recommending seeking out so-called “spiritual directors” or “spiritual coaches,” who frequently utilize the latest trends, methods, or techniques that are far from what the Scriptures teach.)
What are the scriptural fundamentals for growing in godliness? First of all, it must begin with a new birth. As Jesus declared to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God….Ye must be born again.” (John 3:3,7—emphasis added). Without that transformation of being born spiritually from above, it is impossible for anyone to manifest godliness. This new birth comes about when a person admits that he is a sinner, turns to Jesus by faith alone, believes that He paid the full penalty for his sins, and accepts the free gift of salvation that only Jesus could and did provide. He then becomes a “new man”: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature…” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Even though he has been miraculously transformed into a new being, a born-again believer retains his old nature, but no longer is he under its sinful control: “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:8-10 —emphasis added). “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). We shouldn’t be surprised, however, when within the born-again believer, the resident old nature, though no longer in control, causes a sometimes-fierce struggle in our hearts and minds. This spiritual battle will continue throughout our temporal lives, but daily victory can be ours. Why? Because God himself has provided everything that a believer needs to grow in “righteousness and true holiness.”
What are some of these things that He has provided? One help that is foundational is that the Holy Spirit indwells every Christian at the moment that he believes the gospel. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16-17).
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is foundational, for without the Spirit of Christ, there would be no life in Him. This could be compared to having the latest model car but the engine is missing. Just as an engineless car would be useless regarding the purpose for which it was intended, so a person who doesn’t have the Holy Spirit (and thus does not belong to the Lord), is helpless when it comes to living above one’s circumstances, being a light in the world, and ultimately spending eternity fulfilling God’s plan for us. The analogy may be a little rough, but I think you get the point. On the other hand, the person who is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ has all that he needs to live a life of godliness—as long as he avails himself of it—which certainly includes being spiritually fruitful and productive.
Consider the incredible abundance that the Holy Spirit provides for the believer. He, the third person of the Godhead, is the born-again Christian’s comforter (which includes the meaning “strengthener”), teacher, enabler, empowerer, guide, convicter of sin, revealer of truth, baptizer, and imparter of numerous spiritual gifts. It was through the Holy Spirit that we received the Word of God: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). And it is through the Holy Spirit that we gain understanding of the Scriptures: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
The Holy Spirit’s involvement in giving us the Word of God and its value in equipping us in Christ is clearly revealed in 2 Timothy 3:15-17: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Indeed, God’s miraculous revelation through the Holy Scriptures is truly the Lord’s instruction manual, informing us of what we need to know in order to live a life of godliness (2 Peter 1:3), and the Holy Spirit is the One who empowers us to carry out the teachings of Jesus, who is the Living Word.
Jesus is the God-Man. He is eternally God, and through the incarnation He became the perfect Man. He will never cease to be both God and Man. We are finite beings, so that idea, along with others (such as the doctrine of the Trinity), may seem incomprehensible to us. As long as we are still in these earthly bodies, we will never be able to fully comprehend our Infinite God. Therefore we trust what He has communicated to us through His Word, and one day, we will be with Him and will know Him in perfect truth (1 Corinthians 13:12). In our pursuit of godliness, Jesus not only gave us instructions, but He, as the perfect Man, also demonstrated the necessity of depending upon the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Consider the following verses:
“And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about” (Luke 4:14). At a synagogue in Nazareth He declared himself to be the prophesied Messiah by reading from the Book of Isaiah. His words began with the statement, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Luke 4:18). Our Lord not only demonstrated the importance of the Holy Spirit in His life as the perfect man, but He also emphasized the same for all who would follow Him: “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24—emphasis added).
Although this article began by making references to physical fitness as an analogy, there is a critical difference between one’s penchant for physical exercise and one’s pursuit of godliness. Too often the former focuses on self, whereas the latter cannot. It must be “other-directed.” Godliness is manifested in one’s love for God and for others. This is made abundantly clear through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which God has provided to every believer in order to enable each one to grow in godliness and to be of benefit to one another. Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, said: “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.…And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7-13).
As described above, the gifts of the Spirit will certainly generate individual godliness, but, as noted, they also help us to grow even more as we minister to others. Peter, in his first epistle, confirms that the gifts are for all believers and are to be directed for the good of one another: “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same, one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
The development of spiritual fitness is directly related to one’s dependence upon the Holy Spirit. He has given to every believer one or more gifts to be used as He wills and enables. If we do not yield to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, then the gifts are not being exercised, and both we and the body of Christ are deprived of what has been given for the equipping, building up, and edification of the saints. Sadly, in these days of prevailing end-times apostasy, the church is backing away from the spiritual strengthening that God has provided through the Holy Spirit, who is often a much-neglected Friend. This is most evident in the area of spiritual discernment.
Although spiritual fitness is certainly aided by the operation of the gifts of the Spirit, there is another important exercise of the Holy Spirit that is a support for godliness and is necessary for God’s exceptional empowerment in order to accomplish His will: being filled with the Spirit. The Scriptures are very clear in the exhortations for believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit; John the Baptist was filled with Him, as were his parents; Peter was filled, and so were Paul, Stephen, Barnabas, and the disciples. In addition to these, every believer is exhorted to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and with the fruits of righteousness (Philippians 1:11).
In his Believer’s Bible Commentary, the late William MacDonald (who was a TBC Board member) shared these biblical principles regarding Ephesians 5:18, “How then can a believer be filled with the Spirit? The Apostle Paul does not tell us here in Ephesians; he merely commands us to be filled. But from other parts of the word, we know that in order to be filled with the Spirit we must: 1) Confess and put away all known sin in our lives (1 John 1:5-9)…. 2) Yield ourselves completely to His control (Romans 12:1-2)…. 3) Let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16)…. 4) Finally, we must be emptied of self (Galatians 2:20)….” Mr. MacDonald then quotes an unknown author: “Just as you have left the whole burden of your sin, and have rested on the finished work of Christ, so leave the whole burden of your life and service, and rest upon the present in-working of the Holy Spirit. Give yourself up, morning by morning, to be led by the Holy Spirit and go forth praising and at rest, leaving Him to manage you and your day. Cultivate the habit all through the day, of joyfully depending upon and obeying Him, expecting Him to guide, to enlighten, to reprove, to teach, to use, and to do in and with you what He wills. Count upon His working as a fact, altogether apart from sight or feeling. Only let us believe in and obey the Holy Spirit as the Ruler of our lives, and cease from the burden of trying to manage ourselves; then shall the fruit of the Spirit appear in us as He wills to the glory of God” (pp. 1945-1946).
No one can obey Jesus’ command, “Take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21), without the enablement of the Holy Spirit. A person who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t utilize the power of the Holy Spirit in his life, perhaps because of wrong teaching or simply because of personal apathy, will likely be crushed by the cross that he is attempting to carry.
Spiritual fitness is vital and more crucial for believers than ever before. Times of persecution loom on the horizon for Christians in countries in the West, where seduction rather than overt persecution has until now prevailed. We can learn from the example of Paul and Barnabas: “But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 13:50-52).
Therefore, our encouragement and prayer for all of us who know Jesus and desire to glorify Him is this: Let the study of His Word be our continuous habit, and let the leading, guiding, and filling of the Holy Spirit be our daily experience. That is true spiritual fitness! TBC