The Christian Ideal

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
(G.K. Chesterton)

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What are you training for?

We are all familiar with the sight of a jogger running down the road.  Isn’t that such a wonderful sight?  The guy is sweating and panting.  Maybe his tongue is even hanging out.  Perhaps some of you have been that jogger.  I have occasionally been that guy myself.  I do not want to offend anybody, but that tired jogger makes a good illustration for this article.

People get up early to go jogging, or stay up late to work out at the gym, or pedal their bikes up ridiculous hills.  What are those people trying to accomplish?  They are trying to get in shape, or stay in shape, or train for something.  But what is the point?

Paul had something to say about physical training in 1 Timothy 4:7-8, which says “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.  Rather, train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (ESV).

These days there is a significant emphasis placed on keeping physically fit.  Paul does not say that physical training has no value, but he does seem to be aware of the temporary aspect of physical fitness.  These verses prompt me to think about Olympic athletes.  An Olympic athlete might train for years just to be able to compete in a single event.  They might win a gold medal, but quite likely they will not.  Many athletes will only have one shot at a gold medal.

Even if they do win a medal or a trophy, what is the point?  They will get their name written down in the record book and the trophy will then proceed to collect dust.  In this passage Paul argues from the lesser to the greater by acknowledging that although there is some benefit in bodily exercise, there is more benefit in godliness.  Athletes disciplined themselves through careful diet and energetic exercise to prepare for the Greek races. Even if the athlete won the race, the benefit was temporary.

In contrast, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.  Though bodily exercise may benefit the athlete a little today, godliness has a lasting benefit for life in the present and also in the age to come.  Paul is not saying that physical exercise should be neglected, but he is stressing to Timothy the importance of spiritual exercise.  We need to keep in mind that godliness is of benefit in both this life and the life to come.  Some of the benefits of godliness in this life include the peace and joy that a relationship with God brings.

The eternal benefits of godliness should be obvious – the opportunity to spend eternity with our Savior Jesus Christ.  Paul told Timothy to train for godliness like an athlete trains for his sport.  Serious athletes work on their game every day.  Do we have that level of commitment to spiritual training?  Just as athletes have to refuse certain things, eat the right food, and do the right exercises, so a Christian should practice “spiritual exercise.” If a Christian puts as much energy and discipline into his spiritual life as an athlete does into his game, he will reap the benefits of growing in godliness.

Godliness is a comprehensive word for obedience to the Gospel in all areas of life.  Spiritual training must be daily.  It has been said that the problem with life is that it is so daily.  To accomplish any form of training you must make the right choices every day.  Like physical exercise, holy living requires daily discipline; the believer must commit himself to a regular workout in God’s gym.  Spiritual training is a workout – it does require effort.  Ignatius of Loyola understood that point; his classic devotional manual is entitled Spiritual Exercises.

What are the spiritual exercises we must do to grow in godliness?  Prayer, fasting, Bible study, meditation, self-examination, fellowship, service, sacrifice, submission to the will of God, witness—all of these can assist us, through the Spirit, in becoming more godly people.

I see three reasons why spiritual training is superior to physical training.  First, spiritual training has eternal benefits.  Second, spiritual training guarantees a gold medal (a life of faithfulness to God will allow you to enter Heaven).  And third, you never pass your spiritual prime.  All athletes reach their prime.  It is during that time that they can jump the highest, run the fastest, hit the farthest, or whatever.  After that point they decline.  As Christians, we do not need to decline spiritually.  There is a limit to the extent a person can grow in physical strength, but there is no limit to how much you can grow in spiritual strength.  An eighty-five year old may be getting physically weaker every day, but they can continue to grow spiritually.

In summary, we have seen that bodily exercise is limited to this world.  However, godliness has to do with the essence of faith and one’s response to the living God, and therefore godliness affects both the present and future life.  Growing in godliness is hard work, but a commitment to spiritual growth is the only way to ensure your spiritual survival.

Seeking God

A major emphasis of Psalm 34 is what it means to seek God.  This psalm describes many of the blessings of seeking God.

The person who seeks God will praise Him…
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!” (Psalm 34:1–3, ESV)

The person who seeks God will receive an answer and will be saved…
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4, ESV)
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34:6, ESV)

The person who seeks God will light up…
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5, ESV)

The person who seeks God will experience protection…
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be blessed…
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8, ESV)

The person who seeks God will lack no good thing…
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Psalm 34:9–10, ESV)

The person who seeks God will fear Him…
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” (Psalm 34:11, ESV)

The person who seeks God will do good, not evil…
What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Psalm 34:12–14, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be seen and heard by the Lord…
The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.” (Psalm 34:15, ESV)

The person who seeks God will not be cut off…
The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (Psalm 34:16, ESV)

The person who seeks God will receive deliverance from their troubles…
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be comforted by the Lord…
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be protected…
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.” (Psalm 34:19–20, ESV)

The person who seeks God will be redeemed, not condemned…
Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” (Psalm 34:21–22, ESV)

 

Theological Unity

A person does not need to venture very deep into Christian circles before encountering theological debates.  In the midst of those debates many take up as their rallying cry, “Unity on the essentials!  Charity on the non-essentials!”  That sounds well and good until you disagree on what is essential and what is non-essential.

I have been wondering how theological debates fit into Jesus’ prayer for his followers:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20–23, ESV)

It would seem from these verses that Jesus desires that his followers would be one and would experience unity in the same way that he and his Father are united.  The thousands of denominations that Christianity has splintered into suggests that such a unity has not been achieved by followers of Christ.

I  care deeply about theology and have blessed with opportunities to teach theology and related subjects.  For as much as I enjoy theology, I am frustrated by the lack of theological unity among people who truly do seek to be faithful to God’s Word.  For some humor, and perhaps a bit of sobering insight, take a look at this comic.  Credit for this comic goes to “Tom’s Doubts cartoon by Saji.”  It can be found all over the Internet, including here and here.

TomsDoubts14

Healed by Mercy

The Heart Healed and Changed by Mercy

Sin enslaved me many years,
And led me bound and blind;
Till at length a thousand fears
Came swarming o’er my mind.
“Where,” said I, in deep distress,
“Will these sinful pleasures end?
How shall I secure my peace,
And make the Lord my friend?”
Friends and ministers said much
The gospel to enforce;
But my blindness still was such,
I chose a legal course:
Much I fasted, watch’d and strove,
Scarce would shew my face abroad,
Fear’d almost to speak or move,
A stranger still to God.
Thus afraid to trust His grace,
Long time did I rebel;
Till despairing of my case,
Down at His feet I fell:
Then my stubborn heart He broke,
And subdued me to His sway;
By a simple word He spoke,
“Thy sins are done away.”

(William Cowper)