Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Physical Fitness vs. Spiritual Fitness

We all know the old saying "no pain, no gain." In the fitness world it means we all have to work harder, longer and more intensely than our bodies want us to work if we want to see progress. We have to earn our results. If we shed pounds, gain inches, run farther, or lift more weight, it is because we have put the time in to make it happen ourselves. There are no shortcuts and there is not an "easy" way to do it. It is hard work repeated consistently. We progress in fitness because we follow the "law" of physical fitness: exercise + diet + consistency = progress.

It is a mistake, however, to apply this same thinking to spiritual training. Romans 3:20 says "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." If we are relying on our efforts to draw us closer to God, or to make us righteous we are in for a huge disappointment. The truth is that we cannot, on our own power, be righteous at all. The "law" of spiritual growth is this: our effort (even if we are trying to be righteous) + our sin nature = greater sin. It is a continuing loop of defeat and sin that will never end.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this struggle in his own life in Romans 3:15-18 "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out."

By the end of this description Paul cries out "Wretched man am I! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

Paul answers his own question in Romans 8:1-4 "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,c he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."

The key to spiritual training is to look to the one who started, finished, and perfected the training for you: Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection provide a righteousness from God that we cannot ever produce through our efforts. It is the finished work of Christ on the Cross that provides everything we need for life and Godliness. To grow Spiritually is not a matter of trying harder, doing more, and performing better, but a matter of moving more and more deeply into the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His Grace has already made you perfect. What we have to do is to come to know the truth about ourselves (we are utterly sinful and every effort to produce righteousness is doomed to failure) and the truth about God (He has provided righteousness through the Gospel of His Son Jesus Christ.)

We are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. To grow spiritually is to learn to rely on His Perfect life, His sacrificial death and His powerful resurrection in all things. The pain, then, is not the pain of effort and performance (which wear you out but provide nothing), but he pain of dying to self. It is the pain of realizing the truth, as Paul did, that "no good thing lives in my flesh" but that the finished work of Christ has already made you Holy in God's sight. So, no pain, no gain stands, but not in the area of effort, but rather, in the area of denying self.

How are you denying self today and relying on the Grace of God through Jesus Christ? Do you beat yourself up for not "doing more" or do you feel you have to "try harder" all the time? All these behaviors are based in the assumption that we can be righteous. Listen to the truth of the Gospel, because the Truth will set you free.

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