1 Tim 4:7-8 (ESV) “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 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.”
Have you noticed how much we (as a society, not each one of us) concern ourselves with our bodies? I’m not going to get into all the aspects of it but, I mean, you haven’t missed all of the talk about diet plans (plexus, slim-fast, weight-watchers, the low-carb diet, the paleo diet, the list goes on). And then we have all of these physical training programs (such as cross-fit, insanity, p-90x, the somewhat lesser known wag-60). But have you noticed the great quest for a healthier body. It seems like you hear about new diets and new workout plans every month. People are putting a lot of time, money, and effort in training their bodies.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to be healthy. But do we as Christians live our lives according to the guidance that Paul gives Timothy here? He says bodily training is of some value, but it is essentially nothing compared to the value we receive in devoting the time to train ourselves for godliness. To train ourselves spiritually. (This is of value in EVERY way and it holds promise for this life and the life to come).
As I take you through this presentation, we’re going to kind of be all over the place. It’s very exciting. We’re going to have a sea story, talk about Baptist history, spend some time at the potter’s wheel, then we are gonna head over to God’s gym. It’s going to be a whirlwind. So I just want to plant this seed early on. As we go through this lesson, think about what Paul is calling us to. It’s really an individual call. Think about what Paul is calling you to.
Do you desire godliness in your life? Scripture says we should? Do you act in a manner that demonstrates that desire? In other words, do you train yourself for godliness?
The consequences of not training can be devastating.
I was on a submarine a few years back and we had just completed a tactical readiness examination. This is an annual exam that all submarines are required to take and its purpose is to determine if the crew is able to answer the call, to fight when called upon to do so.
So this was a four day exam and it tests all manner of tactical employment of the sub. During the test period, the crew is stretched to its limit physically and mentally. It is a very stressful time. So we had just finished the exam and dropped off the inspection team. And we were exhausted but happy to be finished with the exam. Shortly after the team left, we were notified that we had received a score of excellent overall. This was the best score that any submarine in the fleet had received in the last two years. So this was a significant accomplishment for us and we were pretty proud as a crew. We had trained hard to get to this point and now we start to see the fruits of that training.
Who knows, maybe the co will give us a four-day liberty pass when we return to port. Maybe we’ll all get awards for our outstanding achievement….so we were tired but excited when the CO picked up the mike and activated the ship wide announcing system to speak to us for the first time since receiving the results. And this is what he told us, in a nutshell.
Good job, guys. But I want you to remember something. There is no steady state. We won’t remain here. You either get better or you get worse. So we need to keep charging forward.
That was about the last thing we wanted to hear at the time. I was looking for an atta boy, for some recognition of what I had done. What I got was a call to keep pressing forward. What I got was, hey thanks, but I need more from you now. I wasn’t happy with that message at the time.
However, having reflected upon it a number of times since, I can now appreciate (if not the timing, at least the truth) of what the skipper said. And I can appreciate how it applies both in submarines and in the spiritual life of the believer.
Think about where submarines operate. We take a steel tube out and sink it in an environment that is always right there, pressing on us with a tremendous force, waiting for someone to make a mistake so that it can enter in the “people tank” and start wreaking havoc, causing destruction, taking lives. In an environment such as this, tragedy can truly be just one mistake away. Constant training, then, is not an option. It is a requirement for survival. When training stops, we don’t just remain at the same level of proficiency we were at. We start to lose that proficiency and we start making mistakes and we put the submarine and the lives of all onboard in danger.
Likewise, Satan, the enemy of the Christian, is poised on the outside, waiting for us to let down our guard, waiting for us to feel like we have arrived. Like we’ve accomplished what we need in order to be a steady state Christian. To fool ourselves into thinking that we’ll be okay and we can just get a little lazy with our spiritual training. That is exactly when the roaring lion pounces on you and by then it is often too late. Because you were unprepared. You had neglected your spiritual training. And he starts tearing you up inside, and he starts destroying your confidence, and he starts destroying your witness, creating all kinds of havoc in your life.
So I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of consistent spiritual training in the Christian life. Now let me give you an historical example of what can happen when we neglect that training.
I’ve been reading with great interest about Baptist origins in 16th and 17th century England. Well full disclosure. I’ve been reading about Baptist History because I have to for my class this summer. But…I’ve also been really enjoying learning more about this period in our history. This period in England was a very tumultuous time for reformers; reformers being any of those groups or people who sought to change the status quo in England at the time, which was that the church of England was the state church and everyone needed to worship according to its doctrines. Early Baptists grew out of one of these reform groups, known as the Separatists, who grew out of the Puritans. It basically went something like this: puritans got their name because they wanted to create a “pure” church. England had recently received the English translation of the bible, people could start reading it for themselves and comparing the biblical church with the church of England and seeing some significant disconnects. So they wanted to purify the church…but not to separate from it.
Now there were others who said, look, the church isn’t going to reform, so we will just separate and form our own independent congregations where we can institute “biblical practices.” These people became known then, as Separatists. One of the separatist groups was known as the principle separatists. They had come to the conviction that the church ought to be free of any government connection. Sound familiar? Baptist origins can be tied back to some of the “radical” ideas of these principle separatists. So with the Separatists (along with some other outside influences) Baptists had their beginnings, and then they started to flourish.
So during most of the 17th century in England, Baptists grew out of this movement and found their own way. They were forming congregations, fighting for religious liberty, experiencing persecution from the government, writing confessions of faith, refining their doctrine, experiencing persecution from the government, engaging in public debates with other religious groups, gaining more and more converts, planting churches, evangelizing, experiencing persecution…you get the idea. This was a very exciting, dynamic, dangerous, and rewarding time for Baptists.
Then finally, after fighting courageously and defining their faith so diligently for so many years, they won a measure of religious freedom in the Toleration Act of 1689. In this, they were allowed freedom to worship in their own ways, in their own buildings, with their own pastors. This was a great victory for “dissenters” in England, of which the Baptists were included, as they approached the dawn of the 18th century. So it would seem like they were well poised to continue their success going into the new century right? I mean, they had sharpened their skills. They had defined and defended their doctrines, worked out their confessions of faith, had an impressive body of theological literature in circulation, a strong group of leaders to carry them forward. So the 18th century should be looking pretty good, then, right?
Instead, the 18th century found Baptists in a thick fog of religious indifference and spiritual decay. The new enemy became not the state, but the individual Baptist’s own inner lethargy and apathy. Such that as new and false doctrine was introduced into their churches, they were unprepared and/or unwilling to question it. You remember the Berean Jews of Scripture? Well, these folks were the Bizarro-Bereans.
The events that transpired over the course of this era made such a marked impact on Baptist history that one historian described the first half of the 18th century as “the most stagnant and lethargic period of Baptist history.”
What happened? Well, there were a number of factors involved but evidence suggests that the most harmful of these was this spiritual apathy/decay leading to an abandonment of the authentic gospel. They had won great victory to practice their own faith and then they sort of started coasting along and then lost the spiritual fires for God that had been burning within them. They lost the desire to grow in their faith, to train themselves for godliness, to answer the call to be continually conformed to the image of Jesus. They lost their discipline, their training. And then bad things started to happen.
There were two primary groups of Baptists at the time. The general and the particular. They got their names from their competing views of the atonement. General Baptists believed in a general view of the atonement, Christ died for everyone. Particular Baptists believed in particular atonement. They believed that Christ died only for the elect. As the strong leaders of the past who had helped form Baptist doctrine and defended their faith began to die out and were replaced by a less skilled, less-educated, less-battle-hardened new group, both groups began to suffer. The general Baptists adopted an ever-weakening Christology and ultimately succumbed to the teaching in many of their churches that Jesus was merely a good man. This tragic break from biblical truth had a terrible effect on the General Baptists, one from which they never fully recovered. Many of these churches eventually became Unitarian, abandoning the doctrine of the Trinity, abandoning the idea of original sin, abandoning the idea of inerrancy of Scripture, holding that no religion can claim absolute monopoly on theological truth. Yeah, they went there.
The Particular Baptists, on the other hand, went in the opposite direction, but proved no less destructive. They did have a high Christology. Rarely do we read about any Particular Baptists doubting the full deity of Christ. However, these churches began taking their Calvinistic views to the opposite extremes. Many churches hardened their theology to a “hyper-Calvinism.” They so exaggerated certain Calvinistic aspects such as election and predestination that these came to dominate their theology and all else had to be judged in that light.
What happened? Well, they began to discount evangelism outright. They began teaching that, because God had already chosen specific persons and that He never changes his mind, it would hardly make sense to preach the gospel to the non-elect. In fact, it might actually violate the sovereignty of God. How do we know who God has elected? Hmmm. Best not to step on God’s toes by potentially preaching the gospel to the non-elect. Since we don’t know the difference between the elect and the non-elect, if we just don’t preach the gospel to any of them, we will be safe. Now, of course this meant you weren’t going to see these folks out preaching about Jesus. But it got to the point that even sermons were simply statements of doctrinal truth taken from the Bible, with no hint of evangelism in them, lest someone in the audience be a non-elect.
Another result of hyper-Calvinism was the adoption of Antinomianism. This belief said that, since even personal behavior is foreordained by God, Christians are excused from any lapses in moral conduct. Drunkenness, adultery, etc. because God foreordained it.
So as you might expect, the routes taken by each of these groups had a devastating effect on the Baptist church as a whole.
Can’t you just imagine Paul here, wanting to cry out “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel”
“you were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”
what happened to the Baptist churches? Ultimately, their leaders and their members allowed into their churches a false gospel. The great deceiver invaded their churches because they let down their spiritual guards. Satan is called the prince of this world in Scripture. He presently is allowed by God a certain measure of control over its patterns. He is very crafty. He’s been deceiving Christians for a long time. He has many methods of rendering us ineffective, of keeping us from disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness, of drawing us away from the truth.
The end result of both paths was an acceptance of a false truth. Without the power of the true gospel, they experienced a spiritual decay of the individual and the church. They lost their discipline and they began to wilt and fade.
Why do I share this story with you? I share this with you because Satan is just as active today as he was yesterday. I share this because those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. Because God has called us to know him, to accept the true gospel, to be transformed by it, to not be conformed to the patterns of this world but to be conformed to the perfect image of Christ, to be sober-minded; watchful, knowing that our adversary prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour, seeking to divert us from our calling.
I share this because God is our everything and we owe him our entire selves,
You know the story of the Pharisees sending someone to try to trip up Jesus by asking if they had to pay taxes to Caesar or not? The one question that I wish Jesus had answered differently …
Well, the question was disingenuous. It was just about trying entangle Jesus in his words. Jesus answered him by saying whose likeness is on this coin, whose image? They said, Caesar, and he said therefore render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
But what if the Pharisees had genuinely cared about this issue. Can’t you then see them asking the next logical question? What then is God’s?
And can’t you see Jesus answering with another question: Whose image is on you?…We owe our entire selves to God.
How can we help ensure that what happened to the early 18th century Baptists doesn’t happen in our lives or in our churches? What can we do to protect ourselves against spiritual decay?
1 Timothy 4:7 (ESV) says “train yourself for godliness”
The NASB says “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness”. I like both of these words, discipline and training, because they speak of key characteristics that should be reflected in the life of a Christian.
God uses three ways to change us and to conform us to the image of Christ, but only one is largely under our own control.
He uses people (iron sharpens iron), he uses circumstances (Rom 8:28-29), and he uses our choices. We don’t have much control over the first two but the last one is different. The last one says, okay, so now you are a Christian. You’ve been called to die to self and to walk in newness of life in Christ. So what is your response? Are you going to demonstrate a changed life by actively seeking to be conformed to his image? Are you going to discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness? Are you going to protect yourself against spiritual decay? Or not?
A master potter was telling a story about how difficult it was for her to learn how to center the clay on the potter’s wheel. If the clay is not centered, the potter can’t properly form it. It will become marred and unworkable.
Well, it took her awhile to get the hang of it but when she did, she was able to start molding beautiful pieces of pottery. She was able to mold and shape it just how it needed to be, just how she wanted it, because it was rightly centered.
Similarly, Christians have God, our master “Potter” who wants to mold and shape us; who wants to conform us into the perfect image of his Son. He will do his part. He will use other people. He will use circumstances. But He also uses our choices, our disciplines. Disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness is what keeps us centered on his wheel and allows God to conform us into Christ’s image.
We don’t get there by accident. That’s why it is called “discipline.” We don’t just fall onto the wheel perfectly centered and become effortlessly molded. No, it takes work on our part. It takes a desire to stir from our spiritual lethargy. It sometimes means turning that desire into a strategy; developing an individual plan for our own spiritual growth and then following it. By the way, none of this can occur without the work of the Spirit and self-discipline is in fact a fruit of the Sprit, an indication of God working in you.
Okay, I’m done with the potter analogy. Let’s move on to something else.
Consider this. If you are going to run a marathon, 5k, 10k or any race that stretches your boundaries, you had better be putting in the time pounding the pavement well in advance, right. Because that is how you train yourself to be prepared for the struggle you know is ahead. You know that race day is going to be brutal (may be anyway, but especially so) if you don’t ensure you are prepared for it. It is also how you help protect yourself from getting hurt. You slowly, consistently build up your strength, stamina, endurance, to the point where you can successfully perform the task when called upon. This training is a means to an end. It is the ways that you use to prepare yourself for what’s ahead. Likewise, practicing spiritual discipline is the way we prepare ourselves for our true calling; to die to self and be conformed into the image of our Savior.
I think we can all agree, then, that we need to be prepared. So what do we do? Well, have I got news for you. If you know Jesus, you already have membership in God’s gym. Now maybe you are the type who looks for excuses to get out of putting time in the gym. Well you don’t want to miss out on these workouts.…you want to take full advantage of that membership and get everything out of it that you can. It’s filled with equipment to train you for godliness. And look, no matter how much you use God’s gym, there is always reason to keep going, maybe you need to just change your workout. Use some different equipment and tone up a weak area in your spiritual life.
we are called to be conformed to the perfect image of Christ and to be holy. And I don’t know about you but I’m not there yet…
So, if you are interested in doing a little more spiritual exercise, if you want to improve your spiritual fitness, then let me tell you about some of the equipment in God’s gym. We are going to talk about Spiritual Disciplines. We have been saying that we need spiritual discipline in our lives. Now, we look at how we can use different spiritual disciplines to foster spiritual growth. What are these disciplines? What is this equipment that God provides for us? Well, I don’t have an exhaustive list and certainly some are more important than others. I’m going to share a few with you for starters and then we’ll talk about some of them. But the main idea is that we consider areas where we feel God is telling us we need to grow and then we prayerfully plan out a way to work on this area or these areas in our lives.
We determine which equipment we need to use and we show up at God’s gym and get in a regular workout. Earlier we talked about a physical training plan? Well, this is a spiritual growth plan. A spiritual training plan, to train you for godliness.
That said, here are some of the spiritual disciplines, the equipment you can use:
Bible intake, Prayer, Serving, Stewardship, Evangelism, and Worship (as I go through these, think about whether you need more time in these areas).
Bible intake is the most important spiritual discipline. 2 Tim 3:16 says “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. If we want to know God and be godly, we must know the word of God intimately. Jesus said “man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Every word…How can we know God’s Word without consistently listening to it, studying it, meditating on it? It is our life. We live on God’s Word. It almost seems like the implication is that we should interact with it on a daily basis…it includes many sub disciplines (hearing, reading, studying, etc.). This is a piece of gear in God’s gym that should be the most worn out thing in there. Do we need more time with God’s Word?
Prayer has to be the next in importance to Bible intake. The two have an important relationship as the two primary means of communication with God. Think about how important it is to Jesus that we pray. In Matthew 6, He says “and when you pray”, “but when you pray,” “this then is how you pray.” In Luke, He says “So I say to you: ask, seek, and knock”. In Luke 18:1, it says “then Jesus told his disciples they should always pray.” Colossians 4:2 says “devote yourselves to prayer.” 1 thess. 5:17 says “pray continually.”
How do we grow in prayer? Value its power and importance, make time to pray, pray for others, use God’s promises as your prayers, use Jesus’ model prayer of praise, petition, and confession and just concentrate on one area at a time, opening yourself up to God’s leading. Do we need to spend more time in prayer, as individuals, as a church? Let me just say this. I read a recent statistic stating that over 80 percent of American pastors (leaders of our churches) spent less than 15 minutes of their day in prayer. Pastors spent 1 percent of their day praying to God. If on average that is the example set by church leaders, what do you think that says about church members? Do we have a prayer problem in America?
I remember hearing a story about Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer. He said he would pray to God about two hours before work each morning. But he said, if it was going to be an especially busy day where many things needed to get done, he would spend three hours in prayer.
Isn’t this just about the opposite of what we often do? When we get busy, we either cut down or cut out our prayer time with God.
Let me ask you this? Do you think God can do things better, more efficiently, more effectively, more productively, than you?
I think Luther had the right idea. I think he knew that he could do nothing without God and that God could multiply his efforts dramatically. So he knew that spending additional time in communication with God was a very wise investment.
Compare that with the modern example of American pastors I shared above. I ask again, do we have a prayer problem? Do we need more time in communication with God?
How about service? Gal 5:13 says you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Mark 10:44-45 says whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the son of man came not to be served but to serve. Eph 2:10 says we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
So we can see that we are expected to serve and gifted to serve, but are we willing to serve?
If God placed a want ad for servants, it might go something like this:
Wanted: gifted volunteers for difficult service in the local expression of the Kingdom of God. Motivation to serve should be obedience to God, gratitude, gladness, forgiveness, humility, and love. Service will rarely be glorious. Temptation to quit place of service will sometimes be quite strong. Volunteers must be faithful in spite of long hours, little to no visible results, and possibly no recognition except from God in eternity.
Do you need to grow in self-sacrificial service?
Okay, I am going to try to wrap things up and leave you with some ideas moving forward. There are many spiritual disciplines. There are many methods we have at our disposal that we can use to foster individual spiritual growth and to protect ourselves against growing stagnant in our faith and allowing ourselves to succumb to the temptation to just coast along, which can lead us to be untrained when temptations and struggles arise and when God call us to carry out his will, to be a light in a world of darkness, to proclaim the authentic gospel in word and deed.
So my suggestion to you is think about the instruction Paul gave Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:-8, to train himself for godliness. ask God where you need to grow spiritually, where you need training, and then consider putting together a growth plan that you will use and follow to draw you closer to him who has called you to be conformed to the image of Christ.
Some of you may not need a plan. Others know that they do. Developing a plan helps you to put your thoughts and prayers on paper. It helps you think through what you want to accomplish and then write it down and see it, refer to it regularly, see your progress.
I would highly recommend an accountability partner in this. Grab your spouse or a close friend or family member and then you can both get to experience spiritual growth while encouraging one another and holding one another accountable. I roped Sonya into doing this when I started it and it has been a blessing for both of us.
Always remember, whatever you do for spiritual growth, that the motivation is to pursue godliness. It isn’t to just grow in knowledge, just soak up information, help you win Bible trivia contests, or community service award, or any of that. It is to become more like Jesus, it is to affect every aspect of your life, it is to learn and apply what it means to be conformed into the image of our Savior.