Imagine you desire to run a marathon, set the goal of finishing the marathon, learn what it takes to train for the marathon and then…don’t put any of it into practice or keep hitting the snooze button! How much closer are you going to get to training for the marathon? Well, of course you are not getting closer.
Activity or practice of what you learn is an essential part of training. In a marathon situation, you practice setting a pace, breathing correctly, even perhaps how to grab a drink from a refreshment stand, drinking a little bit and pouring the rest over your head (I suppose). The point is, if you don’t put your knowledge into practice, it will not benefit you.
James is a classic epistle for talking about putting one’s knowledge into action in the spiritual realm. You learn more patience as you go through the trials than by watching other people do so. You learn more by comforting other people going through those trials than by reading about the ‘right thing to say’. As Job suffered through the trials Satan threw at him, he relied on what he knew about God and his years of experience to keep himself from sinning.
David, in facing Goliath, had previous experience in facing threats which helped prepare him for that situation. In all of it, he credited God with seeing him through. As God saw David through a fight with the lion and the bear, God will help us with the biggest lion of all. Satan is a roaring lion out to devour whoever he can. Activity helps us in our training.
Is attending church services such an activity? Is reading your Bible such an activity? Will these help you become more godly? The truth is, no godly Christian would fail attend church services or read their Bible, but how mature you are will make a difference to the answer. A newborn Christian will most certainly get trained in godliness by attending services but, as you mature, you need to be sure that you are not just a pew-warmer 5 years later. Reading your Bible is always going to move your forward, as long as you do not simply read the same passages over and over and fail to go a little deeper into the text. Apparently those to whom Hebrews was written has such a problem:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14 ESV)
This audience of God’s people missed out (as did we) on an opportunity to learn more about Melchizedek because they were dull of hearing when they should have been teachers. They had reverted back to milk and they did not have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice. In other words, no activity!
Don’t let the fear of mistakes stop you, you simply have to put what you have learned into action. If you talk to much, practice listening more. Make it a priority and a prayer item. If you use foul language, be aware of the times your react like that and, either avoid those situations, or pay attention to your actions so you can conquer the reaction and replace it with an appropriate response.
We don’t get to Heaven by being perfect (or at least perfect in ourselves) but as we add a virtue like godliness to our life, we become more like our Lord and assure ourselves of an entrance into that kingdom.
What activities help you exercise yourself toward godliness?
The third thing you will need to help you train for godliness is an education. Remember that while what Paul said in I tim 4:7 was in a context of physical training at a gymnasium, he was making a spiritual application. If you want to train for a physical event such as a marathon, you soon realize that having the desire to run a marathon and the goal for running it (e.g. to finish or beat your last effort) must be followed up by learning what you need to know in order to training for that race.
Let’s say you decided that your goal for being godly is to get to Heaven. (In other words, you would rather live than die!) Now what? How do you know if you are training correctly or not? How do you know if you are progressing toward godliness or moving further from it? You will need knowledge. God’s word tells Christians:
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation– if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1Pe 2:1-3 ESV)
Just as a newborn baby will feed on milk, so the Christian must feed on God’s word. Remember you when you obeyed the Gospel, becoming a Christian, how you wanted to know everything? The milk was good and helped you grow. Knowledge, in training for a marathon, says ‘put away milkshakes, sugars, and french fries” and, in a spiritual training, you put away ‘malice, deceit, hypocrisy.”
Yet at some point, milk needs to be left behind:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness… solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:12-14 ESV)
Christians, who should have progressed on to meat in their training, have actually reverted back to a need for milk. Just like an athlete with good training habits who stops those habits will soon find that even a simple 1 mile run is hard, so Christians will find that godliness is hard if they revert back and do not progress.
The Knowledge we need is in God’s word. David spoke often of his delight in the law of the Lord. Below is one passage. Many more exist in Psalms, I would suggest you read Psalm 119 and see what David says about God’s law, precepts, commandments, and ways.
Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law, (Psa 94:12 ESV)
Knowledge also comes by example. We learn what to do, or what not to do, by seeing what others have done. The Bible is full of examples of those who serve as models to follow and examples to avoid. What was written before was truly written for our learning. (Romans 15:4)
The knowledge you gain by studying God’s word is both of God’s law and of His character. Truly, a person will be godly when they are like God but until such a time as we actually reach that perfection, we continue to exercise ourselves toward godliness learning from the knowledge He has given us about Himself.
as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, (2Pe 1:3 NKJV)
If I asked you what you needed in order to train for a marathon, you probably would be able to suggest some items that are necessary. Perhaps the right equipment, perhaps the right nutrition, education, coach and so forth would be items you would suggest. What does it take to train oneself for godliness? Again, perhaps a number of items might come to mind. Over the next several posts, I would like to share some items you need in order to train yourself for godliness.
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. (1Ti 4:7-8 ESV)
Number one need: Desire!
If you do not desire to be godly, it will not matter what else you might acquire in this process. If you bought the equipment for a marathon, shoes, shorts and even registered for a marathon but did not have the desire to run a marathon, it would profit nothing.
So many people think that they can have a little bit of God in their life but their heart is not in it. They have no real desire to be like God, have a heart like God, imitate God except in those occasions where they think it will benefit them. They take business courses on how the Golden Rule is the best way to operate a business but do not get the meat of the principle. They think that having a form of godliness (without the actual heart of godliness) will help them but it will not.
If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing… imagining that godliness is a means of gain. (1Ti 6:3-5 ESV)
God calls everyone. He encourages all, he even carries the weak but He pulls and drags no one. We are not dragged, kicking and screaming into a relationship with Him. This is not say that he will not work on us and discipline us. He does not just give up at the first defiant “NO!” but if you don’t want a godly character, he will let you live the way you want to. (Read Romans 1:18-32)
Of course, our desire may be there and a little weak. Although he was talking about faith, I think the plea of the father in Mark 9:24 is appropriate. “I believe, help my unbelief”, only we say “I desire, help my lack of desire.” A person with this attitude is one who can be worked with and willing to learn and be led.
Do you have a desire to be godly? Do you see this as a characteristic that you want to cultivate in your life? In the next few posts, I am going to suggest some items you will need in order to make the character of godliness a reality in your life. What do you think the next item will be?