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)
Using the analogy of training for a marathon, I am writing about Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to train himself for godliness. What does one need in order to train for godliness?
In the last post, I suggested that “desire to be godly” is necessary in order to “train to be godly”. No desire? No training! However, having the desire is only part of it. To actually accomplish it, you should understand why you are doing it. I like to think of this as the goal of the matter. The second thing we need is a goal with a reason.
It may seem like the goal of a marathon is easy to determine. Just cross the finish line, right? In some cases that is true but there are some whose goal isn’t simply to finish the race, some want to win it. Others enter a marathon to help encourage another to finish, still some do it just to beat their own time in a previous marathon. If I would ask you what is the goal of training yourself to be godly, what would you answer? Why would you do it?
A goal should be based on something that will continue to drive you onward toward attaining it. Some people pick goals based on things that do not continue to motivate. If you go look for a job and only pick one based on what it pays, you may soon find yourself with a job that does not inspire you and the amount of pay will not compensate for a bad fit. A good goal will have a higher purpose than the mundane of this world.
Some fall into the same trap that Paul mentions in 1 Tim 6. Thinking godliness is a means of gain. For some, the reason to be godly (it might be better stated “appear godly”) is to gain favor in business or even because of a love interest. Neither of these, as a reason to train for godliness, will last very long or accomplish what is needed to truly be trained.
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Php 3:14 ESV)
And that is a goal that you can get behind.
I can think of three goals for training yourself to be godly. Is there overlap? Yes! but what other reasons might you give?
Reason #1 To Get to Heaven.
While that might sound like a selfish motive, I consider it a perfectly good one. Because if I get to Heaven, I live!! And living is preferable to dying. Do not let anyone ever suggest that your desire to go to Heaven is somehow motivated by a selfish self-interest. That is like a drowning person grabbing on to the life-preserver tossed to him and then being chastised for selfishly wanting to live.
Peter said that godliness (and the other characteristics listed-2 pet 1:5-12) will assure of us an entrance in to Heaven. Let’s be diligent to add more of it.
Reason #2 To be more like Jesus.
No one would ever say that Jesus was not godly and trying to be more like Him, our older brother, is a wonderful goal. The scripture is full of passages that encourage to be more like Him. Paul said “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” an indirect but clear indication that Christ is our example to follow. Peter tells his readers this:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. (1Pe 2:21-22 ESV)
Reason #3 To more like God.
As I read through the Scriptures the one characteristic that seems so closely related to godliness is holiness. They may not be synonymous but I don’t think you find holy people who are not godly. One thing that God is clear on in His Scriptures is that He is a Holy God. Being a Holy God, he wants us to be Holy also.
but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (1Pe 1:15-16 NKJV)
Jesus opened the sermon on the mount with a section designed to bring people back to the Holy law of God, that law which God himself would follow if He were there (and which, of course, Jesus did). He closed that section with these words. “you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Training for Godliness is training to be more like God.
Having a worthwhile goal to shoot for will help us in our efforts against ungodliness. Any of these three reasons for started a training regiment to be godly is a good one. Which would you choose? Do you have another reason to be godly?