1 Timothy 4:7-8, “But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little; but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come”
2 Peter 3:18, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”
Every born-again believer who has put their trust and faith in Jesus Christ is a steward of what God has so graciously given to them. Since it was He who supplied us with a physical body, it’s our responsibility to take care of our body. If you were to ask a professional athlete to describe the outline of a physical fitness program other than exercising, in order to keep the body in good condition, the athlete would tell you to be disciplined, to get the proper rest, maintain a balanced diet, by eating the right foods, and not to get overly stressed. We must definitely take care of our body, and exercise certainly is a part of that process. A healthy body can be used of God, but our primary thrust for this study, is focused on our spiritual fitness program, which often gets neglected.
Our bodies are God’s temple and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and are to be used for His glory. 1 Corinthians 6:19 puts it this way, “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” The bottom line is if we want to excel and be winners in our spiritual growth we must work at it daily. However, a healthy fitness program alone can’t keep the body healthy. The believer must also exercise spiritually, acting out the principles found within God’s precious and eternal Word. The three steps to spiritual growth we will consider are:
(1) Recognizing & acknowledging God’s ownership.
(2) Responding to God’s ownership.
(3) Resting in God’s ownership.
STEP ONE – Recognizing & Acknowledging God’s Ownership
Acknowledging that God owns everything is a very important key ingredient in developing a healthy and spiritual life. Nehemiah 9:6, “Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heavens of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.”
A. THE CREATION PRINCIPLE
In the beginning, Genesis 1:1, God created the world and the earth, and He has retained ownership of it. Psalm 24:1, “The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein”. However, this isn’t the only place in the Bible where we read about creation. The remarkable work of God’s creation is not a one-passage phenomenon. Woven throughout the Old and New Testament are reminders telling us over and over again how God fashioned our world? Oh, how imperative it is to believe the universe and everything in it came through the masterful work of His mighty hand. We are told within the Scriptures that God created:
(1) The foundations of the earth, Psalm 104:5;
(2) The ends of the earth, Isaiah 40:28;
(3) The lightning, rain, wind, Jeremiah 10:13;
(4) People, Malachi 2:10;
(5) All things, Ephesians 3:9.
God made every person according to His plan (Job 31:15); Psalm 119:73, “Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments”; (Malachi 2:10). David wrote that God knew all about him when he was yet unborn Psalm 139:16, “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them”. Since he created us, He owns us and may do with us as He sees fit.
B. THE REDEMPTION PRINCIPLE
God has literally purchased every believer out of slavery from the world of darkness, and the price He paid was the death of His own Son, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23). Now we are twice His because He owns us and paid a ransom for us (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). His purchase demands that we serve Him and not ourselves or other people. Someone put it this way: “Born of the flesh, conceived in sin. Then born of the Spirit, new life to begin, I’ve been washed in Christ’s blood and this will suffice, Praise God I’m His child, I’ve been born twice!
God’s love for us is so deep that we have a very hard time comprehending it. It reaches down to us through the darkness of this sinful world, even though we are hopelessly undeserving. The Bible says that before God created our world, He had decided to display the depth of His love for us through His Son’s death on the cross. In my imagination I look back over time and see the Lord raising mountains to majestic heights, cutting valleys for flowing rivers, and stretching our vast plains. I envision Him creating the mighty oceans and beautiful lakes.
Then I see Him pause and reflect on the goodness of His creation. He gazes at that part of the world where His Son will be born. He knows that Jesus will be rejected and crucified. With a sweep of His hand He could obliterate the world and spare His Son from the agony of the cross. But He doesn’t. It is because of God’s love; the Son came to earth and was slain. On Calvary He died to pay the penalty for our sins. In John 3:16 we read, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Oh, how great is God’s love for us!
Colossians 1:14, “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins”. In the first chapter of the Book of Colossians, the apostle Paul gave us the basis on which forgiveness rests … the redemption Christ secured through His death on the cross. But Christ is not merely the founder of a major religion. He is the “image of the invisible God” by whom all things were created. The forgiveness and redemption He offers, therefore, is an offer from God Himself.
C. THE OBEDIENCE PRINCIPLE
God does own us, but we don’t need to worry that He might not take care of us. The psalmist wrote, “We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” – Psalm 100:3. We can count on God to guide us and provide for our needs, just as a shepherd does for his sheep. And as the “sheep of his pasture” we have a responsibility to acknowledge His possession of us and to follow him. When we look to God in His Word and are obedient to His instructions we find we are exercising this directive principle. John 14:21, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me”; Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all”
This is a brand new horse, Mary said, as she stood next to the mare who had bucked her off several weeks before. She said that after a skilled trainer had spent time with the horse, the animal had returned with a new personality. She explained, “Before, this horse’s attitude was, Go away; don’t bother me. Now, when I approach her, it’s as if she’s saying what would you like me to do? I don’t know how the trainer did it, but my horse has a whole new outlook on life.
This caused me to think of God’s command in Psalm 32:9. He said do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you. The psalm speaks of knowing God in a relationship characterized by guidance, trust, and joy. The Lord seemed to be saying to me that He did not want to have to use force on me. He doesn’t want me to be so stubborn that it takes external controls to make me obey Him. He just wants me to give Him my love. When we are yielded to our loving Lord, we will welcome His approach. There is no need for the spiritual bit and bridle when we serve Him obediently from the heart.
STEP TWO – Responding to God’s Ownership
A born-again believer who wants to excel in their spiritual life and be winners in their service for Christ must be disciplined and is of the upmost importance in recognizing God’s ownership of us. However, we must go a step further and respond to His ownership by exercising ourselves in the following four principles.
A. THE LIVING PRINCIPLE
Since Jesus Christ has redeemed us (the redemption principle), we are obligated to glorify Him with our lives. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s”. Our hearts should be fixed on loving and knowing Him – Philippians 3:10. This was David’s goal when he wrote, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD.” – (Psalm 19:14).
As born-again believers in Christ we must live consistently and be an example, as the apostle Paul stated in 1 Timothy 4:11, 12. Paul suggested that Timothy could establish his credibility by being an example of the believer in word, in conversation or conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith and in purity. A healthy believer who lives an excellent Christ like life and so wins the respect of others and influences their lives. However, exercising ourselves in godly living is not only profitable for us; it is also profitable for others, and enables us to be good examples, so that we can encourage others.
B. THE SERVING PRINCIPLE
If we stop and consider what God has done for us, in that, He made us, bought us and leads us; we should naturally want to serve Him enthusiastically, with our whole heart and body in return. Colossians 3:23, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men”. We should serve Him by living out this principle by performing whatever service He asks of us, whether witnessing for him, performing family or work obligations and especially serving Him in our local churches. We are not to neglect the gift as stated in 1 Timothy 4:14, “Do not neglect the gift that is in you.”
God never gives a person a task without also providing them with what’s necessary to perform the responsibility. W. W. Dawley, referring to this truth, says, “God gave Moses a rod, David a sling, Samson the jawbone of a donkey, Esther the beauty of person, Deborah the talent for poetry, Dorcas a needle, and Apollos an eloquent tongue, and to each the ability to use that gift. In so doing, every one of them did most effective works for the Lord.”
Our heavenly Father has given at least one spiritual gift to each of us, and He provides all we need to carry out our individual responsibilities for that gift (1 Corinthians 12:6-7). Thus, we are all essential in the body of Christ. Acknowledging these truths isn’t only a source of comfort and encouragement, but it is also a sobering reality, for it places before us an important obligation, in that God’s gifts to us must not be squandered! We must develop our gifts He has given and use them in service to the local church or wherever God has placed us. These gifts must be fully used, because someday “each of us shall give account to God concerning our gift or gifts He has given us” (Romans 14:12).
(1) What spiritual gift has the Lord given you?
(2) More importantly are you using your spiritual gift for His glory, honor, and the blessing of others?
The difference between the living and serving principle is this. The living principle is a matter of attitude and inward spiritual condition while the serving principle is an outward display of what is truly in our hearts.
C. THE PRAYING PRINCIPLE
This principle calls for us to give ourselves and our needs to God instead of taking matters into our own hands. Philippians 4:6, 7, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”. Since we understand that He loves us and will care for us (Philippians 4:19), we can let go of our anxiety about the future and rest completely in Him (Luke 12:22, 23). In that sense, prayer is the ultimate response of trust in God.
There is no matter too small or too large to commit to Him in prayer. In 1 John 5:14, we read, “If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us.” We should make prayer another daily exercise, keeping constantly in touch with God – 1 Thessalonians. 5:17, “Pray without ceasing”. Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need”; Daniel 6:10, “He knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom”; Psalm 145:18, “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth”
I’m reminded of the following story regarding a little girl who had been begging her mother for a kitten … a kitten belonging to a Romanian pastor became stranded in a tree. To get the cat down, the pastor threw a rope over the branch and tied it to his car’s bumper. Driving slowly forward, he pulled the branch down to within reach. Just then the rope snapped and the frightened feline went flying through the air and was nowhere to be found. The next day the pastor met a neighbor. “You’ll never believe what happened yesterday!” she exclaimed. “My little girl had been begging for a kitten, but I told her she could have one only if Jesus gave it to her. So she ran outside, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Jesus, please give me a kitty of my very own to love and care for. Amen.’ Just then a kitten with paws outstretched fell right out of heaven!”
Whether or not this story is true, it makes the point that asking is basic to prayer. Jesus taught His disciples to say, “Give us,” “Forgive us,” “Deliver us” (Matthew 6:11-13). But our asking must always be based on a desire to please God and to advance His purpose on earth. James said, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). That’s why we must learn about God from His Word. Then our asking will glorify Him. Psalm 116:2 states, “Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live”
I want to introduce you to Margaret the battler. More than 90 years of memories and faith are her legacy, but she’s not ready to surrender. Her life is full of the physical pain that often accompanies old age, and even though she’s too weak to walk anymore, Margaret isn’t done with her ministry. Despite her increasing feebleness, and despite her near deafness and inability to move around, Margaret has a ministry that reaches far beyond the walls of the nursing home where she lives. Every day, often for hours at a time, she sits in her chair with a stack of prayer cards and prays diligently for missionaries.
And sometimes, when she can push her frail body to do so, she kneels beside her bed on creaky knees to talk with God. Margaret doesn’t have much more than prayer to offer her Lord. She is the essence of the answer to the question in Psalm 116:12, “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me?” Verse 13 answers, “I will … call upon the name of the LORD.” A lifetime of being sustained by God’s love, grace, and mercy is just about over for Margaret. In the face of mounting physical weakness, she is staying spiritually strong to the end. Oh to have her courage and dedication … at any age!
D. THE TITHING PRINCIPLE
This principle says that we should give God the first portion of all our earnings. Malachi 3:10, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it”. The tithe is a basic response to God’s authority, acknowledging His ownership of ourselves and all we have. When we tithe, we say to God, “I belong to you; the world belongs to you; my possessions belong to you.” When we tithe, we express our willingness to trust Him to meet our needs. 2 Corinthians 9:7, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver”!
STEP THREE – Resting in God’s Ownership
Demanding exercise programs require periods of rest. According to Hebrews 4:9-16, there is a rest available to God’s people. Our ultimate rest will come at the end of time when God rewards us, but until then, we can rest in Him by trusting Him. When we do so, we will be willing to give to others, and as a result, we will ourselves receive. You can rest in Him through these three mental principle exercises:
A. THE TRUSTING PRINCIPLE
This principle means taking God at His Word. It is an activity of mind that controls the emotions and leads the will to direct the body in actions of obedience to Him. If we trust fully in God (Psalm 118:8 ), we can have peace of mind (Isaiah 26:3) and know that our future is in His hands – Matthews 6:33, 34, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself”.
God Was At Columbine – This item appeared in a newspaper after the 1999 fatal shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado: Dear God: Why didn’t you save the children of the Littleton school? Sincerely, a student. Dear Student: I am not allowed in schools. – Sincerely, God.
The intended message seems clear: If we bring God back into the public schools by allowing prayer and Bible reading, then such tragedies would most likely not occur. Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, one thing is sure, laws can’t keep God out of school. They didn’t that fateful day at Columbine High! God reached out to the gunmen through those who confessed their faith in Jesus Christ before being shot. He was there in the courage of a teacher who gave his life helping students escape.
God may be doing His greatest work when evil seems to triumph. When Job looked back, he saw that his suffering gave him a new understanding of God. At Calvary, man crucified the only sinless One who ever lived, yet God turned history’s darkest day into man’s redemption. Keep trusting God. Those who go through the greatest darkness are those who most fully appreciate the glory of His light. Remember, God looks for people who will trust Him fully and give Him their loyalty. When He finds them, He faithfully leads them, works through them, and gives them His peace. If you want God to go with you, you must go with God.
B. THE GIVING PRINCIPLE
This principle teaches that we express our faith through giving. If we are truly resting in God and trusting in His promises, we feel free to give to others. Luke 6:38,”Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again”. We realize that our life is in His hands and that if He commands us to give, then we must give, whether it makes sense from a human standpoint or not. In essence, what we are saying to God is, “I will give all to you.” All includes our money, our service to Christ through the local church and our aid to others who have needs (James 2:14-17). We can conclude from James that if we do not express our faith through appropriate spiritual exercises, then our faith is not genuine.
To illustrate this principle, after the war in Korea, a Westerner traveling through the countryside noticed an old man and a young boy struggling to pull a plow through the soil to prepare a small field for planting. When the foreigner greeted them, they stopped and straightened up with a groan. They showed no self-pity but flashed a friendly smile. The Westerner, who was a Christian, learned their story. They were believers too. Their little chapel had been destroyed in the war. The Christians who had survived agreed to rebuild their place of worship, and each member gave what he could. The old man and the boy were so destitute, however, that they had no money to contribute.
They had lost their family and their home in the fighting, and the only thing that remained was their ox. After earnestly praying, they had decided to sell it and give the money to help rebuild the chapel! Now they had to pull the plow themselves. The Westerner reported, “To them, the gift was not a sacrifice but a delight.” The Macedonian churches in Paul’s day were poor, but they gave with that same kind of spirit. Paul said that they gave “beyond their ability”, and their giving was not a sacrifice but a delight. That kind of giving makes me feel a little uncomfortable. How about you?
C. THE RECEIVING PRINCIPLE
If we willingly give to others, God will in return supply our needs (Malachi 3:10; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Philippians 4:19). The Macedonians first gave themselves to the Lord. The Philippian church first gave to the ministry of Christ being accomplished through Paul. Then God supplied their needs, but God’s unlimited supply is for those who exercise obedience. He cannot be bribed by token monetary gifts in hopes of buying His favor. We must give with a thankful and cheerful heart.
When my two boys were growing up, we used to measure them by asking each one to stand next to the door frame, so that we could measure how tall they were, by putting a pencil mark beside their name. Each time they wanted me to measure them, the mark on the door frame kept getting higher and higher. Measurements can also be indicators of our spiritual growth. For example:
(1) Do you spend time reading God’s Word and talking with Him each day?
(2) Do you look forward to fellowshipping with the Lord?
(3) What “fruit of the Spirit” is apparent in your life?
(4) Do you talk about Jesus with people who don’t know Him?
(5) How are you using your spiritual gift or gifts?
(6) Do you have a generous and giving spirit?
(7) How much better do you know God today than you did a year ago?
My brethren, these are some good indicators of our spiritual growth. As a child seems too grow up all of a sudden, it’s actually a continual process. Just as Jesus grew in both wisdom and stature, we as born-again believers, are to continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). We are no longer to be children, but to “grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15). We must always remember that there are no shortcuts to our spiritual maturity. So, my beloved brethren, “Have you measured yourself lately?”
Salvation is the miracle of a moment; growth is the labor of a lifetime.