It is no accident that Paul used an athletic metaphor to describe the pursuit of godliness. Paul know there was the potential for victory or loss, so to assure our victory in this spiritual contest, he warned us to exercise. In 1 Timothy 4:7 he used the verb train, which is the Greek word gumnazo, which is where we get our word gymnasium. The word speaks of not just training, but of “the focused discipline behind the training.” Discipline demands commitment and consistency. You will never become godly by accident-an attitude of discipline must precede the pursuit of godliness.
The attitude of one who would be godly, is first and foremost, one of focus. Satan has any number of distractions waiting in the wings to keep us off the track toward godliness. Some of them are even good things–but not better than becoming like God. The way to keep our focus is to, as the book of Hebrews encouraged us, “fix our eyes on Jesus” (12:2NIV).
But simply having a goal and focus is not enough. Physical exercise requires sustained, rigorous effort. It is not easy. Spiritual exercise is no different. Displaying the character of Christ is work. It is the result of making a conscious decision to live your life based on who you are in Christ. Godliness is an act of volition. You must choose to walk, live, and act godly demands personal responsibility and commitment, which grow out of knowing who God is and knowing how committed He is to you. Once you understand that, then Paul said exercise.
But be aware that exercise is never done in the actual competition. It only prepares you for the competition. Once the contest starts, it’s too late to get into shape. When the bell righs or the first gun goes off, it’s too late to try and get in fifty crunches or a set of leg lifts. After the coin is tossed and positions are taken, this is not the time for skipping rope or jumping jacks. You have to be in shape before the game starts to have a chance at winning.
Spiritual exercise begins with Bible study, prayer, meditation, and fasting. It continues when we practice instant obedience to God’s will. We expand that exercise by allowing God to reign in our lives. Spiritual exercise is to be woven into the very fabric and foundation of our lives. That requires commitment, discipline, perseverance, and long suffering. We only grow to be the people God wants us to be when we allow our exercise to secure our foundations and stretch our abilities.