Christmas and the New Year have come and gone, and now we are told to set our sights on making 2019 the best year ever. In the proverbial wisdom of Rafiki from Disney’s ‘The Lion King,’ we are told, “Don’t live in the past. Learn from it!” Eat healthier, exercise more, and get out of debt. Spiritually minded folks are called to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness…since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come…” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8a). New Year’s resolutions, and particularly this last one, illicit one of three responses.
For those who are antagonistic and/or apathetic towards God, a call to pursue godliness rings hollow. “Discipline” gives us the English word “gymnasium” and means “exercise” or “train.” Those who aren’t in a relationship with God aren’t going to expend effort to know Him better. Remarkably, God is interested in us regardless of our attitude towards Him. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The pursuit of godliness will not be hollow for those who have a relationship with God through faith in Christ.
For others, the command to “discipline yourself” is heavy. If we believe Paul is teaching that through our efforts we earn God’s favor, then His command is like a ball and chain weighing us down. Previously Paul had condemned legalism so that is not in view here. The disciplined heart acts out of devotion (love for God), not duty.
Believers in Christ who correctly understand Paul’s command find it helpful. My daughter and I watched 3 men run 1,600 meters at the Drake Relays in under 4 minutes. This was a result of training, not trying. I could try to run that fast, but only training makes it possible.
Good servants of Christ “train for the purpose of godliness.” Godliness is that state of spiritual virtue resulting from the power of Christ working in us (2 Peter 1:3), and from our concerted efforts to join in the work (1Timothy 6:11). To train for the purpose of godliness means ordering our lives around a set of practices that will enable us to reach a level of spiritual maturity that we would not naturally reach no matter how hard we tried (2 Timothy 2:3-5). Practices like reading, memorizing, and meditating on God’s word, worshiping with other believers, and prayer profit us with contentment and Christlike living now, and with blessings in the life to come.
Training is neither natural nor accidental, but deliberate and intentional. Let’s be intentionally spiritual in 2019!