We have spent time talking about our need to pursue holiness from the command given by God, “but, as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). In our efforts to attain this goal, we have spoken about fighting temptation and ways to avoid falling into the snare of Satan.
In our series on holiness, I hope we have been able to walk away with at least four important concepts concerning holiness. (1) Holiness means we need to separate ourselves from sin. (2) To pursue holiness means we must take sin seriously just as God takes sin seriously. (3) We must take responsibility for our sins and not try to blame others for our fall. (4) Holiness demands that we make a commitment to try with all our might not to sin. In each of these statements, we see holiness begins in the mind. Holiness requires personal responsibility for sins and personal commitment to separate ourselves from sin.
Holiness prepares the way for the practice of godliness. Without a mind to be holy just as God is holy, we will never transform ourselves in the image of God and be godly as He has called us. Holiness will lead us to godliness. As we study our need for godliness and ways we can become godly, Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 will be our theme, “Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
I. Training In Godliness
A. Training- Personal work
First, let us begin with the word “train” in this passage. The NKJV uses the word “exercise” and the NASU uses the word “discipline.” The word “training” gives us the right idea of an athlete who is preparing his body and his mind for the event he is about to compete in. Paul calls for us to be in training.
I think it is important here to notice who is doing the training. Paul says “train yourselves.” We have returned ourselves to God’s repeating concept of personal responsibility. I have to train myself to the task. Even when an athlete hires a trainer to guide the athlete through the proper exercises, the trainer can show what must be done, but the athlete still must do the work. I believe this is the idea in Christianity. We have one another as trainers to show and teach each other what we must do. But that information is useless if we do not do the training ourselves. Too often we think that having the training information is all we need.
At home, I have a men’s health magazine that has exercises that will help lose weight and become trim and fit. I really like the article because it diagrammed and pictured how the exercises were supposed to be completed. I have saved that article and it remains in the drawer of my nightstand, waiting for the day when I will actually pull it out and do the exercises. We are frequently treating God this way by reading our Bibles and coming to services, yet not doing the exercises that we are learning. So we come back another week and hear more about the training we must do, yet we fail to raise a finger in our own training. It is not the trainer’s fault if the athlete fails in the competition when the athlete did not put in the work.
Why is it that we are able to put so much work and dedication into our business, into our work, into our homes, into our studies, and yet we put no effort into our spiritual lives? Why will we not put the same dedication that we have in these physical arenas into the spiritual pursuits of God? Training in the Lord is far more valuable, yet we give it the least amount of our time. Did you see what Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:7-8? Physical training has some value. But training in godliness has value in all areas of our lives for the present life and for the life to come.
Do you see what Paul is saying? We spend so much time in diets and exercise and other physical aspects of training. Paul tells us that there is some value in those things, but only for the physical body. However, training in godliness affects all areas of our lives. If we will train ourselves in godliness, we would see dramatic changes and differences in our lives. Why? As Paul said, godliness is profitable for all things, and he is not simply talking about our destination of our eternal souls. He says that this training is good for us right now. We will have healthier lives emotionally, spiritually, physically, and socially when we are training ourselves in the Lord. The void that a lack of the Lord brings is far reaching and we often ignore that it is this void that is really the problem. We think it is money, our jobs, our friends, or something else that is the problem. But the reality is that many times we have dropped off in our training in godliness and it is deeply affecting our lives.
We want the spiritual work to be done for us. We want it to mystically happen where we are suddenly godly, spiritually knowledgeable, and strong in the Lord. But these things will not happen without constant training.
B. Training-Personal Growth
Not only does training in godliness affect all things in our lives, but it also has a very important purpose: growth in the Lord. Without training in godliness, we will never achieve the goals of being conformed into the image of Christ and adopting His character. This was the idea that Paul was trying to help us understand in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Again, Paul makes a parallel from the athlete to the Christian. Paul says that everyone who wants to compete in a race goes into strict training. We see athletes who are serious about winning do this all the time. There are no days off but they are always training and trying to improve themselves so they can receive the prize. They do this for something that is perishable and that will be given to another the following year. But we have reason to put forth this effort because we are striving for the crown that will last forever. The purpose is so that we grow to the point that we can win the race and gain the prize. Paul even says that he is disciplining and training himself so that he will not be disqualified. We also must be training ourselves so that we are not disqualified from receiving the crown of life when our lives are done.
II. Training Requirements
A. Training requires commitment
Without the commitment to full training, then any training regiment is useless. A diet does not work if it is only applied on certain days and at certain times. Training does not work unless it is consistently applied on a daily basis. I think our sports athletes prove this: when they do not put in their work time during the offseason, then come in to the season unable to perform to what is expected of them.
Consider the commitment that the writers of the New Testament described was necessary to train in godliness. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). Three times Paul described the commitment needed as one who is always pressing and straining forward to reach the goal.
The scriptures are full of repeated commands to “make every effort” (Hebrews 12:14; 2 Peter 1:5-7; etc). This is a call to commitment. We will not give every effort we have to reach the goal of godliness if we have not committed ourselves to make such a sacrifice. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that there is not sacrifice involved. Training is all about foregoing certain things to become a better athlete. The writer of Hebrews said it similarly, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). Training is a hard process that we will give up on unless we truly commit ourselves to the goal. We must keep in mind the crown ahead of us and the life improvements we will have in this life while we put forth our training.
B. Training requires a readiness to learn and improve
There is no point to training unless we are ready to make changes in our lifestyle. I am not training in exercise by remaining on the couch changing channels. Training means that I am will to change my current course to a more challenging course so that I can reach the goal.
Paul again described these improvements and changes we must make in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” Training is all about the willingness to change and improve. If we are stubborn about how we are living and we are just perfectly content where we are, then our training will be useless. We have to see that changes are needed and that where we are is not good enough. If Paul said he had to constantly press forward and strain to reach the goal, I suppose that is good advice for us. If he felt that he may become disqualified by not training, perhaps we should see that we need to also train ourselves.
Jesus said, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Are you like Christ? If not, then we have not been fully trained yet and still require more training to be like Him. Until we open our minds and hearts and become ready to make changes to our personality, our character, our emotions, our attitudes, and our thinking we cannot become training in godliness. We must open the door into our souls and see our faults and train to make changes.
C. Training is about repeated practice
Training consists of much practice. Great basketball players take the same shot over and over until they become good at it. Then they find another spot and shoot from there over and over. Magic Johnson, one of the greatest point guards and ball handlers in basketball, said he took a basketball with him everywhere he went. He would dribble a ball to school, to the store, in the front yard, everywhere he was. He became the greatest through practice.
If we are going to become like Christ and take on His character so we receive the crown, we are going to need some practice. Paul said, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Paul says that the word of God is the teacher. The word of God is profitable for us to become complete in the sight of God for every good work. It is how we are trained in righteousness.
What can we do with the word of God so we are equipped for every good work? (1) We must hear the word of God often. It is important that we are speaking the things of God so that we can teach one another about it. Our Bible studies and our worship services are centered around giving God praise while we learn by teaching the word of God to each other. (2) We need to read the word of God often. Remember, we talked about this training being a personal work. You and I must find the time to read the word of God if we are going to be trained in godliness. It is a call to commit ourselves to get a Bible and read it daily. If Magic Johnson said he dribbled a ball ever day to become a great basketball player, what should we do with the word of God if we want to be like Christ? We have many opportunities to read just for a few minutes, from reading during lunch breaks to reading while eating breakfast to reading just before bed. Let us try to soak in the word of God daily. (3) We must study the word of God. Not only is the word of God profitable for our reading, but we must study it as well, asking questions as we read, trying to learn what God is communicating to us. (4) We will begin to memorize the word of God. When we are reading and studying the word of God, you will be surprised that you will retain much of what you read and eventually memorize passages. I have never set out to memorize the scriptures, yet I have many committed to memory just by daily study. You can do the same. (5) Think about the word of God. Even when a Bible is not handy, think about what you learn in Bible class, in the lesson, and in your readings. This will also help you in your pursuit to be like Christ.