What is the connection between physical fitness and sanctification? Is physical fitness a part of sanctification? A seminary friend of mine went to the Desiring God conference on sanctification this year, and I am currently taking a class on sanctification, so this has been a question that has come up in my own reflection several times. Here are some thoughts.
1. God recognizes the importance of physical fitness.
1 Timothy 4:8 reads:
“For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way…”
God values good stewardship of our bodies. If the body was of no importance, Paul’s point could have been made much clearer by saying something like, Forget bodily training–godliness is the thing that matters. We have been created as physical beings. There is nothing wrong with our bodies. Sure, they may be imperfect, but they were created by a God who declared them to be very good (Gen. 1:31). God calls for stewardship of the gifts that he has given us, and that includes that which he called ‘very good.’
2. Our bodies belong to God.
Continuing, our bodies belong to God. In undergrad, I went to a Christian liberal arts college where we were required to take a “Concepts of Physical Fitness” class. Inevitably, 1 Cor. 6:19 was quoted as a reason for having a healthy lifestyle.
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,”
Unfortunately, this class made no mention of the original context of Paul’s writing: the joining of the believer with a prostitute in sexual union. Paul was not thinking of a healthy lifestyle when he was writing this passage.
With that being said, I want to focus on the last phrase of this verse: you are not your own. Ultimately, our bodies do not belong to us, picking up on the stewardship theme I mentioned earlier. Again–let us be good stewards of the bodies that God has given us. This is largely a practical question. Unhealthy people die earlier, and their quality of life is lower. So how can you best passionately pursue the Lord with vigor? Living a healthy life. How can you minister to those around you for longer? Living a healthy life. Be a good steward of your body.
3. We are holistic beings.
Third, God created us as holistic beings–we are not just souls. A lack of discipline in one area tends to lead to a lack of discipline in another area. If you are disciplined in getting up every morning to work out, your discipline in exercise often bleeds into your discipline in spiritual matters. I know from experience that when I am more active and intentional about eating healthy, I find times with God to be richer as well.
In the same vein, two areas of sin are addressed through being a good steward of one’s physical body: laziness and gluttony. Both are condemned by God, and both have to do with our physical bodies.
So, to conclude: God cares about our physical state. We are called to be good stewards of that gift. There is also a connection between discipline in one’s spiritual walk and physical activity (though certainly not an absolute connection).
Does this mean that everyone has to have a six-pack? Absolutely not. You know your body better than most other people, and you know how you can be faithful to the gift God has given you.
Balance. I would encourage it for all of us. For those who only focus on spirituality, start being a better steward of your body, not at the expense of your spirituality, but in addition to it. For those who only focus on physical activity, don’t neglect the area of your life that Scripture states has much more value than physical training (1 Tim. 4:8). Finish well.