This post is a follow-up to January 8th’s “Be Fit in 2019: Theologically primarily and bodily secondarily.” Yesterday, I did the first follow-up by having an Everyman How-To approach to physical fitness, and my sister will be contributing next week with an Everywoman How-To approach to physical fitness. Today, I want to provide a four step How-To of spiritual fitness for literally everybody. I know we live in a day and age where people reject the idea of a “One-size-fits-all” for pretty much anything; however, the fact is the basic elements of spiritual health are the same for everyone. Let me walk you through these elements…
- Cover yourself in the grace of God.
We live in an age of quazi-spiritual truths and little more than spiritual modification. We like to be “religious,” but we like to feel like we are in control of our spiritual well-being or somehow contributing to it. This leads people to inherently believe in a “Works” based view of spiritual health and fitness. So, people think they are doing well when they are DOING the “right” things. So, they base their spiritual health off of whether or not they are helping a lot of people, feeding the homeless, giving away some money, and things like this. The problem with this is no matter how much you do you will never do enough to reach the standard of perfection necessary for a perfect God. Just think about it, if God exists then you will not be able to find a greater moral being or a finer standard for perfection; God literally is the standard of perfection, because He is Holy, and we want to be Holy as He is Holy. The issue with this is obvious! We will never be holy enough in and of ourselves!
Our sin and our imperfection is precisely the reason why God’s grace is said to be “Amazing Grace.” Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by GRACE you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing it is the work of God, so no one may boast.” None of us will ever be able to work our way into salvation. None of us can boast of anything we do or have done, because it is all just rags and rubbish in comparison to the standard of God’s holiness. You see, this is what makes the Gospel so wonderful! At the cross, Jesus exchanged His perfection for a sinner’s punishment. We were the ones who deserved to be put to death, and yet “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for the ungodly.” Now, because of what Jesus has done for us by shedding his blood for us as our redemption, we are now able to sing ourselves, “I once was lost, but now I’m found. I was blind but now I see.”
The way we are found and the way we are able to see is NOT by doing a bunch of spiritual things or good works, but it’s actually by being covered by the grace of God. This is true whether we are believers yet or not. For a non-believer, the way forward is to respond to the Gospel message of Jesus that He loved you and He died for you and raised from the dead conquering sin and death for you and all who believe in Him, and the way you should respond is in faith. And we are told then that when we respond in faith we receive the grace of God, which means we receive what we don’t deserve, and we didn’t earn without earning it; but only because God loves us and He wants us to be a part of His family and to live lives glorifying Him for eternity. But, if you already are a Christian covering yourself in the grace of God is also the way forward for you. As you live the Christian life, and as you grow, you don’t need LESS of God’s grace, but you come to understand your need for God’s grace more and more! Yes, you may already be covered by God’s grace, but now move forward by absolutely immersing yourself in the grace of God. The song goes, “Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me; Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away-they’re washed away.” Allow the grace of God to flood your life as you seek spiritual health.
I love this quote from Paul Tripp…
“This is what grace does. It rescues us from our spiritual blindness. It releases us from our bondage to our rationalism and materialism. Grace gives us the faith to be utterly assured of what we cannot see. It frees us from refusing to believe in anything we cannot experience with our physical senses. But grace does more. It connects us to the invisible One in an eternal love relationship that fills us with joy we have never known before and gives us rest of heart that we would have thought impossible.”
2. Constantly Repent
The grace of God always leads to repentance. Repentance is both a one-time thing and a continual thing. We repent by turning away from ourselves and our lives of sin, and once and for all deciding we will instead follow Christ and live for Him; but, we also repent then on a daily basis in our Christian life as we seek to follow Jesus. Even after coming to faith, none of us ever become perfect, but we live lives of many ups-and downs; we have many valleys and mountaintops in our walks with Christ. As we immerse ourselves in grace more and more this is going to lead not to less repenting, but actually to more repenting and turning away from our selfishness and greed, so we can instead be turning to Jesus.
Spurgeon wrote of the link between grace and repentance…
“Repentance was never yet produced in any man’s heart apart from the grace of God. As soon may you expect the leopard to regret the blood with which its fangs are moistened,- as soon might you expect the lion of the wood to abjure his cruel tyranny over the feeble beasts of the plain, as expect the sinner to make any confession, or offer any repentance that shall be accepted of God, unless grace shall first renew the heart.”
All true repentance is thus grace motivated repentance. We all can fake repentance and appear to be “doing the right things,” but if the root in the heart is not actually God’s grace, then this apparent repentance will eventually be revealed as false. But when we experience the real Gospel grace of God what happens is summarized beautifully in Gal. 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who lives but Christ in me.” The Holy Spirit indwells a believer by God’s grace, because of the faith we have received from God, and this means Christ lives within us by the power of the Spirit He has sent to us, and this enables us to constantly be changed by the grace of God and constantly repenting in our lives. Because God has changed my eternity by His grace I now know I need to repent, daily, hourly, and minute-by-minute. For us to grow in spiritual health and fitness it begins with grace and leads to repentance.
3. Listen to God regularly
I’m not suggesting you lock yourself in a closet and wait for God to say something to you. I’m suggesting God has already spoken and continues to speak today in a very real and a very clear way, In His written Word. His written Word is found in the Bible, and the Bible is thus where we must turn if we are going to listen to God. The way any relationship grows is by listening and getting to know the other person in the relationship better. This is why I am so dumbfounded to hear of Christians who claim their relationship with God is the most important thing in their life, and yet they don’t “have the time,” to listen to God on a regular basis. There is absolutely NO reason whatsoever why you shouldn’t be prioritizing a daily time to read God’s Word. How many of you go a whole day without talking to your spouse? How many of you go a day without talking to your kids? Or your friends, or whoever it is you find important? How much more, then, should we be having a daily time to listen to God in His word?
What we find when we commit to regular reading of the Bible is that our lenses by which we see our world are constantly transformed and renewed. God does His Work by His Word through His Spirit. This means God works in our lives and in our world as He speaks to us and we take His words in and then live them out all by the help of the Holy Spirit. I’m not suggesting you have to read the McCheyne plan every year or read straight through from Genesis through Revelation every few months, but there you should be listening to God on whatever plan fits your ability to take in God’s Word, think it over, pray it over, and then apply it. For me, this means I usually am reading 2 chapters of the Bible per day + I read the one chapter from the Old Testament I plan to teach that week + I read the one chapter from the New Testament I plan to teach that week which = 4 chapters of the Bible per day.
A.W. Tozer helps us to think this through…
“The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection. And we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”
4. Talk to God regularly
A relationship grows by both listening and communicating back. God is the source of all knowledge, truth, wisdom, and is our great help, and so therefore, it is more important that we hear from Him, because when we hear from Him in the Bible we replace our own faulty and fallible ideas with His perfect revelation and His infallible knowledge and wisdom. The Almighty God has revealed Himself to us in His Word, and we can have insight into the Ultimate Good’s mind when we listen to Him, and that is truly amazing! But, God wants us to communicate with Him as well.
This is why Jesus says in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” God wants us to pray to Him and even uses our prayers as a means by which we will not fall into temptation. Also consider 1 John 5:14, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God; that if we ask anything according to his will; he hears us.” I italicized “according to his will,” because often people quote this verse without emphasizing that part. So, some false-preachers have told people to approach God confidently and we can ask Him anything, but you’ll notice that is NOT what this verse means. This verse means when we ask God “according to His will,” God listens to us. How do we know if something is according to His will? Well, because we have listened to His will in His Word, and as we come to know the truth of His Word, we then know how to ask God according to His will. If you aren’t reading His Word then you don’t know His will, and therefore you probably are not asking God according to His will. Prayer really matters! James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” God listens to our prayers and He answers some of our prayers. Now, it is important for us also to realize God is just and still loving even when He does not answer our prayers. We need to remember that Jesus even asked in one of His prayers “If it is possible take this cup from me, but not my will but yours.” Jesus was right and did not sin in requesting from His Father, however, His Father did not grant Jesus’ request. Also, we should all read the Psalms to see that Go wants us to come to Him with all of our prayers not only the happy and nice ones. In the Psalms, you will find agonizing cries, and even wishes for death, and all of these are being brought forth in honest prayer to God. God wants us to communicate with Him, and He even uses our prayer life to cause us to grow and be spiritually healthy.
Martin Luther once said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” I think you should be seeking to pray and speak with God as often as possible. There is no reason why you can’t pray on your way to a hard conversation. You can pray before you make a tough phone call. You can pray on vacation when everything is good, and you can pray in the dredges when everything is miserable. God is available to you and as long as you turn to Him in faith and pray according to His will then He listens to your prayers of joy, lament, misery, fear, pain, confusion. He answers your requests for wisdom or for closing or opening a door. You meet God in your Bible and God meets with you in your prayer life. The apostle Paul once wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” What I love about that verse is I love knowing Paul was imprisoned on the basis of his faith when he wrote that, and yet Paul knows for certain the peace of God which transcended his present understanding, and that peace guarded His heart and His mind in Christ Jesus all the way up until he was martyred for his faith.
The wonderful thing about being theologically fit is that the core and base elements can be done by anybody and they are available for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you are smart or rich, or super smart or quite simple, and it doesn’t matter if you’re an American, African, Asian, European, whatever-it doesn’t matter. Everybody has an equal opportunity to cover ourselves in the grace of God, constantly repent of our sins, listen to God in His Word, and talk to God in prayer.