Today I thought I would share a lesson from a couple of years ago which is one of my favorites. The reason I like it so much is that to put it simply, it works! As we start the New Year my prayer is that it will help you as much as it has helped me.
With Christmas now behind us, most will now set their sights on the upcoming New Year with more than a few considering what has become a tradition we call New Years Resolutions. For many the start of a New Year signifies a time where we evaluate our past, and resolve to do things differently in the future. We talked last week about the feeling we get when we receive a gift far more costly than the one we gave in return, and the knowledge that God's gift to us was the most expensive one He could give. If the thought that the gift you gave in return, your life, is less than it could be, I have good news. The Bible tells us just how we can improve that gift in order to increase it's worth, and to make it even more pleasing to God. Consider what Paul had to say in the following passage.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Romans 12:1-2 KJV
So we choose to give our bodies to God as a gift, and as Paul tells us, it needs to be holy and acceptable. But just how do we accomplish that? Well according to Paul, it is by transforming. The Greek word for "transformed" used here is metamorphoō, from where we get the word metamorphosis, which means to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure. Now since the New Year is where many choose to make a resolution to change their physical appearance by going on a diet or committing to an exercise program, I thought we might look at how transforming our spiritual bodies could follow some of the same principles as the physical.
One of my favorite memories of raising daughters was the time one of them looked at some pictures of me taken when I was an athlete in college. Rather than saying how good I looked or what a fine example of physical fitness I was, her comment was; "why don't you look like that anymore?" So it was at that tender moment I decided maybe I should pay a little more attention to exercise and fitness. Of course, at the same time I was busy teaching about Paul's advice to new believers and as I began to lay out a fitness program, I couldn't help but notice that the rules I came up with for physical fitness were very applicable for spiritual fitness. So let me share with you my three steps to getting in shape, spiritually first of course but then the physical as well.
Desire. Now I know this might seem to be at first glance a simple, if not entirely logical first step, but I would like to make the point that it depends entirely on how you define desire. I rather like the biblical definition myself.
As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
1 Peter 2:2 KJV
The word used here for "desire" is epipotheo' which is translated to long for, or to pursue with love. Most importantly, however, is the fact that it is a verb. Now I would be the first to admit I have forgotten most of what I learned in English class, but I do remember what a verb is. It means action, doing something. To desire something in the biblical sense is not to just sit on the couch and wish for it, but to act upon that desire and pursue it. You have to make the effort. This is our first step to spiritual fitness; to desire to transform ourselves. What do we desire? Paul says "milk of the word", which to us as believers is knowledge of the scriptures, the word of God. This brings us to the second step.
Acquire. In order to begin to grow spiritually, we need the raw material which will make us strong. Our spiritual muscles need the protein we get from the word of God.
Wisdom [is] the principal thing; [therefore] get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding
Proverbs 4:7 KJV
Solomon tells us that as believers we need to "acquire" wisdom and "understanding". The Hebrew word used here for "get" is the verb qanah, which means to get, acquire, obtain. Anyone who has ever tried to get in better physical shape understands the need to carefully monitor what we take in for nutrition. Certain things will help us grow the way we want, just as certain foods will help us grow as we don't want. The Bible makes it clear that in order to get in spiritual shape we need to acquire the knowledge and wisdom to be found in the word of God in order to become stronger believers.
Taking in the right food, though, won't help us without the third, and most important part of our program.
Perspire. I know this is the part most people fail at when trying to transform their appearance. It starts out with exercise every day, then three days a week, then one, then "I just don't have the time". Exercise is an absolute when trying to get in shape, and it is no different when it comes to spiritual fitness.
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Phillipians 2:12 KJV
So here you wonder just how hard I had to look to find the words "work" and "out" together in the Bible? Not to mention they are two words and not one? Well, actually it is one word translated as two and it is the Greek word katergazomai, which means to work out i.e. to do that from which something results. When Paul tells the Phillipians they need to "workout" their salvation, he is simply telling them that as believers, it is time for them to stop relying on his (Paul's) help since he has left them, and to begin to rely on God's help through the power of the Holy Spirit to live their lives in such a way as to glorify God. And, as you should have expected by now, the word workout in the Greek is also a verb.
In order to transform our lives into a gift to God which He will find pleasing, we must embrace the concept of action. It is a life of doing, not wishing. Desire, acquire, perspire. Three verbs, three steps to becoming the believer God expects us to be. If you feel the need to make a New Years resolution, may it be to become the child of God He wants you to be. But don't wait too long, who knows how long we have left to get in shape?