Holiness Is What Builds Strength
When we think of holiness, we don’t think of ourselves. I think it’s become difficult for us to make a connection to the idea of being holy, because of what that word means in the world today. Before I was a Christian, when I thought of holiness, my mind went straight to the Catholic Church. Holiness to me, meant taking celibate vows to become a priest or a nun. It meant joining a monestary or a convent, physically removing yourself from the outside world.
But, holiness is so much more than a religious construct; it is a condition of the body. Because God is holy, walking in His ways can produce in us rock-solid confidence, like it did in Jesus. When we have confidence in Christ, it can conquer any fears that may be hindering us. By conquering our fears, the Holy Spirit enters our minds and our bodies to overcome weakness. When Jesus was alive, He trained His disciples to be holy both spiritually and physically. This charge has been passed down to all those who follow Him.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. —Matt. 5:48
Answering the call to holiness enables us to resist unhealthy temptations in all circumstances. It helps us not eat what we shouldn’t eat through proper diet and drink how we should drink in moderation. It’s quite common in our communities for us to visit restaurants packed with remiss overeaters and bars filled with heavy drinkers. Our demeanor will either show approval of such behavior or reveal a setting apart that resembles God as our source of motivation in everything.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct. —1 Pet. 1:13–15
This concept emanates from the infallible attributes of God, who derives glory from His creation. So we must do all we can to glorify Him with our bodies. Jesus had zero sinful cravings and was never gluttonous, only blameless. So, too, must we conduct ourselves in a way in which others find zero fault. Since the Holy Spirit is never idle or lazy but always providing strength and empowerment, so, too, must we stay active, pursuing strength and our utmost for His highest.
Too many of us are unfamiliar with this idea of God’s holiness building our strength. The real issue is our heart. Even with a gym and a fitness center virtually on every corner, or mass production of in-home exercise equipment, the actual issue still needs to be addressed. How many gym memberships do you think get cancelled after 30 days or go unused for years at a time? How many weights and barbells end up in storage? How many treadmills and ab machines end up in a garage sale? Too many to count.
The real issue is hardly ever talked about because it calls into question our lifestyle and our preferred way of thinking. We will never overcome what we won’t confront, and what we refuse to confront is our dependence on God for everything.
Our Priorities Are Out of Whack
Before I considered my calling and purpose in life, I never thought of submitting my will to God or abstaining from anything for His sake. I focused more on sowing and reaping for my own elation and benefit. That was why my refrigerator was stocked with beer, butter, and biscuits. My freezer was stuffed with ice cream and hamburger patties, my pantry with potato chips and powdered donuts. I wanted big screen TVs throughout the whole house, closets full of high-dollar clothes and shoes I’d never wear. And, a simple mode of transportation wasn’t going to cut it. I had to have a sports car and a truck, a motorbike and a boat.
I wanted to be the master of all things, not a lowly servant. I wanted to be a self-assertive king, not a mere shepherd. I spent more and gave less, working hard for purchasing power and financial security as my safeguard. What I didn’t realize was that quite often, material things provided me with a false sense of well-being, pushing me further away from God. Then I dismissed holiness altogether, as if God were unnecessary and expendable.
Naturally, we want to be lords over our own lives. Even those of us who have obtained saving faith can struggle with being impartial to God. How often do we think about being holy? I know I never used to. I just wanted to fit into the norm and be well thought of by others according to my good deeds. It’s hard for some of us to pay attention to our health and fitness when we have so much other stuff going on.
It seems like our most pressing priorities are work, bills, rent, television shows, social media, and just hangin’ out. If we get around to exercise or physical activity, it’s typically one or two days a week. I call that “feeding the gym my leftovers.” I used to just jog on a treadmill in front of a mounted television screen. Or I’d plug my ears with hyped up music to distract myself from how out of breath I was and how painful it was to just be there.
I would sweat all over the StairMaster thinking, My God, when will this be over? I’d fantasize about what my next meal would be. I’d think about how much I deserved a large soda and a bacon double cheeseburger, a bottle of wine with lasagna, or a margarita with nachos. The struggle is real and we’re all going through it.
But in those difficulties, we aren’t turning to God for strength. We’re turning to the idea of rewarding ourselves with euphoric highs no matter what the cost or consequence. That idea dates back to the start of the human race—with Adam and Eve. When the devil convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, she mistakenly perceived that it would be more satisfying than obedience to God.
Our Bodies Crave Junk
We cannot study the original sin passage in Genesis chapter 3 of the Bible enough. It reveals so much about who we are—terribly deep down in our core. The Bible says the fall of humankind was the result of Adam and Eve’s touching, tasting, and eating what God had strictly prohibited. Stunningly, every sin is related and connected to a desired fulfillment for the body. Whether it’s the pleasure of tacos for a full stomach, the numbing effect of tequila for stress, or the joy of being high on illegal substances, all of them are either inhaled, consumed, or devoured for sensual purposes. But the call to be holy goes way beyond what we put in our bodies.
Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. —Mark 7:14–15
Jesus taught that it is not what goes into the body that makes a person gross, nasty, or despicable, but rather what comes out of the body through the heart. More than the precautionary measures in choosing what we eat or drink is the attitude behind why we eat or drink. So we ought to be inwardly concerned about self-control and outwardly focused on the example we set as followers of Christ. What are we thinking about when we stuff our faces with junk food or drink or smoke too much? Keeping physical obedience to God in the forefront of our minds is essential for staying in step with the Holy Spirit to break unhealthy habits.
A big part of being fit is living by the godly standard of internal cleanliness so the power and glory of Christ can shine externally to those around us. If we’re going to be fit, we must begin with an internal approach rather than an external approach. We needn’t be concerned with how to lose weight until we’ve discovered why we put it on in the first place.
Was it because of stress, carelessness, laziness, or all of the above? We shouldn’t want to add muscle to our bodies until we’ve had the chance to consider exactly why we think we need it. Is it for vain purposes or selfish gain? Do we have theological reasons stemming from a godly mindset to desire stronger, healthier bodies?
The Definition of Fitness
Contrary to popular belief, fitness is not defined as bulging biceps and six-pack abs. Strength, power, energy, and endurance are all perfectly demonstrated by God who has no body. Fitnessis defined by the cultivation of God’s grace, the transfer of Jesus’s strength,and the refinement of the Holy Spirit’s empowerment in us and through us. Scripture spells this out in no uncertain terms.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses… hardships.…For when I am weak, then I am strong. —2 Cor. 12:9–10
We can attain perfect bodies on the outside, but without abiding love, sustaining self-control, and a longing for holiness, we will never be as fit as the overweight people who are on their knees, pleading to God for help with diet and exercise. We might have the fastest metabolism and the greatest athleticism, but if our pursuit of fitness is self-centered and not Christ-centered, we will neverbe as healthy as the hefty men and women who present their bodies as living sacrifices in worship. Health always includes holiness.
But what if we have already submitted to Christ and are denying ourselves daily? Why, then, are we still tipping the scales toward obesity? Each of us wakes up in the morning and prays to God for a good day. We ought to add a prayer for Him to empower us to make healthy choices as well. We implore Him for protection from harm, lust, and the devil, for example. We should also pray to God for protection from overeating and excessive junk food cravings.
We pray to God sincerely for strength at work to meet deadlines, complete projects, and cope with our bosses. God can also give us that same strength to work out and exercise. We pray to Him for endurance in the balance between work life, social life, and family life. God can also give us endurance to add gym life to that balance. Prayer gives us direct access to God through Jesus Christ. He has made a commitment to us to provide all that we need. Within the call to holiness, if we ask in His name for stronger bodies, to be healthier vessels, He will make it happen for us.
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. —John 14:13–14
We Must Hold Each Other Accountable
A big part of being holy is, again, depending on God for everything. But we must also be humble enough to ask for everything—not to just help us with things like making more money and having more success, but also helping us care for our bodies since the body is God’s temple. Being a Christ-like example to others with our bodies encourages them to do the same and is one way we can responsibly cultivate camaraderie.
Keeping each other accountable can be difficult when no one wants to be put on the spot, especially when it comes to their physical appearance and shape. But if someone we care about, friend or family member, suddenly packs on 20 pounds of unhealthy fat, we should draw them out—in love—with tough questions about how and why. Remember, we can’t overcome what we won’t confront. If we care for one another as we care for ourselves, we can trust in God for an outcome that will lessen the awkwardness, bring strengthening, and diminish the offense that takes place as we lovingly call each other out.
Accountability is most effective when we can achieve it spiritually and physically. There has to be complete transparency among the people of God as we strive for holiness together. Think of it this way. We all have friends, relatives, loved ones, people we care about that can sometimes act like jerks or be mean or rude. Some of them can even be cruel and crude, complainers, and nasty gossips. Yet we’ll tolerate their slander, their foul mouths, and impoliteness until it becomes unbearable.
Eventually we reach a breaking point and address it. We ask them why they’re so mean or why they always have bad things to say about people. Sometimes we have to be blunt and get confrontational. Some of us even bring witnesses or get help from others to back us up. We’ll schedule an intervention or counseling or a meeting with someone they trust for correction. The point is that it is our custom to deal with each other’s emotional shortcomings.
It’s easy to appeal to each other about our emotional shortcomings, especially when it affects us. Out of love, we say things like, That was rude, and you should apologize, or Hey, your attitude is wrong, so let’s work together to fix it. Most of us have genuine concern in these moments because we want to keep the peace. The idea of righting wrongs and saying sorry comes from the biblical principle of forgiveness and repentance. It’s how we conduct ourselves when we deal with conflict resolution. We understand that it is our responsibility to look out for one another in those instances and build each other up by caring about people’s feelings, but most importantly, to protect them from wrongdoing.
The same biblical logic applies to our physical shortcomings that affect all of us directly. We are all one body, the body of Christ. If we’re not functioning properly as the body of Christ, ministry cannot reach its full potential. Only with strong legs can we walk the extra mile with the same compassion as the good Samaritan. Only with strong bodies can we wholeheartedly show the light and love of Christ to the lost. As easy as it is to help those struggling with profanity, anger, anxiety, and depression, we should be just as loving and caring to help each other in times of gluttony, idleness, laziness, and all other unhealthy ways.
This week, let holiness build your strength. Let the power of God cleanse you and keep you healthy. I’m praying for you as you pray for me.