If you have been exposed to media, and I’m assuming you have, you’re likely aware of the rampant fitness industry, health trends, and bodily expectations. There are many views fighting for our attention through the culture: Don’t eat meat, exercise seven days a week, weightlifting is best, cross-fit is better, low carb all the way. The problem is that none of these ideas have any objective foundation of truth. Yet, people far and wide give their lives over to them. As a Christian, I believe it is necessary for us to know God’s original design for human flourishing, and His commands instructing us in how we are to care for our bodies as we interact with the malnourished world around us.
The first thing I want to draw attention to is that exercise and eating “healthy” food, or the lack thereof, will not ensure the longevity of our lives. Our days have been numbered by God, and the lifespan of the righteous and wicked alike have been sovereignly determined by his hands. And yet, we must as well recognize that God has designed us for movement. Activity in the life of the Christian is vital. It makes us happier (hello endorphins), fuels disciple-making, and from the time of creation God has put mankind to work. It is the moment in which movement has become one’s salvation that their heart has been given over to idolatry. God desires us to move, but to move in his direction.
A few questions to ponder: Do we exercise to the glory of God, or to the glory of self? Do we exercise like unbelievers? What is the motivation behind our activity? These self-examining questions may require us to change, but take heart – Exercise, body trends, and gyms will pass away; the word of the Lord remains forever.
There is nothing morally corrupt with exercising seven days a week. But, I do wonder that if one’s motives were brought into question, if their commitment to the word of God and fellowship with his people would prove to stand the test. Busyness or lack of flexibility in one’s schedule is often an excuse to neglect time with God. In our case, even though that same person may be exercising two hours a day, six days a week. The reality is that if we rely on exercise for peace, acceptance, and joy, we are depriving our bodies of far worse than if we were to eat cheeseburgers for every meal. Health crazes will not satisfy us, rather, it will leave us empty and hungry for more.
On the other hand, sedentary lifestyles are equally not of God. We are called to be active (not lazy). We are called to salt (care for) the earth. How will we be of any use to the kingdom if we are not able bodied and motivated? Christian, you were made in the image of God, and are a house for his Spirit. If you treat your body with contempt, you are abusing his creation. It is not exercise or laziness that pleases your God – Faithfulness does. Recognize that activity isn’t necessarily being in gym shape or disciplining oneself to a rigid diet. God created us to move, work, serve, and be with his people. Train your bodies for godliness, not to be someone the world might accept. God sees you not for your body, but for your heart.
As we examine our hearts and our relationships with exercise, let’s keep these three points in mind:
- Your body is not your own. You belong to God. We are called to honor him with the use our bodies.
- God designed us for work. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph. 4:28)
- Godliness (spiritual health) is ultimate, not bodily training (physical health). “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8)
My plea is that you would approach exercise (and all things) with selfless thanksgiving to the Lord. Aim not for weight-loss, fitness goals, or physical appearance, which are folly. Rather, aim for a much greater and more full joy by being pleased only in the Lord and seeking the welfare of your neighbor. This is the kind of exercise that we should pursue.