The Benefits of Godly Exercise

The apostle Paul’s admonition to the young evangelist Timothy was clear: “But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:7, 8).The prohibition was against useless fables, and the positive command was to “exercise yourself toward godliness”; those “fables” falsely promised spiritual benefits from such things as physical exercises, dietary restrictions, and other material practices that, like those he addressed in his letter to the Colossians, “have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23).

      Paul’s instruction to Timothy is that he forgo the practices that were essentially useless in helping one to live a more righteous life, and focus on doing the things that would actually benefit him [and us]: “exercise yourself toward godliness.” It was not physical exercise that would bring spiritual benefits, but spiritual exercise that is focused on spiritual things like, again, godliness, righteousness, and holiness. Practicing godliness is what makes us godly; practicing righteousness is what keeps us righteous; practicing holiness is what defines us as holy. The outward, physical, and superficial things do not make us any of those things, in reality.

      As Christians, these are the traits by which we should be identified by all who see and know us, for the basic message of the gospel and God’s grace teaches us “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11, 12). If others do not see us living “soberly, righteously, and godly,” they will not believe we are followers of Christ, or that we are any different than those still living for the world. God demands we “Be holy” because He is holy (1 Pet. 1:15, 16). Without holiness, we cannot hope to see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). You see, exercising ourselves toward godliness is not just profitable; it is essential.

      But let us go back to the words of Paul to Timothy and note that godliness “is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” In those words are some important lessons we should know about godliness, and our exercising toward it. If we miss the depth of what Paul is saying here, we may not understand why it is so important, or why it should even be practiced at all. If we fail to understand what he is saying here, we may see a life of godliness as merely an option, rather than the necessity it is. Consider:

      Godliness is Profitable. If something is profitable, it must therefore produce some gain, or advantage over what we had before. The contrast in this case is between “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and living “soberly, righteously, and godly” (Ref. Titus 2:12), between “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:19-23), and between being “carnally minded” and “spiritually minded” (Rom. 8:5-8). In each contrast, we have the life lived for the world and the changed life of the one who now lives for Christ; no one can continue to follow the ways of the world while following Christ. Having said this, we must then ask: What is the gain, or advantage?

      The gain in giving up the worldly ways for God’s ways [through our obedience and submission to the will of God] is that now, in Christ, “There is therefore now no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1), where before we were condemned; in Christ, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7), where before we were still counted guilty and condemned by God; in Christ, we who “were enemies…were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom. 5:10). I would say we have great gain, compared to what we had before, and an immeasurable advantage over what that previous way of life offered!

      But for many who may still be living the worldly lifestyle, there doesn’t appear to be any gain or advantage by giving up that way of life; to them, they lose a lot and gain nothing. But this perspective is tainted by the lies of every man’s spiritual adversary, the devil. He wants mankind to believe it is not worth it to give up the worldly lifestyle; he wants mankind to believe he is better off in the world than in Christ; he wants mankind to believe he loses everything and gains nothing by leaving the worldly ways behind. He wants mankind to believe all these lies because he can’t tell them the truth! He can’t tell them the truth because if anyone believed it, they would never choose to stay in the world and put their eternal salvation at risk. So, he continues to lie and deceive, and many continue to believe the lies. On Judgment Day, those lies will be blown away by the truth of it all, like a wisp of smoke. But on that Day, it will be too late to do anything about it.

      The Life That Now Is and That Which is to Come. In his words to Timothy, Paul noted that the profit of exercising toward godliness was profitable now, and in the future — eternity. As we noted earlier, the Christian enjoys freedom from condemnation, forgiveness of sins, and reconciliation to God in “the life that now is”; but what about “that which is to come”? What gain or advantage will exercising toward godliness bring us?

      If we simply considered the scene Jesus described in Matthew 25:31-46, the advantage is stark, and it is clear. In that scene, “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:32, 33); the advantage may not yet be evident, but let’s keep reading.

      After these are separated, we then read why they were separated: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34), and He would say to those on the left hand, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). Summed up: Those on the left “will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Clearly, the righteous have a tremendous and eternal advantage over the others, for they receive the reward of eternal life in heaven, and the wicked will be punished eternally.

      Having read this, would you now agree that exercising “toward godliness” [practicing righteousness and piety] is indeed “profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come”? Compared to the only expectation of those who are living the worldly life — “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil” (Rom. 2:8, 9), I would say there is great gain by giving up that life, and an immeasurable and eternal advantage for doing so. It is indeed profitable.

            But, the choice is still yours to make. Though God wants you to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3, 4), and though He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9), some will reject the godly life because they continue to believe the lie that it is “not worth it.” How about you?     — Steven Harper