Should Christians care about their bodies? How much emphasis should we place upon bodily exercise?
Some professing Christians in past history have argued that the body is bad—we don’t need to give attention to the body, we just need to focus on spiritual things.
But notice what Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:8: “Bodily training is of some value.” Don’t read that and think Paul is saying bodily training is worthless; he’s not. He is acknowledging here that bodily training does have some value.
Why is bodily training valuable? Well, the Bible actually has much to say about our bodies.
Our bodies matter to God.
First, God made our bodies.
For you formed my inward parts;Psalm 139:13–14
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Genesis 2 tells us that God formed Adam’s body, and remember, he did this before sin entered the world. The body is a good thing that God made—he saw it, and it was good. God made our bodies, and therefore our bodies are good.
Sin affects our bodies.
But second, sin affects our bodies.
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.Romans 8:22–23
God created Adam, but Adam disobeyed God; and as a result of Adam’s sin, God cursed the whole creation, including our bodies. From the moment of our conception really, our bodies begin to wear down and decay. It’s not so bad when we’re young and growing, but you hit 40, and it’s all downhill from there.
I jest, but it’s a reality, right? Even the youngest experiences aches and pains. Our bodies get sick. We break bones and sprain ankles. Our bodies are significantly affected by the reality of sin.
Bodily training is of some value.
The reality of sin is exactly why bodily training is of some value. Disciplined exertion of our bodies through exercise and athletics can help to hold back some of the worst effects of the curse upon our bodies. If we stay in shape and eat well, that can have positive effects on our bodies.
However, ultimately, no matter how much bodily training we engage in through the course of our lives, no matter how healthy our diet, no matter how well we keep our bodies in shape, they still will wear down. The best we can do with bodily exercise is to slow the breakdown of our bodies, and that does have some value. But one day each one of our bodies will fail, and we will die. And our bodies will be placed in the ground, and they will return to dust.
Christ will redeem our bodies.
But there is hope. The third reality that Scripture teaches about our bodies is what Paul said Romans 8:23: we eagerly await for the redemption of our bodies. One day our bodies, along with all creation, will be redeemed. That redemption does not come as a result of anything we do—in other words, the value of bodily exercise is not that our own bodily training somehow redeems our bodies. No, Christ will redeem our bodies.
And we know this for one very important reason: Jesus Christ—who is 100% God, and has existed co-equally with God the Father and God the Spirit for all eternity—took on a human body at his incarnation.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.Philippians 2:5–7
That body was truly human—Jesus was hungry, he was thirsty, he got sick, he had aches and pains—his body was affected by sin just like ours is. Jesus was not a sinner—Jesus did not sin, but his body felt the affects of the curse of sin.
And Jesus suffered bodily on the cross and died to pay the penalty of sin that all sinners deserve.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:8
Jesus died bodily for our sins, his body was buried in a tomb, but on the third day, Jesus rose bodily from the dead; but now, instead of a body cursed by sin, Jesus had a perfect, glorified body. And he still has that body, and will so for all eternity. Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, where he sits now bodily at the Father’s right hand.
And here’s why this gives us hope. The Bible teaches that those who repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, will one day be raised bodily just like he was! The redemption of our bodies will take place when God raises us from the dead, just like he raised Jesus from the dead.
And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.1 Corinthians 6:14
And when we rise again, Jesus will transform our bodies to be just like his.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body…Philippians 3:20–21
Godliness Is of Value in Every Way
But this is only true for those who trust in Christ. Only believers in Jesus Christ will be raised bodily; only believers in Jesus Christ will have their bodies redeemed and transformed to be like his glorified body.
And so this is why Paul says in 2 Timothy 4,
Rather train yourself for godliness; for 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.
Bodily training does have some value, because God created the body and he will one day redeem the bodies of his people—but what will bring about the redemption of our bodies one day in the life to come is not bodily training. Our bodies are only part of who we are. When God formed Adam’s body, he breathed into Adam’s body the breath of life, and man became a living soul. We are not only physical, we are also spiritual.
And just as our bodies were cursed by sin, so our souls are cursed by sin. We are born loving sin and hating God. And just as the redemption of our bodies comes through faith in Jesus Christ, so the redemption of our souls comes through faith in Christ. Redemption of both our bodies and our souls comes as a result of faith in the person and atoning work of Jesus Christ, the God-man.
And in fact, as Paul said in Romans 8, we are still awaiting the redemption of our bodies. We who are Christians know that when we were converted, a transformation took place in our souls, but we still feel the full effects of sin in our body. Redemption of the body won’t happen until Jesus comes again, when he returns bodily to this earth.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.1 John 3:2
But what we can experience now is the redemption of our souls. We don’t have to wait. Those who repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone as the substitute for the punishment you deserve, then at that very moment, their soul will be redeemed. We can have hope for eternal life with Christ.
What brings the redemption of our souls and eventually our bodies, is godliness, and we do not attain godliness ultimately through any effort of our own. As sinners, we can do nothing in ourselves to please God or attain redemption. Jesus did that for us. Ultimately godliness comes only through faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. Paul says this in 1 Timothy 4:10 when he notes that we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially those who believe.
Training in Godliness
But in 1 Timothy 4, Paul is talking to those who are trusting in Christ, and he tells us that we ought to train ourselves for godliness, that is, a life that is characterizes as being like God in holiness and righteousness. “For to this end we toil and strive,” Paul says in verse 10. Paul uses the analogy of bodily training to urge us to apply the same sort of discipline and effort—even more so—in a pursuit of godliness in our everyday lives as those who have already been redeemed by faith in the blood of Christ and who await the redemption of our bodies.
Bodily exercise does have some value. But what has value in every way, what holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come is training in godliness.
How do we training ourselves for godliness? Well, Paul tells us in 1 Timothy4:6: “being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.” We ultimately train ourselves to be godly by giving attention to the truth of God’s Word.
We do this through personal Bible study. We train ourselves for godliness through faithfully sitting under the Word of God preached and taught in church. We do this by opening our Bibles and studying the ultimate man, Jesus Christ, so you can imitate his godliness.
Don’t neglect bodily training—God cares about your body. But far more importantly, don’t neglect the training of your soul through, first, trusting Christ for the redemption of your soul and body, and second, through regular, disciplined study of God’s Word.
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