If you were to make a list of everything throughout your life that you decided you were going to do but didn’t do it, how long would your list be? Just deciding to do something doesn’t necessarily get it done, does it? There is another necessary ingredient, and that ingredient is mentioned in the Bible in I Timothy 4:7 and other Scripture passages.
In I Timothy 4:7-8 the apostle Paul says these words to Timothy: “. . . discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness: for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also the life to come.” The word “discipline” is the Greek word “gymnazo” or “gymnasia”. We get our English word “gymnasium” from that Greek word. The word means “sustained daily effort”. It was a term often used in athletics to refer to a training program or exercise program.
I’m sure most of us, if not all of us, have watched parts of the olympic games on T.V. We admired those athletes and marveled at their ability to stick to a rigorous training program for years in the hope of winning a medal. Paul is saying here that God wants each of us to apply that same dedication and daily discipline to the goal of “spiritual fitness” or “godliness”. God wants our schedules and our whole lives to be organized around, and focused toward the goal of godliness, that is, becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ. Well, that’s a tall order, but whenever God gives a command He also provides the means necessary for us to accomplish it.
II. THE PRACTICE OF DISCIPLINE
So how can we discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness? Two other verses that use the term “gymnazo” give us the key. The first verse uses it in the negative sense, and the second in a positive sense. II Peter 2:14 speaks of a “heart trained in greed”, and Hebrews 5:14 talks about “having your senses trained to discern good and evil”. What do these two passages have in common? They are both talking about habits, the first bad, and the second good. God gave us that amazing capacity we call a habit. Whenever we do something long enough it becomes a part of us. For example, when you buttoned your shirt or blouse this morning, did you button it from the bottom up or from the top down? Did it take you a moment to remember? Maybe you still don’t remember. That’s because you don’t consciously think about where to begin anymore. It has become a habit. Can you imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have this capacity to form habits? If we had to consciously think through every step of putting on our clothes, eating our food, brushing our teeth, and combing our hair, we would be mentally exhausted before the morning was over!
The bad habits are easy, aren’t they? But the good habits take time and consistent effort. Too many people give up because they want change too soon. We live in an age which has instant coffee, instant pudding, instant breakfast, instant messages, and instant just about everything. But there is no such thing as “instant godliness”. Studies have found that it normally takes at least three weeks of daily repetition before a person feels comfortable performing a new task. But many of us don’t continue for even three days. If we don’t receive instant success we often get discouraged and quit. There seems to be two basic philosophies of religion or morality in the world today. One says, “I will live according to my feelings. I will do what I feel like doing”. And the other philosophy says, “I will live as God says”.
III. THE EXAMPLE OF THE APOSTLE PAUL
That was the apostle Paul’s goal in life. Would you like to be able to honestly say, at the end of your life, what Paul says in II Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith”? Well, God provides another means necessary for godliness, and I’ve saved it for last so that, hopefully, we’ll remember it if we remember nothing else from this message. It’s found in Philippians 2:12-13. Verse 12 says, “work out your own salvation in fear and trembling”. It doesn’t say, “work for your salvation”, but “live out that daily process of sanctification, becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ”. Verse 13 is the key: “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure”. The principle here is this: God must work in us before He can work through us. God wants us to obey His command to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness, but at the same time we must realize that God will increase our desire to become more godly , and He will enable us to accomplish our spiritual growth objectives if we rely of His power.
CONCLUSION: Do you want to be a godly person? Do you want God to use you to accomplish the work He has for you in 2017? There are no shortcuts. It comes down to this: the daily prayerful study of God’s Word and consistent obedience to it, applying its principles to all the situations and decisions of our daily lives, and growing in the knowledge of God. May the Lord be with you this new year.