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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Muscular Christianity

I believe that God would have us live muscular Christianity. But what does this entail? Jesus said we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30). How do we develop the muscles of our heart, soul and mind? We do so by putting Christ first in everything, by making every thought captive to Christ, and by diligently studying God’s word. Paul prays for the church at Colosse “asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” (Col 1:9b-10) In Philippians 1:9-11 he says “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” The active verbs in these verses describe a process and growth. It is not something instantaneous.

Muscular Christianity can be defined as incarnational living. Our lives become so transformed that we exhibit Christ-like tendencies in our daily life and practice. We demonstrate fruitful love and discernment, demonstrating godly wisdom to all we come into contact with. We think God’s thoughts after him.

But developing muscles takes time and practice. They can’t be developed in a day. It requires discipline. It requires commitment and regular work. Without them, the task will fail. The same is true in our spiritual lives. Without a disciplined commitment and work our spiritual muscles will never grow. They require constant practice. This is a continual process. We never reach the goal this side of heaven. Paul never stops praying for continued growth and development. We shouldn’t either. Do we pray these two prayers of his for ourselves, for our spouses and children? For that matter, do we pray them for the neighbor or co-worker or fellow church member with whom we have trouble getting along?

Just as a physical exercise program can have several components, so also does a spiritual one. Some of the components are Bible study, prayer, reading of Christian literature, small group involvement and mentoring. Dallas Willard, in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines lists fifteen disciplines that aid us in drawing closer to Christ and his kingdom. Acknowledging that this list is incomplete, he never-the-less sees things like prayer, fasting, solitude, worship, service, confession, etc. as assisting one in developing a healthy spiritual life. He cautions that it is better to practice several of the disciplines than to focus on a limited number. Otherwise our spiritual life can become unbalanced, similar to a person who only exercises and develops his left arm and leg at the expense of his right. We must seek to live a balanced life.

Our physical muscles atrophy if we are not using them; so also do our spiritual muscles. Without constant exercise, they will become weaker and weaker, eventually becoming so weak that we are unable to discern the difference between things that are either good or evil. When temptations come, we will then be unable to resist. How well rounded is your spiritual exercise program? To what extent are your spiritual muscles becoming stronger? Or are they atrophying?