Do You Exercise Like a Nonbeliever?

Step one in making our exercise holy is receiving it as the gift it is, not taking bodily movement and physical expenditures for granted, but explicitly thanking God. We say, “Father, thank you that my legs and lungs work like they do. Thank you for arms that swing and lift. Thank you for balance, and that I don’t have an ailment or other condition that confines me to bed.”

In the groaning world in which we live (Romans 8:22), it is a remarkable thing to have a body that works enough for meaningful exercise. None of us thank God nearly enough for such mercy.

Make Exercise Holy

Receiving the ability to exercise thankfully is a vital starting point, but there’s more to say than just that. “It is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:5). What does it mean to make bodily activity, and its endorphin rewards, “holy by the word of God and prayer”?

“The word of God” is what God has said, what he has breathed out in the Scriptures about our physical bodies. Our exercise and exertions will not be holy if we think about our bodies in ways that are not true, in subtle and overt lies not in accord with what God has revealed (and our society is teeming with them today).

“Prayer,” then, is our response back to God in light of what he has said.

What God Says About Our Bodies

First Corinthians 6 may be the first place to turn. Verse 12 challenges us to flee enslaving habits (“I will not be dominated by anything,” 1 Corinthians 6:12), while verses 19–20 make this powerful declaration about our bodies:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)

1. Your body belongs to God.

Contrary to the siren voices sounding at every turn today, your body is not your own, but belongs to God—and doubly so. He both created you and then bought you back at the infinite cost of his own Son. So God emphatically means for us to honor him by making use of the bodies he had given us (to the degree of our capabilities), and to not leave them unnecessarily inactive.

2. God commends bodily exertion.

God plainly commends the exertion of our bodies through the effort of work (Ephesians 4:28 affirms the value of bodily training.

3. Spiritual health is ultimate; physical health is not.

Yet the charge to bodily exertion is always chastened for the Christian. In appropriating what God has said about our bodies, and the training of them, it is essential that we observe the balancing word of 1 Timothy 4:8: “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.”

The recognition that “bodily training is of some value” cuts both ways. Those who are voluntarily sedentary need to hear that God does indeed value the exertion of our bodies, and those who are prone to make exercise an idol need to hear it is only of some value, relativized by the pursuit of godliness which “is of value in every way” (1 Timothy 4:8).

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David Mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.