The privilege of following Jesus requires a plan, a direction, determination and depth. Achieving anything requires discipline — determined, deliberate, deﬁnable actions with a clear goal in mind.
Many centuries ago, Paul coached Timothy, his son in the ministry, with the words, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (1 Timothy 4:7)
I don’t want to shame you into walking a spiritual treadmill, nor do I want to convince you that a no-fun checklist of spiritual tedium will somehow pay dividends in eternity. On the other hand, I don’t want to suggest that becoming like Christ will be easy. Seeking intimacy with the Almighty requires focused determination; demands speciﬁc changes in attitude and behavior and will come with a number of heartbreaks and setbacks.
This is merely an invitation to live life as Christ intended, which includes difﬁcult choices, some hard work and an increasing capacity to enjoy all the goodness God offers those who come to Him.
Paul chose carefully when he selected the Greek term gymnazo. (Most English transliterations spell it gymnazo, from which we get our word gymnasium.) The New American Standard Bible renders it “discipline.” Look at how several other translations present Paul’s command:
Paul has in mind the word picture of an athlete preparing for the day of competition.
I would prefer to translate it “Condition yourself,” which raises two points:
First; conditioning involves repetitive training exercises so that the athlete’s mind and the appropriate muscle groups learn to work together reﬂexively and automatically. Conditioning combines endurance and skill. Conditioning turns game winning abilities into habits.
Second, no one can condition someone else. An athlete can seek out a coach to help him with conditioning, but he cannot hire someone to do the work for him. Condition yourself. Check the Internet, look through the Yellow Pages. If you ever ﬁnd “Lease-a-Dieter” or “Rent-a-Runner,” let me know. I want the number!
Conditioning is between you and God.
Notice also that Paul has a goal in mind for the conditioning. Runners condition themselves by running. Weightlifters condition themselves by lifting weights. Each trains for a speciﬁc skill to compete in a speciﬁc event. Paul’s event is godliness. “Condition yourself toward godliness.”
Paul uses the Greek word for godliness ten times in his writings; eight of them appear in 1 Timothy. Godliness is central to Paul’s advice to Timothy.
One scholar deﬁnes the word this way: Christian [godliness] is not moralistic, for it is rooted in the Christ event (1 Timothy 3:16). It is not just outward worship, nor a mere concept of God, nor a virtue, nor an ideal. Over against a [Gnostic philosophy of self-deprivation] that regards creation as bad true [godliness], born of faith, covers everyday conduct in honoring God as Creator and Redeemer, even though it may expect persecution from the very orders of God which it respects.
A “godly” person is one who ceases to be self-centered in order to become GOD-centered. Christ became a man and as a result of His earthly ministry; we see how God intended for humans to behave. Jesus is our unblemished example of godliness. Therefore, a godly person is a Christ-like person. Our goal as Christians is to become like Christ.
So why exercise spiritual disciplines? To know Jesus Christ. They are simply a means by which you come to know Him experientially.
So, you want to be like Christ? Me too. But that kind of godliness won’t just happen by hanging around a church or thinking lofty thoughts three or four times a day or learning a few verses of Scripture. Disciplining ourselves will require the same kind of focused thinking and living that our Master modeled during His brief life on earth.
Everything starts in the gymnasium of the soul. Since this is true, let’s commit ourselves to these Eight Spiritual Disciplines.