If I was serious about running a marathon, I’d have to train for it. I couldn’t just wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll try and run a marathon today.”
If I wanted to bench press 300 pounds, I’d have to train for it. I couldn’t just load six 45 pound plates on a barbell and say, “I’m going to try and lift this now.”
If my dream was to be a pro golfer, I’d have to train towards making that dream a reality. I couldn’t just show up on a golf course and say, “I’m going to try and play like Tiger Woods today.”
In this passage, Paul tells us the same principle applies to our Christianity. If we want to be a good Christian, we can’t just say, “I’m trying to be a good Christian. Really I am!” No, if we are serious about being a good Christian, then we will have to diligently train for it. Our lives do not come to be marked by godliness by simply trying to be godly; they come to be marked by godliness by training ourselves for it.
Like all training, note that Paul writes that this entails “toil and struggle.” At almost 50 years of age, I have come to that point where having a strong, healthy heart is more important than having a six pack or bulging biceps. That means doing cardiovascular training, logging time on the elliptical trainers, stairmasters, stationary bikes.
It’s grueling, but it must be done. And so it is with godliness; the disciplines we embrace as we train our hearts not just for cardiovascular fitness but for “heavenly” fitness can be difficult and demanding. That is the hard word that some folks today have forgot to speak, but it is true none the less.
How do we train for godliness? We devote our selves to “God’s word and prayer”, to “instruction” and “sound teaching”. Yes, that includes church every Sunday unless good reason prevents. But like all serious training, it has to be more regular than that. So our spiritual training will also include being involved in some kind of prayer and Bible study with others, such as the WatCH program we offer at St. Matthews. It will involve regular personal prayer and Bible study as well.
Other practices found in this passage include, practicing “hope” (I hope you will reflect further on this), serving by using the gifts God has given us, and setting “an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”
Beyond this passage, other forms of training have included practicing gratitude, forgiveness, generosity, simplicity, fasting, fellowship, sharing our faith verbally, and so on.
When practices such as these absent in our lives, our training is destined to fail like sporadic or inadequate training would fail to allow me to run a marathon, bench press 300 pounds, or play pro golf. But the good news is that when they are present, we can be assure that God will indeed complete the good work in us that He has begun, and that we will be fit not to walk with pride on the beach because of our buff bodies, but to walk with Christ in Heaven for all eternity because of our godly hearts.