TRAIN Yourself To Be Godly: Do I Have To?

1 Timothy 4:7. “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself to be godly.”

Usually in church life, when we talk about growing stronger spiritually, our go-to-word is “discipleship”. “Training” is not a word we use too much. And there’s probably a good reason for this.

You hear the word “training” and what images come to mind? Perhaps you think of a dark, smelly gym, or a big burly coach with a towel around his neck, leaning over you with a clipboard or stopwatch, yelling at you, “You call that a pushup! My grandmother can do better than that!”

Say “training” and maybe you think of Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, or punching a side of beef in a meat locker. Or Luke Skywalker running with Yoda on his back through the swamp of Degobah. Or Neo in the Matrix with Morpheus.

Say “training” you think of work, hard work, lots of sweat, eating gross food, falling exhausted on your bed at night. (I went to PT the other day and found the receptionist drinking something that looked like a berry smoothie, only come to find out it was made of beets. Needless to say, I recoiled in horror.)

Someone says, “Discipleship?” most of us will say, “Sure! Sign me up!” Someone says, “Training?” we say, “No thanks. I’ll pass. Saved by grace. I’m good.”

Training Is A Biblical Concept

Interestingly, the Greek word Paul uses here for “training” is “gumnadzo”, which with a little stretching sounds like English word “gymnasium”, and this word refers to the kind of training an athlete submits to in a gym, with a coach looking over your shoulder, the way Bob or Jillian would do with the contestants on Biggest Loser. Paul loved to use this sort of imagery to describe how we grow strong spiritually. He compared life to a race that he wanted to run well.

In 1 Corinthians 9:27 he writes, “I discipline my body, and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Literally, the word he uses here means I “beat my body, I treat it severely, I annoy it”. There’s a picture. Imagine being so disciplined that your body says to you, “I hate you! You annoy me!”

Interestingly various forms of the word “training” are scattered throughout the New Testament. Jesus says in Luke 6:40, “A disciple is not above his teacher. But everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus uses here the Greek word katartizo, which means “to prepare, to perfect for its full use, to bring to its proper condition”.

We’ve all heard 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS.” The Greek word used here is paideia (which should remind you of the prefix “pedia” for words like “pediatrics”, “pediatrician”) which refers to the discipline, training and education which a parent gives a child or a teacher gives a student.

Titus 2 11 uses the same word when Paul says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us, to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.”

Various forms of the word “training” are scattered throughout the New Testament.

“Gumnadzo” – the word that reminds us of gymnasium – is used against in Hebrews 12:11, “All discipline seems painful…but later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

I find it absolutely mindblowing that the Bible uses this word “training” to describe how followers of Christ are to grow in holiness. Because what that tells me is that sin is not only to repented of and forsaken, but it has to be in many instances unlearned.

The Hope “Training” Gives Us

Training by its very nature suggests a journey, a process of two steps forward and one step back. This doesn’t happen in a day. Anyone who has taken up running or weightlifting or is learning to play an instrument or learn a language understands how training works. Through practice, repetition, trial and error, and falling on your face more times than you can count, you are virtually rewiring your brain and strengthening your muscles and empowering your will in a way that enables you to do things that weren’t possible for you before.

In using the word “training”, Paul is saying that this same journey that allows you to build muscle or run a 5k applies to learning how to sit at a computer without temptation sideswiping you. Or being alone in a hotel room on a business trip and do nothing but sleep at night. Or getting on the interstate at rush hour without collapsing into road rage. Or learning how to not fall into depression when something bad happens.

With God’s help we can quite literally “train” ourselves to live our lives in godly ways.

“So you’re saying that I can just go out there and sin my head off, and Jesus is fine with that?” (There’s always one wise guy who asks this.)

In using the word “training”, Paul is saying that this same journey that allows you to build muscle or run a 5k applies to learning how to sit at a computer without temptation sideswiping you.

No. That’s not how the gospel works. And that’s not how training works. If you’re training to lose weight, no, you don’t have permission to go eat your head off. But if you happen to eat your head off one night, the coach won’t be happy, but he won’t fire you either. He may yell at you, or he may hug you, he’ll poke around with why you think you blew it, and then he’ll tell you to get back on the horse. Resume your training.

This is what Jesus through the Holy Spirit does with us. While you’re trying to learn how not to sin your head off, Jesus won’t take your head off should you fail. Jesus knows that my sin runs deep in me. Its roots are everywhere. This is going to take time. There’s a learning curve to this.

Our Lord said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” How is Jesus going to give us rest? He tells us in the next verse. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls.” We yoke ourselves to him, and then learn from him. Is this all going to happen in an instant? No. In a day? I wish!

Learn from me, he says. Sounds like training to me.

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