Train yourself for godliness

Why do we applaud and want to be like the famous athlete? Or the famous musician? Perhaps because he or she is the best; excellence in any arena is a magnet. The question is, how did the athlete or the musician get to be the best? Discipline. A master violinist held the audience breathless with his music. When the concert was over, a young man approached the aged musician and said, “I would give my whole life to be able to play like you do.” The violinist replied, “I have given my whole life to play like I do.” Discipline.
What do we do when we want to lose weight or get in shape? We find some kind of plan to follow and we follow it. I want to complete a marathon in four weeks, so I have been on a training plan for the past 14 weeks. Last Saturday, I had to run 20 miles. If I had tried to run 20 miles 13 weeks ago, I would have ended up in the hospital. Or, more likely, I would have quit before I got close to the 20-mile mark and decided that I just could not run a marathon. But the training program works; I have been trained by the day-by-day routine of it. Running 395 miles in the first 13 weeks, combined with a huge helping of the grace of God, enabled me to run 20 miles at one time. Discipline. It works for the athlete and for the musician. It also works for those who desire to grow in godliness, which is why the Bible is filled with commands for the Christian to labor and work hard in the spiritual disciplines. But there is often a problem with our thinking here.
We understand what discipline means when it comes to bodily exercise. But what if your pastor says that you need to read the Bible every day and you need to pray every day? You might protest and say, “That’s legalism!” That seems to be the mantra of many Christians today, a label they apply to anything anyone tells them they have to do. Can we come out from behind that mask once and for all? Kent Hughes says, “Legalism is self-centered, but discipline is God-centered. The legalistic heart says, ‘I will do this thing to gain merit with God.’ The disciplined heart says, ‘I will do this thing because I love God and want to please him.’ Paul knew this difference well, and he never gave an inch to legalists, even while challenging young Timothy to ‘train (himself) for godliness.’”
There is no shortcut. I was thinking this week about a good friend, Jeff, who just ran a marathon a few weeks ago, and how nice it would be if I could just get the benefit of his hard work without any effort myself. You know, Jeff does the training, and I get the conditioned heart and lungs and legs. Or what if my son Jesse lifted the weights, and I got the muscles? Sorry, friend, but it doesn’t work that way, in either physical fitness or spiritual fitness. That’s why Paul said, “Train yourself.” You have to read your Bible for yourself and study it and obey what it says. You have to pray.
I wouldn’t mind being a master musician or a world-class athlete. But those things are for this life only. “Godliness,” on the other hand, “is profitable for all things,” both for this life and the one to come. That sounds like a can’t-lose proposition.
Go ahead and train yourself for godliness.