Year after year, it’s the most common New Year’s resolution made by Americans: to get physically fit. Don’t think that fact escapes the notice of entrepreneurs. Physical fitness is a multi-billion dollar business today. Sadly, studies show that 80 percent of all New Year’s resolutions—including all of those efforts to get fit—fail by the second week in February.
This statistic set me to wonder about believers’ efforts to get spiritually fit. As a teenager and young Christian, I used to say that I was going to “turn over a new leaf.” This often happened each year around the time my church held weeklong revival services. My family was one of those “every-time-the-doors-are-open” attenders, so I could count on hearing several fiery sermons about faithful Christian living. I would usually respond during one of the invitation times and “rededicate” my life, promising God and the church that I would try harder from then on to be a better and bolder Christian. Sadly, most of the time my efforts to get spiritually fit failed as quickly as a New Year’s resolution. They failed because I was trying to grow in faith my own way and in my own strength. It took me longer than I like to admit—I’m talking years—to learn that becoming and staying spiritually fit is just as much a work of God’s grace in me as my conversion. Thus, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12–13 about spiritual fitness always catch my undivided attention. In these chapters, Paul reveals at least four ideas about getting spiritually fit.
Apply God’s grace to your weak points. Effective physical training targets areas that need to be strengthened in an overall fitness program. Improving spiritual fitness also involves an honest assessment of weak points. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul confessed he had “a thorn in the flesh” that tormented him. For centuries, Bible scholars have speculated about what Paul referred to. Whatever it was, he prayed fervently for God to remove it. Perhaps he thought, “I could do so much more for Christ if I was free from this weakness.” But what Paul really needed was a deeper application of God’s grace. Grace would be sufficient. What is more, God’s grace would demonstrate that God’s power for Christian living and service was perfected best in areas of the believer’s greatest weakness.
Check your heart regularly. The physical heart is a muscle. An amazing muscle. Even the ancients recognized that it is the central organ of human life. Proverbs 4:23 says “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” Not surprisingly, Scripture also describes the heart as the spiritual center of life. Thus, Paul urged the Corinthians to regularly examine whether Christ was ruling on the throne of their hearts. If they were genuine believers, then Christ lived in them and their lives should present evidence of His lordship. The same is true for believers today. Being spiritually fit is having a heart in which Jesus reigns supreme.
Live to please and honor Christ. In 2 Corinthians 13:7, Paul assured the believers in Corinth that he prayed for them to “do nothing wrong.” Then he added that his reason for praying was not so that he might look better in God’s sight but that they would “do what is right.” People use all kinds of motivational reasons to get physically fit. However, staying spiritually fit needs only one justification: it’s the right thing to do; it pleases and honors Christ our Lord.
Embrace the truth. Paul wrote, “For we can’t do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor. 13:8). Whether we are speaking of physical or spiritual fitness, the truth is the truth. We can try to ignore the truth, but it doesn’t go away. We can try to hide it, but it eventually comes out. We can try to fudge it, distort it, or deny it; but the truth wins out in the end. This is why Jesus said to those who believed in Him, “If you continue in my word, you really are my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Embracing the truth in Christ liberates us to grow in faith and in service to Him.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.