We have been focusing on Paul’s encouragement to Timothy, “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7, ESV). We began by looking at the purpose of the believer’s training: growth in godliness. We train, we work hard, we discipline ourselves, to be godly. Our ultimate goal is expressed in Paul’s words in Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Did you catch that, “conformed to the image of his Son?” Our goal is to be like Christ, or, to put it another way, godliness.
Over the next few posts, we will examine how we do this. If we are to train ourselves for godliness, then we must have a plan in place. Bodybuilders use weightlifting routines.
They figure out what works, what areas need more focus, and what their body responds to best. Likewise, Christians must have a plan in place. They must know what tools are available for their spiritual growth, just as the bodybuilder must know the types of machines and weights available for his physical growth.
We could view this initial post as the barbell of spiritual training. The barbell is a simple piece of equipment. It is a bar with some sort of stopper at the ends. One can slip weights onto it and do a variety of lifts: squats, bench press, military press, and barbell rows, to name a few. What is the barbell of spiritual fitness?
The answer is undebatable: the Bible. Don Whitney, who’s book I recommend you purchase and devour, writes, “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.”
The spiritual bodybuilder’s barbell is the Bible. Perhaps no other passage of Scripture displays the glory and wonder of the Bible than Psalm 19:7-11,
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
The Bible, more than any other piece of equipment for our training, is the barbell. Like the barbell, the Bible has many different ways that believers can utilize it. Don Whitney discusses these:
- “Hearing God’s Word”
- “Reading God’s Word”
- “Studying God’s Word”
- “Memorizing God’s Word”
- “Meditating on God’s Word”
- “Applying God’s Word”
These are all ways that believers should be utilizing the Bible. Unfortunately, we often leave the barbell of our Bible on our table, in our car, or the pew without ever using it again. If that is you, then simply repent and move forward! Recently a friend reminded me, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” If you have not been reading your Bible, then start today!
HEARING GOD’S WORD
To begin with, one of the best ways you can use the Bible for your training in godliness is to hear it. This refers to the regular preaching and teaching of God’s Word. God has provided His Church with His pastor-teachers to feed them the Word. Church members, in turn, show up and actively listen to the Word preached. They actively listen. Any parent knows the difference between active listening and passive listening. The child has performed an action that the parents do not like and proceed to provide instruction.
After the brief lecture, the parent asks the child, “Did you hear me?” The child’s answer, almost every time, is, “Yes!” And then before the parent can say anything else the child is gone. Then, to the parent’s surprise, the child performs the forbidden action. “Did you hear me?” the parent asks. “Yes, I did!” the child replies, and then proceeds to quote, verbatim, what the parent said. In other words, the child was listening, just passively.
This is how many of us listen to sermons. We passively listen. We hear the words, and we may even take sermon notes. But active listening requires us to engage with the words of both the preacher and the Scriptures. We pray as he preaches, asking God to reveal sins that we must repent of, areas we need to release control, and many other responses. We listen to the Word.
READING GOD’S WORD
The second spiritual exercise that we can do with our Bible barbell is reading the Bible. Don Whitney provides “the three most practical suggestions for consistent success in Bible reading.” They are “find the time,” “find a Bible-reading plan,” and “find at least one word, phrase, or verse to meditate on each time you read.”
Like everyone, we are all busy. However, busyness is not an excuse to fail to read the Bible. Whitney remarks, “In no more than fifteen minutes a day you can read through the Bible in less than a year’s time. Only five minutes a day takes you through the Bible in less than three years. And yet the majority of Christians never read the Bible all the way through in their whole life.” We all have 24 hours a day. How we use them, in some part, is up to us. Let us use them to read the Scripture!
But we also need to have a plan. There are many plans out there. Like a bodybuilder choosing their weightlifting routine, we must find out “routine” for Bible reading. There are multiple ways we can engage in the systematic reading of the Bible.
Here are a few possibilities:
Bodybuilders develop a plan and stick to it, but they also make changes to keep their muscles shocked for optimal growth. Likewise, the wise Christian will vary his or her reading plan to keep things fresh and spiritually invigorating. The main point, though, is to pick a plan and stick to it.
STUDYING GOD’S WORD
We may believe that “studying God’s Word” requires a depth of knowledge in history, language (including Greek and Hebrew), geography, and theology. While they certainly help, all that is necessary for Bible study is, as Don Whitney remarks, “a pencil and a piece of paper.”
Writing down main thoughts, questions, and even important verses/thoughts provides insights into passages of Scripture that you may be “familiar with”. You will learn about the individuals in Scripture. You will see interconnected words and themes that simply reading the Scriptures will not provide. Ezra offers us an excellent example of the outline for Bible study:
For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. (Ezra 7:10, ESV)
This verse also reminds us of the purpose of Bible study: to be like Christ. As with the Bible reading plans, there is a multitude of Bible study tools. Many are available online for free. Likewise, study Bibles abound. My personal favorites are The MacArthur Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible, and the NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. Journaling Bibles are also useful, as they provide ample space in the margins of the Bible for note-taking. Regardless of how you study, study for godliness.
MEMORIZING GOD’S WORD
Memorizing Scripture provides the believer with an arsenal of encouragement, armament, and worship material. Noting one of the benefits of Scripture memory, the psalmist states, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11, ESV). When we memorize Scripture, we store up God’s Word in our hearts and enjoy the privileges of victory over sin, encouragement during difficult times, and a ready-made liturgy of worship.
Often, however, we find ourselves bemoaning the work of Scripture memory. Whitney describes our present predicament, “Many Christians look on the Spiritual Discipline of memorizing God’s Word as something tantamount to modern-day martyrdom.”
As with each of the preceding methods of utilizing the barbell of Scripture, Bible memory has many methods and plans. I encourage you to purchase Whitney’s book because he offers some helpful insights.
MEDITATING ON GOD’S WORD
As we worked through Psalm 119, we came across a passage that discusses meditation in general. Here is the link to that study. Since I have already devoted a great deal of attention to this subject there, I will let the reader listen to that.
APPLYING GOD’S WORD
Finally, we must apply God’s Word. Up to this point, we have purchased our “gym membership,” we have developed a routine to utilize the barbell of Scripture, and now comes the hard part: putting in the reps.
You see, we can boast of the greatest equipment, we can sport the most expensive clothing, and we can have the greatest array of supplements, but if we fail to lift the weights consistently, we will fail at bodybuilding. Similarly, we can have the most expansive library, perfect knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and all theology, but without applying the Word of God, we will not grow in godliness.
James, the practical one, phrases it in this way, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22, ESV). The difficulty lies in the application. It is hard, at times, to apply God’s Word. Whitney remarks, “Despite our occasional struggles to understand parts of Scripture, understanding it isn’t our chief problem. Most of Scripture is abundantly clear. Much more often our difficulty lies in knowing how to apply the clearly understood parts of God’s Word to everyday living.” Though not a perfect resource, the Life Application Study Bible, or the Life Application Commentaries provide help in this endeavor. In the New Testament Commentary, the editors state, “Application is putting into practice what we learn.”
Will you put your hand to the bar? Will you stretch and tax your spiritual muscles to grow in godliness? The hardest part of working out is working out. The hardest part of growing in godliness is growing in godliness. Our gracious Lord has provided us with the greatest piece of equipment: the Word of God. Are we willing to use it?
 Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 28.
 Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 29-61.
 Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Peter 5:2.
 Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 33.
 Ibid., 33-34, emphasis his.
 If you are too busy, I recommend Kevin DeYoung’s little book Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).
 Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 33.
 Ibid., 37.
 I would recommend The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, Ligonier, and Grace to You.
 Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 41.
 Ibid., 56.
 Bruce Barton, et. al., Life Application New Testament Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 2001), viii.