For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Train Yourself For Godliness

Train yourself for godliness;
for while bodily training has some value
godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life
and the life to come
- Paul to Timothy in the mid 60s AD
1 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)

This week some friends and I drank coffee at Café Brant as we studied this passage. It seemed to be appropriate to talk about the athletic metaphor during the Olympics. I found myself wondering how many people consider training themselves toward godliness. As a runner, I have certain goals that I want to achieve. Based on those goals, I have a schedule of how many kilometres I will run and at what effort, what cross-training I will do, and what days will be "recovery"days. That is my plan. Implementing it is the training.

We understand what athletic training is, but how does one "train oneself for godliness"? As I read Paul's first letter to Timothy, I realised that he gives Timothy some great insights into "godliness training".

Knowledge of Biblical Doctrine

One of Paul's major concerns in his letters to Timothy is the reality of false teachers that find their way into churches and mislead people. Paul had instructed Timothy to stay in Ephesus and prevent these false teachers from spreading their ideas (1 Tim 1:3). He tells Timothy to be trained in the words of the faith and good doctrine (1 Tim 4:6). He is to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, exhortation and teaching (1 Tim 4:13). He is to teach sound doctrine and be on guard against those who do not (1 Tim 6:2-6). He will later urge him to do his best "to present himself to God as one approved, who rightly handles the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15) and reminds him that the Bible is breathed out by God and will equip him for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).

One cannot avoid the conclusion that dedicated study of the Bible and its theology is an essential part of training in godliness. In fact, Paul tells him that there is a lot riding on his dedication to sound doctrine. He says that by persisting in sound doctrine he will "save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim 4:16). That's right, Paul sees salvation (both for Timothy and his listeners) as dependent on Timothy's dedication to learning and teaching sound doctrine.

So if part of the objective is the knowledge of Biblical doctrine, what is your plan to sharpen your knowledge? Are you more familiar with the Bible now than a year ago? Do you have a better understanding of concepts like sin, grace, or glory? Do you have a better appreciation for the cross? Is the depth of your knowledge of God and the revelation of himself in the Bible growing...or is it simply a collection of refrigerator magnets?

Put a plan in motion. Here are some possibilities:
  • "Master" a book of the Bible between now and Christmas. This site gives some great ideas about how to study a book in depth.
  • Research a biblical word. Use a concordance and look up every instance of the word and then write out a brief summary. "Love", "Holiness", "Sin", "Thanksgiving" are all excellent places to start. This site can help you do that.
  • Research a topic. Use a topical reference book to look up all the verses relating to a topic. Do the work of writing out a summary of what you think the Bible says about the topic. Then read a book on the topic. Remember, do your own study first! Sometimes you will gain additional insights from the book, but occasionally you will find that the popular book doesn't really teach what the Bible says.

Get Rid of Sin

Paul also reminds Timothy of the importance of living a life of purity before God (1 Tim 1:19; 6:11). In fact, he says that a goal of his ministry should be to produce the type of love that only springs from "a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5). 

Much of his letter is an exposé of what is going on inside the hearts of those who are teaching false doctrine. They lack integrity and have consciences that have been seared (scarred and no longer sensitive) because they have abandoned a pure-heart relationship with God (1 Tim 1:5; 4:1-2). They are full of pride and greed. They love controversy and arguments rather than sound doctrine and unity. They believe that their "godliness" will be rewarded financially (1 Tim 6:3-10). 

Many people have a lackadaisical attitude toward sin in their lives. As long as they don't to a "bad" sin, they feel reasonably holy. Of course, their definition of "bad" doesn't match God's and their relationship with God suffers. They go through the motions of the Christian life without the intimacy that comes from having a pure conscience before God.

So how do we train ourselves in this? Here are two ideas.
  • Read Colossians 3:5-10 and Galatians 5:19-21. Slow down and ask the Lord to reveal any areas of sin in your life. Then repent before God. Ask forgiveness of those you have wounded and do what you can to repair any relationships that are damaged.
  • Read Psalm 51. As you do, are there any areas of sin that come to mind? What does the Lord impress on your heart as you read this psalm? Repent and receive forgiveness from God.
As you do one of these, avoid generalizations. We sinned specifically: we repent specifically. Here's what I mean. Sometimes people just say, "Sorry God, I'm a sinner" without stopping to think about individual sins because they don't want to acknowledge the actual wrongs that they committed. Perhaps they will confess that they have an anger problem, but they don't want to acknowledge the fact that they hurt individual people at specific times and places. They avoid confronting the depth of their sin. As a result they know little of the grace and forgiveness of God. 


One of the great dangers of modern life is that we have a tendency to become spectators rather than participants. I went to a basketball game and saw an awkward halftime show. They had pulled a couple of fans out of the crowd for a simple shooting contest. As the contest began, it became obvious that these fans had no skill at all. They had a hard time even hitting the backboard. They had watched basketball and were even fans of the local team. Perhaps they even thought that they "knew" basketball, but they had never practiced. 

We live in an age with multiple versions of the Bible at our fingertips and podcasts galore. We have books and television programs. We can know many things about the faith, but if we don't put them into practice we are deceived (James 1:22). Like those poor basketball fans, we may think we know a lot about Jesus, when in reality we know little about actually following him.

Paul's letter to Timothy is filled with instructions. There are things that Timothy is to put into practice. "Train" is a verb. It is something that must be done, implemented and practiced. At times learning the skills of godliness seems difficult, but as we train, it becomes easier and more natural. We begin to see the fruits of obedience and begin to add to our knowledge of how to follow God. Here are a couple of practical first steps:
  • Look for what the Lord is calling you to do as you read the Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you particular action steps to take. For example, perhaps you have been reading in Psalms about giving thanks to the Lord. You could take an notebook and write down each evening five things that you are thankful to God for that you experienced that day.
  • Join a life group that you can be open with about what is happening in your life. Share what God is working on in your life. Is he calling you to love a difficult person? Is he dealing with an anger issue? Is he convicting you about the things you have been watching? Having a small group of people that meets regularly and encourages you toward obedience can be a powerful tool in the hands of God.
Growth in Christ is a natural result of walking closely with him. He is like a coach that develops his players and calls them to gain strength and skill. As a good coach, his instructions are geared specifically to the strengths, weaknesses and calling of each player. Each player then implements the plan and grows in their abilities as a result. What is your coach telling you to do to train yourself in godliness?

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