Personal Trainer or Spiritual Trainer?

Growing in righteousness takes some spiritual sweat

Personal Trainer or Spiritual Trainer?
Photo by Eduardo Cano Photo Co. on Unsplash

Do you need a personal trainer? Most of us would probably be better off if we had someone planning, scheduling, and pushing us toward healthy diet and exercise. There is certainly “some value” in considering and pursuing that.

The Bible tells us, “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7a-8). The rewards of earthly victory in sport can be fun, but the rewards of winning the race for godliness reaps a heavenly victory that is eternal.

The Apostle Paul told Timothy, his young pastoral protégé, that the sacred Word of God was inspired for the Christian to ultimately experience personal “training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Training in righteousness happens very similarly to how physical training takes place. We must review and remember the fundamentals, then practice the godly thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors God commands until they become part of our “spiritual muscle memory.” We call that “good character” – the godly virtues that characterize us.

This means that biblical “training in righteousness” is hard work. It takes spiritual sweat! The very idea of training – instruction, discipline, and repetition – communicates that spiritual growth and change does not usually happen in an instant. It comes through sustained effort and repeated practice, though we know that effort must be energized by the Spirit of Christ, apart from whom we can do nothing (John 15:5). We must work at it, but not without recognizing that “It is God who is at work in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

How do we press toward the goal? Not just for a day, or a week, or even for a month, but in a way that produces lasting change from the heart, reflected in lasting change in our life, our relationships, and most importantly in relation to God!

How does the Bible “train us in righteousness”?

I love how “training in righteousness” defines one of the aims God has in giving us the Word of God.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16–17

Training in the biblical sense means that kind of instruction in truth and discipline of behavior that involves repeated practice, resulting in a genuine spiritual change. It isn’t just “behavior modification,” because it is rooted in the truth of the Bible (not man’s wisdom), aimed at reflecting the glory of God (not man-centered goals), and empowered by the Holy Spirit (not man’s best efforts).

This word is used in Scripture for child-training (Ephesians 6:4). One way most parents have sought to train their children is by repeatedly teaching and reminding their kids to say “please” and “thank you.” We remind them over and over again, in hopes that one day it becomes their habit of thought and attitude – that it becomes their “character” to be humble and thankful.

As a Christian husband, I need the Word of God to remind me every day of how I am called to love my wife “as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25), how I should live with my wife “in an understanding way,” and “show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7, NASB). True biblical leaders in the home have understood the need to be a “servant” and “slave of all,” just as Jesus came “to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-44).

Of course, wives have corresponding obligations of virtue. So does every class and category of people (children, parents, masters/bosses, slaves/employees, soldiers, widows, singles, pastors/elders, church members, and just “neighbors”). We don’t have space here to outline the biblical responsibilities and principles of attitude and conduct for every kind of person. But you should search the Scripture to make sure you know what they are if you truly desire to grow in them.

But knowing those principles is different than being trained by them.

How can you begin your spiritual training regimen today?

If the truth of God’s Word is really going to bear fruit in your life, you must let it teach you, convict you, correct you, and then train you in righteousness.

That means it has to get practical.

  • What is one character trait you desire to overcome (Anxious? Fearful? Selfish? Lazy? Critical? Indulgent? Inattentive? Harsh? Self-willed? Or, insert your besetting sin here: _____________)?
  • What is the opposite character trait you would like to grow in (Trusting? Peaceful? Sacrificial? Diligent? Complimentary? Self-controlled? Attentive? Gentle? Humble? Or, insert your needed virtue here: _____________)?
  • What needs to change in your desires, thoughts, and attitudes in order to move from the negative character trait to the positive character trait?

What you choose to “put off” and “put on” in the above list is something you must pursue as part of a living and abiding relationship with Christ. You must also seek to have your mind “renewed” by the Spirit so that your attitudes, motivations, and goals are in line with what God says you should be aiming at.

Striving to love and serve another person so that they will give you something that you want in return is not God’s standard. Nor is it okay to resist the temptation to be critical or angry, but then allow yourself to dwell on the fact that you still think the other person is stupid or incompetent. God’s standard of virtue extends into the deepest part of our hearts.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22

There are many interrelated aspects to this “put off sin/renew the mind/put on virtue” dynamic. But we must recognize that what God wants to change is our heart, and that our heart is that complex/storehouse of motives, desires, and intentions.

So here is a possible plan from your “spiritual trainer”:

  1. Pick a sin or negative character trait that you’ve needed to change for a while (I gave you a few suggestions above).
  2. Ask for God’s help in identifying the patterns of attitudes, motives, thoughts, and behaviors that have been “fleshy” and fueled the fire of that sin.
  3. Seek the biblical truths that correct those wrong and sinful patterns, and prayerfully ask for God’s help to transform them. Memorize those Bible passages.
  4. Identify the opposite virtue of the sin pattern in #1, and then commit yourself to practicing that virtue in specific ways every day – prayerfully asking God for the strength to practice it for His glory.
  5. After running that race so as to win (1 Corinthians 9:24; Hebrews 12:1) for a time, rejoice in the growth you see and the reward of victory that has “promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
  6. Pick the next “event” you would like to “race against,” and keep up the training!
Brian Sayers

Brian is the Pastor of Counseling & Equipping at Faith Bible Church. He is passionate about the local church, and equipping the saints to effectively serve one another. Before coming to Spokane, he spent 14 years serving God's people as a pastor in rural New England (Vermont & New Hampshire).

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