|Exercise is important, not only for body but also for spirit.|
When I started in a cardiac rehab class about eight years ago, part of my recovery process after having had open-heart surgery, the first step was an orientation session. During that time one of the staff did an evaluation, seeking to determine where I was physically and establishing where I wanted to be.
I don’t recall the specific conversation. I do remember looking at all of the exercise equipment and thinking it seemed a bit daunting. But I think the nurse did a quick appraisal and said something like, “Arm muscles? Check. Leg muscles? Check. Heartbeat? Check. Now, Mr. Tamasy, exactly what would you like to do with those muscles? How would you like to train them as we work on your overall condition?”
Since I’d been an avid power-walker prior to my surgery, but hadn’t really been using any fitness equipment like treadmills, rowing machines, exercise bikes, weight machines and free weights, I didn’t have a good answer for her. But one thing was clear – even though my muscles were already there, they weren’t going to tone and strengthen themselves. I would have to be doing some work, strenuous work. And to have any lasting result, I would have to do that work with some consistency and dedication.
It’s kind of like that spiritually. The Bible says God gives each of His children “a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3), but it’s our responsibility to exercise that faith – to put it to work. Sometimes crises in our lives – issues at work, family problems, financial and health struggles – leave us with no alternative but to put our faith into action. These occasions can be extremely beneficial since they enable God to show us what He can do, when we’re helpless or at a loss as to what we should do to remedy or resolve the situation.
At other times, we’re called to exercise our faith simply during the course of daily living. We might not be confronting dire circumstances or insurmountable obstacles, but we still need faith to apply the truths and teachings God gives us through the Scriptures.
For instance, loving our neighbor as ourselves, as Leviticus 19:18 instructed and was affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:19 and in other passages of the New Testament. Or believing, as Jesus declared, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). “Really?” we ask, to which He responds, “Trust Me. I know what I’m doing.”
Through the centuries one of the more problematic scripture passages for some theologians has been Philippians 2:12, which commands believers, “as you have always obeyed…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” They read this and say, “Wait a minute! Doesn’t the Bible teach that salvation – being redeemed and put into right standing with God – has nothing to do with our works?”
That’s correct. The Bible says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). And Titus 3:5 concurs, stating, “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but according to his mercy.”
So then, which is it? Are we saved by God’s grace and mercy – His unmerited favor – or not? Yes, we are. But just as the person who is either recovering from surgery or some kind of illness, or one that simply wants to get into better shape physically, must exercise the muscles they already have, we too must exercise the spiritual “muscle” – faith – that God gives to each of His people.
When I was starting my rehab exercise class, my intent was not to acquire new muscles but rather to use and strengthen the ones I already had. In a similar manner, the Lord calls His followers to put into use the faith He has given them, to develop it, strengthen it, and prepare themselves for the purposes and work God has for them.
As the Bible teaches, we don’t have to work to become saved. We work – exert our faith – because we are saved, out of gratitude to God and a desire to glorify Him as we put our faith into action. In fact, if we don’t use it, that could be an indication that our faith isn’t genuine at all.
The apostle James asked this penetrating question when he wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?” (James 2:14). That’s like believing, following an employment interview, that you’ve been given a job but then never showing up for work. What good is that?
James wraps up his discussion on this topic by observing, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:17-19).