The question of how much Christians should focus on health and fitness isn’t just theoretical. I look around and I see more health and fitness issues than ever: obesity, eating disorders, workaholism, sleep disorders, and unhealthy diet and fitness fads, just to name a few.
I was in college when I was first exposed to what we called conditioning—weight training and aerobics. I did it to get in shape for hockey season. I was in my early 30s when I first joined a gym. I don’t remember the reasons I had for doing so at the time, but it became something I’ve done on and off ever since. And it wasn’t just that the gym became a part of my life, I became interested in learning about the world of health and fitness. I read everything I could find about the pros and cons of different weightlifting, diet, supplement, and training regimens. And in the process of that I had to grapple with what Scripture says, directly and indirectly, about health and fitness.
Here are some thoughts to consider in forming your own theology of fitness.
Our bodies “were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies…. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (1Corinthians 6:13, 19-20). God is very pro-body. He created our bodies and will resurrect them. He wants us to honour Him by taking care of our bodies.
Because God wants us to take care of our bodies the Bible affirms, “Physical training is good…” (1 Timothy 4:8). It’s good because being healthy and fit will help us better fulfil our God-given purpose in a variety of ways. It will help us feel better, have better moods and attitudes, give us greater strength and stamina for our work, help keep us from getting sick, and improve our productivity.
In practical terms, this includes having a healthy diet and not overeating—two things we struggle with in our culture of processed foods and fast food. Taking care of our body also means getting adequate exercise—again something we lack in this digital age with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Getting proper rest and giving adequate attention to our physical and emotional needs in our driven, workaholic society is also part of caring for our body.
If any of these aspects of healthy living are not what they should be in your life, begin today to take small steps to make changes. I suggest not thinking in terms of changes for the rest of your life, just focus on making a change for this week. Focus on success for a short time period and after achieving that, add another short time period.
As important as health and fitness is, there must be balance, not obsessiveness. The Bible warns against being a slave to anything including health and fitness, and diets (1 Corinthians 6:12). Scripture also addresses our motives warning against vanity (1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 31:30; 1 Peter 3:3-4). The purpose of being healthy and fit is to serve God better, not so others will notice and admire us.
It helps us to stay balanced by remembering, “our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). With this perspective in mind, the Bible affirms that spiritual health and fitness is even better than physical fitness: “…training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Being healthy and fit is beneficial for this life. But this life is not all there is. There is an eternity to keep in view and the rewards are greater and more enduring.
In the end, it shouldn’t be an either/or situation when it comes to physical health versus spiritual health. It is a both/and, with spiritual health and godliness being the priority. Physical life will end but spiritual life is eternal. Keep in mind that the glorified body we receive for heaven has nothing to do with whether we are fit now or not.
The balance is in focusing on looking after your body for the sake of your soul. Although I tried many different things related to health and fitness, now it all boils down to six words to live by: Move more, eat right, keep balanced.