A new year is here and the neighborhood fitness center is packed. We run on treadmills, push-up, pull-up, and squat. Some spin, while others swim. We strive to be good stewards of the bodies God has given to us, and the gym can be a great place to do so.
Done well, working out can increase physical health, practice discipline, and reenergize us. For Christians, gyms are also excellent places to meet and establish relationships with unbelievers, many of whom go to the gym in search of community as much as for the workout. With that said, the gym can also be a hotbed for sin.
It should be stated at the outset that, although some centers can contain half-dressed men and women, others do not. The former should be avoided; the latter can be enjoyed. All gyms are not created equal, so do the homework and choose one carefully.
The temptations at the gym go beyond lust. Comparison, pride, and self-focus also entangle many. So while a prepared Christian at the gym can serve as a weapon of mass destruction against the enemy, an ill-prepared Christian is a sitting duck. For this very reason, we need to get equipped for the battle so that we can hit the gym and sever these snares with the gospel blade — instead of getting caught in them.
But how? Here are four things to take with you when you go to your local gym.
1. Bring a Partner
The first step in successfully traversing a minefield is locating the active mines; the same principle holds true for walking the floors of a gym. The mines of temptation are buried everywhere, some in more obvious areas than others. This is especially true given that most of us hit the gym on the way to or from work — the time of day when our minds are most fatigued, distracted, and unprepared.
So, where are your landmines? Do you find yourself tempted to stare at the woman on the treadmill or the guy at the bench press? Are you a sucker for the nearly endless walls of mirrors that stand to remind you that you are not as strong, thin, or beautiful as you’d like to be? Perhaps you are an exercise-addict, convinced that if you just spent a little longer at the gym you would finally achieve your fitness goals.
No matter what landmines you find awaiting you at the gym, you will need to prepare for them with wisdom and sobriety. Do you need a workout partner who will remind you of truth and keep you accountable? Would it help you to listen to worship music or a sermon to drown out the lies being pumped out of the TVs and speakers? Do you simply need to consistently pray and ask God to help you shine his light on you while you exercise?
2. Bring Your Identity
Christians have the great blessing of entering the gym with an identity instead of going to the gym in search of one, for “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16–17). What higher calling or greater identity could there be? Those who have the blood-bought approval of God need not rush after the temporary and fickle approval of other mere humans; God can clap louder and longer than people, therefore we live for his applause, not theirs.
As heirs of God, we also have the hope of an eternity with God, and this sure promise of eternity unveils the foolishness of storing up our treasures on earth. Such treasures of physique and good looks, though not inherently bad in and of themselves, are incredibly temporary and bound to rot and rust with the passing of time (Matthew 6:19). In eternity, however, our burdensome and perishable bodies will be swallowed up by a heavenly body, one that will be imperishable and raised in glory and power (1 Corinthians 15:42–43). Though we give thanks to God for our earthly bodies and seek to steward them well with diet and exercise, we recognize their temporary nature and value them accordingly.
3. Bring Joy
As those approved by God, we recognize that “bodily training is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8), and therefore we hop onto treadmills and reach out for dumbbells. Yet, our greater priority is growth in godliness, which “is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
So, instead of being motivated by the earthly treasure of a magazine-cover body, we are spurred on by the eternal treasure of a God-loving soul. It is good for us to be stewards of our physical bodies and work to build or maintain a healthy body composition, but our primary concern is not a firm bicep but a soft heart. Our goal is to walk out of the gym in greater love with Jesus than when we came in. To do this we take joy seriously.
In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, our chief end is “to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” With an identity firmly rooted in Christ, believers are enabled to do exactly that in the gym. Feel his joy as you engage in physical exercises, sports, and competitions.
Allow his delight to fill you in your swimming, running, stretching, or lifting. Marvel at God in the way he created your body to move, work, grow, and react. Savor the feeling of accomplishment he provides as you push through the final stages of a difficult workout and arrive at the finish line. In all forms of exercise, praise him for the freedom you experience, knowing that you are dearly loved by the God of the universe, regardless of physical outcomes.
4. Bring the Gospel
Also, make evangelism a workout goal. You will meet a variety of people in the gym — young and old, short and tall, those who are helped by exercise and those who are enslaved by it. But look out for people you will meet at the gym who do not yet know Christ. How will you seek to share Christ with them? Will you ask them to be your workout partner, strike up a conversation near the water fountain, or share your testimony as you stretch and cool down? Will you remember their name, buy them a protein shake, or ask for a way you could pray for them?
Whatever your strategy, be sure to be ready to develop trust and share Christ, for the person who has never walked through a church door may have just stepped up on the treadmill next to you.
The gym is both a potential hotbed for sin as well as a greenhouse for the spiritual harvest. Christians should not miss out on being present in a place that so naturally attracts those seeking more from life. But we should not stumble into such a place without considering our own weaknesses and sin-tendencies.
Grab your shield, pick up your sword, and remember that your most vital weapon against Satan’s snares is your God-given identity under the armor.