One of the irritating things about exercise is that calories are easy to earn and hard to burn. You don’t have to try very hard to consume calories, in fact it’s almost automatic. But it takes lots of work to burn them. Can you imagine if the situation were reversed? What if you lost weight by eating and gained it by exercise? I’d be in terrific shape!
This concept for exercise is simple yet powerful. Staying in shape requires a constant, proactive stance against the natural inclination of a body that is well fed and at rest. Unfortunately, last week’s workout doesn’t cover today’s piece of cake. Or two. To make matters worse, if you are on the go a lot and eat at restaurants, chances are your caloric intake is…more than sufficient to your body’s needs. If you want to stay healthy, you have to take preventative action.
I find that this same principle is at work in our spiritual life. A seventeenth-century Puritan preacher and writer named John Owen coined a phrase that has stuck with me ever since I heard it:
“Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”
In other words, if you don’t take an active stance against sin in your life, it will eventually take you out. Maybe “sin” is too vague and doesn’t land with much force unless you make it personal. This statement recently became much clearer to me when I thought about specific sins that always seem to rear their ugly heads from time to time in my life. The deadly trio that I often deal with (I’m guessing I’m not the only one) are pride, fear, and lust. If you look to the root of most things you do that you shouldn’t (or don’t do that you should), it’s likely that one (or more) of these three is the culprit. If you aren’t constantly vigilant against these enemies of your soul, they will bite you. Hard.
If you’re like me, consistency is difficult because I like things to be finished. Done. Over. When I wash the car, I know when I’m finished because it’s clean. But washing a car is just one step in the process of caring for a car, and that process goes on for the entire time you own it. It’s the same with my sins. I don’t think I’ll ever “arrive” and never have to deal with being prideful, lustful or afraid. This is difficult to take if you tend towards perfectionism. If I am praying to be humbled and then I get humbled, I’m hoping that I’ll be humble forever and I can move on to other things. Why do I have to learn the same thing over and over?
But “once and done” isn’t how it works. While I’m breathing, I have to keep learning to be like Christ. And judging by my progress, it’s going to take a while. If I don’t actively fight against my pride I will eventually grow calloused and fall. This is true for any besetting sin. Sin doesn’t give up after you win a skirmish or learn a lesson. In fact, I’m pretty sure the devil actually retreats, regroups, and comes at you again with a vengeance. That’s why we have to stay alert, like Peter tells us:
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
1 Peter 5:8-9
The fight to stay healthy doesn’t end after one trip to the gym. Every day counts, and it is the cumulative result of all your days that will ultimately determine your health. I hope you’ll choose to fight another day by God’s grace, knowing that his power is at work in you to make you more like him.