Commentary on "Celebrating Spiritual and Physical Fitness"
Day 2: Sunday, April 11, 2010
This lesson starts with an interesting question regarding Paul’s statement, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” which tries to persuade readers that Paul, known for his doctrine of faith alone, qualifies his “faith alone” doctrine with the “work” of fighting a good fight or running a course. Suddenly the lesson appeals to the admiration people have for athletes who, the writers tell, are actually more to be praised for their “sheer hard work” than for their inborn talent. Next the Christian life is compared to “some sort of athletic endeavor”, and the reader is brought again to the issue of performance in one’s spiritual life being as necessary as it is in the sports arena. The writers emphasize that training may appear on the surface to be a form of suffering, but below the surface there are great benefits. These benefits are embodied in the discipline involved, in the goals requiring regularity of exercise, and in the specific rules which must be obeyed if the results are to be obtained. In the end the lesson shifts back to the athletic course of the Christian, the “spiritual athlete” according to the writers, and the specific goal is identified together with the rules: “focus on Jesus” which is accomplished by reading the Bible, by prayer, and by meditation. The lesson ends with a warning about distractions—which may be good things such as work or studies—that keep us from the goal of maintaining “focus on Jesus” and of “growing in grace”.
The lesson makes many good points, but it makes no comment about sanctification. The illustration taken from the sports arena is good if it is not pressed beyond its limits. For example, the central and essential gospel truth of justification by faith alone excludes any works, any effort, or any discipline on our part as a component of our salvation. The Christian life follows salvation and justification. It does not begin before one is saved. Thus, a Christian “runs” from the beginning of his salvation, perfectly knowing that he will finish his course. The apostle Paul is assured that the work that God began in us—our sanctification—will be brought to completion at Christ’s second coming (Philippians 1:6). An athlete competing in the arena doesn’t know if he will finish successfully or not. Thus the comparison of an athlete’s discipline and experience with a Christian’s discipline as presented in this lesson is flawed. The lesson assumes one’s discipline and training will yield justification and salvation; the Bible teaches that discipline and training follow, not precede, salvation.
The accent falls too frequently and heavily of the human’s involvement in his spiritual life. The impression is given that man is in control, he steers his course, he is the captain of his own soul, while Jesus is a coach, a helper, providing the motivation and direction needed. The “focus on Jesus” through prayer combined with study and meditation on God’s Word is too vague in order to be indeed helpful. It may be assumed with some level of certainty that, given the Adventist context, the focus is on Jesus’ moral example rather than on his life, death and resurrection in which he saved us from the condemnation and power of sin, the devil, and the world. Athletes need coaches, not somebody who should perform perfectly in their place. The personal story of spiritual achievements replaces Christ’s story of perfect obedience: His death for our sins and His resurrection for our salvation.
In conclusion, using the examples in this lesson, we remain uncertain whether we truly are dealing with a Christ-centered, gospel-driven sanctification at this point. A spiritual guru, even a non-Christian one, is as good as Jesus if all we need is a “focus” on a spiritual mentor in order to be a successful “spiritual athlete”. Focusing on a good person does not make us good. We must be changed by God’s Spirit and counted righteous, not merely disciplined into good works.
Copyright 2010 BibleStudiesForAdventists.com. All rights reserved. Revised April 8, 2010. This website is published by Life Assurance Ministries, Glendale, Arizona, USA, the publisher of Proclamation! Magazine. Contact email: BibleStudiesForAdventists@gmail.com.
The Sabbath School Bible Study Guide and the corresponding E.G. White Notes are published by Pacific Press Publishing Association, which is owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist church. The current quarter's editions are pictured above.
Official Adventist Resources