To start with, I want to say that this post is not trying to condemn anyone, but to combat a toxic culture within the church and put forward the reasons why Christians should take exercise more seriously. If you are someone who struggles emotionally with exercise, you may want to skip to the end and read my conclusion before reading what follows.
Obviously, there are many Christians who do exercise; but especially since trending from Pentecostalism to more traditional Evangelical faith, I’ve noticed a very concerning pattern of obesity, beer bellies, and lack of fitness among churchgoers and church leaders.
I can only assume that this pattern comes from poor theology in one (or more) area of faith. I’m not going to try to conduct an analysis of precisely why Christians place physical exercise (and thus, physical health) so low on their priority list. What I am going to do is give some reasons as to why we need to start valuing it more as part of the Christian life.
The Christian faith is other-people focused, and to not exercise regularly defies this ideal.
Not exercising is inherently selfish and immoral. Read over that again, and let it sink in. You can give me no valid reason for refraining from exercise that is not ultimately self-centred. That’s not a condemnation, it’s just the truth.
It’s here that I feel it necessary to note that I’m not talking about taking a break from exercise due to illness or injury; I’m talking about a lifestyle that lacks regular beneficial exercise.
The fact is that a lack of regular exercise is proven (beyond any doubt) to significantly increase the chances of cancer, heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis, mental illness, and Diabetes (Type II). Some medical scientists also believe that a lack of regular exercise even increases your chance of developing dementia and other cognitive dysfunctions.
If you have not included exercise in your lifestyle, and you develop a condition that could have been prevented otherwise, you are fully accountable for the lives that are impacted by your condition and the hurt that it has caused yourself, your family, your friends, and your church (especially if you are in church leadership). You are responsible for any ministries that suffer your loss of input. You are responsible for the burden you have placed on the health care system, health care workers, and people who are denied hospital beds.
Of course, life being life, exercise does not guarantee that you will not develop an adverse health condition at some point. Sometimes even the people who have lived the healthiest lives develop cancer. But just like going out into the sun without proper sun protection is much more likely to leave you burned, not exercising regularly is much, much, more likely to leave you with a condition you could have prevented; and the responsibility for that falls on you.
I know this sounds harsh. Let me repeat that this is not a condemnation; if you feel convicted or offended by these truths, perhaps you need to listen to them more intentionally.
Not exercising is hypocritical, and therefore not fit for the Christian life.
If you believe, and even teach, that Christians should refrain from things like smoking or self-harm (in any form that it takes), but you do not exercise regularly, you are being hypocritical.
The harm that a lack of physical exercise does to the human body is exponential. Whether that manifests itself now or in the future is irrelevant; you are actively harming your God-given body by not exercising. If you die because of a condition you could have prevented with regular exercise, you have essentially murdered yourself.
The human body is in the image of God, and so is to be treated as sacred.
This ties in very closely with the previous point. If we look at a Biblical view of what it means for humans to be made in the image of God, we must come to the conclusion that the human body is, in some way, connected.
That means that if you do not exercise regularly, you are defacing the sacred image of our holy God. As Christians, we must take this very seriously.
Genesis 9:6 bases the sanctity of human life in the fact that we are made in the image of God. If we are not to kill another person because they are in the image of God, we are not to kill ourselves either. And I’ll emphasize this one more time, it is public knowledge that medical scientists have discovered the irrefutable links between a lack of exercise and developing adverse health conditions which lead to death.
1 Timothy 3:2, 7 – Church leaders must be above reproach
I must say, it can be pretty embarrassing as both a personal trainer and a Christian to see how seriously non-believers are taking their health and wellbeing, and simultaneously to see how Christians are not.
In Western culture, we cannot claim ignorance as to the effects that a lack of regular exercise has on both the human body and the economy. Non-Christians take this seriously, and trust me when I say that they do not respect when people in authority do not take care of their own health.
The amount of church leaders who unashamedly refuse to take obesity and health seriously is a reproach to the the body of Christ. If you are a church leader and you cannot “make time for exercise”, you are falling into reproach and lessening the respect with which those outside the church may view us.
There is no valid excuse for Christians to continue to treat physical exercise as flippantly as we have been recently. For the sake of our reverence toward God and His kingdom, and for the sake of the church and the people who love us, Christians must start exercising more intentionally.
You’ve probably noticed how pointed this blog post has been. I’ve intentionally written in the negative to try and get the seriousness across to Christians who still don’t believe it’s necessary to include exercise in their lives. I could have written in the positive (eg. “exercising decreases your risk of developing an adverse health condition), and as a personal trainer that’s what I’ve been trained to do. However, the government and various health authorities have already tried that approach, and still Christians have not taken exercising for health seriously. I want there to be no doubt that it is the responsibility of every believer in Jesus Christ to live their lives with accountability and integrity, which includes taking care of their physical and mental wellbeing.
Remember, there is no condemnation in Christ. We all go through times in life where it is hard to maintain regular exercise, and I myself am not exempt from this. We must also acknowledge that there are people out there who genuinely don’t know how to, or where to start with, exercise.
If you are someone who has struggled to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle, it doesn’t change God’s love for you or your value and worth as a human being. I know that there are many reasons why people might struggle to exercise, and we are all on our own journeys. I want to strongly encourage you however to not give up. Even if all you can manage right now is to go for walks, keep at it. Go at your own pace and work up to doing a little bit more when you can. Every step towards health, however small, is a step in the right direction.