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Jan 11, 2011

Should Christians Work Out?

It’s that time of year again. The gyms and bike paths are full of well intentioned, newly motivated, would-be athletes. Everyone has started their New Year’s resolutions or are at least trying to shed the extra pounds picked up from all the holiday meals and endless desserts. But you know what they say about good intentions?

Of course, most of these fitness converts will be missing in action again by Valentine’s Day, leaving the weight rooms and racquetball courts to the hard-core, year round exercise fanatics. It’s these folks who cut me off in the traffic circle every day on my way home, racing to get to the gym before all the bench presses and elliptical trainers are taken. It must have been one of these zealots who I saw in the weight room the last time I was at the gym.

At first glance, I didn’t know what this guy was doing. Trying not to focus on others while they’re working out, all I saw was what looked like a guy praying to a steel tower. Only after I stopped my curls and took a closer look did I see that he was pulling on a rope doing an exercise called a cable crunch.

 But the visual of someone praying before the exercise machine stuck in my head as a metaphor for how some can take working out too far, making it an idol and a self-obsession. On the other hand, from this picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger it might appear that enough cable crunches could eventually lead to a Mr. Universe title, action movie roles, and maybe even the Governor’s Mansion in California!

We live in a very materialistic and carnal culture. The media and advertising assault us constantly with images of bodies most of us will never have. We’re inundated with countless diet and exercise programs promising quick results, yet for most of us, the battle to keep off the weight and stay healthy becomes a constant struggle, only getting more difficult as we age.

So what’s a Christian to do? Is there a Biblical way to approach exercise and fitness? Once again, as with most things in life, the key is balance. There are valid, biblical reasons to keep our bodies fit, but of course, we can go too far, even to the point of sin depending on our motives and priorities.

First, bodily exercise is not only permitted in the Bible, but recommended and endorsed for the sake of self-discipline, such as in 1 Cor 9. But God puts bodily exercise in its rightful place, secondary to spiritual discipline. In 1 Timothy 4:8, we are told that “bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Therefore, it’s fine to keep our bodies in shape, for service in this world, but even more important to keep our souls healthy, as we’ll need them both in this world and for all eternity.

So, speaking of motivations, see if these lists help you check your reasons for working out to keep things in balance. Or if you don’t currently work out, perhaps you’ll find motivation to join the rest of the exercise rookies and prodigals back in the gym this week.

5 good reasons to exercise:
  1. To keep yourself healthy (as a good steward of the amazing resource God gave you to use and maintain)
  2. To discipline yourself, fight off sloth, and bring your bodily desires into subjection (1 Cor 9:24-27)
  3. To stay physically attractive to your spouse
  4. To be prepared for anything God calls you to do
  5. To set an example for your children

 5 not-so-good reasons to exercise:
  1.  To attract (other) women (1 Cor 6:13)
  2.  To brag or lord it over others
  3.  To worship yourself
  4.  To compete with the world and it’s standards
  5.  When working out gets in the way of more worthy pursuits
 Just remember as you “work out” your body, don’t neglect your soul. As we’re told in Phil 2:12-13, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.


  1. Thank You so much for this biblical perspective

  2. This is really cool and I totally agree with the "bowing down to exercise machines. :D

  3. This is so true! Back then, when i was into bodybuilding, i worshipped my body and seeked to look better to attract the ladies. I put myself before God. So now i dont sculpt my body anymore, but only do certain excersises that are functional and beneficial to my future military/sport life :D

  4. Thanks for the article. It's been a dream of mine to be in shape in order to be my best me in Christ. I'm ready to have my life be put in over drive. Ready to live the abundant life and I believe doing this will also motivate other areas of my life. Thanks again.

  5. I'm sorry, but you're quoting 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 out of context. It's not about working out at all. Read the whole chapter and you'll understand.

    1. Thank you for your comment, and yes, I agree that the point of 1 Corinthians 9 is Paul setting aside his rights (as an apostle) for the sake of effectively reaching the lost. Yet, he uses an earthly, familiar metaphor of an athlete’s self-discipline to make a point at the end. This was my intention too. Just as an athlete disciplines themselves and sets aside his or her rights and desires to achieve their goal, so too should we bring our desires under discipline to achieve our goals, both physical and spiritual. I did not intent to take liberty with this verse or to take it out of context. I hope you see the context of my article too, and my main point that while physical exercise may be beneficial as we are good stewards of the bodies God has entrusted to us, it is still secondary to our spiritual development and must be done for the right motives and in balance. Thank you for your comment and keeping me accountable to the Word.