By Scott O. Roberts, Ph.D.
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What makes physical fitness boring and a painful, undesirable waste of time for some while others eagerly look forward to their workout? Exercise may not always be easy or convenient to do but in truth, fitness can and should be fun and enjoyable. Getting beyond excuses and distractions is important to live a healthy lifestyle, but finding motivation to exercise is never easy. Finding Christ on the other hand is. He sacrificed willfully, gave his life and died on a cross so that through his obedient action we can have vibrant life now and forever. Want to learn how to motivate yourself to exercise? Discover fitness at the cross first.
What do a cross and fitness have to do with each other? Some might first think of CrossFit, the fitness regime started several decades ago based on variable functional fitness programming that as their slogan says, “forges elite fitness”. However, the cross on which Jesus died forges eternal life fitness. His cross reminds us of death, pain and sacrifice, as well as freedom from sin. The cross is a symbol of Jesus conquering death --- his resurrection. It’s so important to truly understand and appreciate the meaning of the cross, which ultimately points us to God’s great grace, truth and love.
NEW MEANING FOR MOTIVATION
What motivates us to do the things we do like exercising or losing weight?
Is it fear? “I don’t want to have a heart attack and dye young.”
Is it guilt? “I know I should but…”
Is it anger? “I’m not good enough.”
Is it greed? “If I looked better I would be more popular.”
Joy, peace and love are much better motivators and they’re ultimately best found in the cross-defeating actions of Christ. God wants us to respond to His love by loving him back, and one way we do that is to respect and care for our body. Internal motivation from your faith guided to serve Jesus is more likely to lead to long-term health behavior change than external motivation for self-gratification.
Keeping Christ at the forefront of all you do gives you guidance and protection. He keeps you from straying from the truth. Jesus, dying on the cross seems like the most extreme act of fitness – He suffered, endured and paid the ultimate price.
There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He suffered and knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
That alone is powerful and motivating to fuel your own hard work and perseverance. It isn’t optional. It certainly isn’t to show off. It’s your calling and your privilege to suffer like Christ.
But don’t stop there. Many do. The cross experience has two sides – death AND resurrection.
The resurrection factor eclipses all earthly symbols and gives us the ability to translate physical fitness motivation into spiritual vision.
World-class athletes routinely use guided imagery to help improve their athletic performance. Before they even lace up their shoes or hit the pavement, they visualize every aspect of the workout from start to finish. In her article Guided Imagery: Train Your Mind to Relax and Focus, Deane Alban says, “Guided imagery is a mental technique that uses the power of imagination to bring about positive changes such as relaxation and better focus and performance.” Such YOU-driven thoughts, she says, only exist in your mind.
Guided imagery and cross-altered vision are poles apart. Living in Christ (spiritually AND physically) is distinctly different. In his article Can You Imagine, Brandon J. O’Brien says, “From beginning to end, the Bible calls us to adopt a sanctified imagination that helps us look beyond our own experience.” Discovering fitness at the cross enables you to look to Christ’s victory (over hate, pain, death, sin --- all of it) and take ownership of the vision that Jesus (not you) has crafted exclusively for you. THAT is the change, the improvement, the lower weight, the ability to walk, run, be happy and healthy, the success and the ability to make a difference in the lives of others that you can visualize not as a self-induced imagination but as a God-created reality. This is what keeps us going when there doesn’t appear to be any other reason to keep pushing forward toward the goal.
BELIEVE THE TRUTH NOT THE LIE
The truth is we get fit from the inside out, not outside in. It’s the same with our faith, when we surrender our lives to Christ we are RADICALLY transformed and renewed (from the inside out). Health is important and we should all strive to achieve a high level of health and wellness. Our methods of pursuit of health and fitness are what we need to consider. A Christ-centered pursuit of health and wellbeing will be rewarded here on earth as well as in Heaven.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Become a Christ-centered fitness disciple. Adopt a Christ-centered habit of fitness and health for a lifetime.
Proceed to the next page for the full length original version of this article.
(Full length original version)
Finding motivation to exercise is never easy. If it were, everyone would be out exercising all the time, effortlessly with unlimited success stories to boot. But the bottom line is that exercise may not always be easy or convenient to do but in truth, fitness can and should be fun and enjoyable. We know we need to, but I can think of a myriad of reasons why … relaxing, working, reading and napping, are more important at the moment than getting out and exercising. How do we learn to motivate ourselves to exercise?
What are the secrets other use to get and stay fit? There are countless books on how to motivate yourself to do just about anything in life. However, none of the information on motivation theory will help you unless it is meaningful and useful for you. Honoring our bodies through faith is what should motivate us to exercise and care for our bodies. At the core of Christian motivation is faith. For followers of Jesus a central motivation is found at the foot of the cross.
What do a cross and fitness have to do with each other? Some might first think of CrossFit, the fitness regime started several decades ago based on variable functional fitness programming. The cross has a much greater meaning. What does the cross represent to Christians? To followers of Jesus, the cross is a symbol of God's love in sacrificing his own son for humanity. It represents Jesus' victory over sin and death, since through his death and resurrection he conquered death.
The cross reminds us of death, pain and sacrifice, as well as freedom from sin. Jesus was condemned to death on the cross but rose from the dead, and his suffering and selfless sacrifice redeems all of us from sin. So the cross is really the symbol of Jesus conquering death --- his resurrection. It’s always tough to wrap my head around this: the Creator of the universe sent His only son to die for you, me and everyone so that we can live in grace, truth and love with Jesus. It is so important to truly understand and appreciate the meaning of the cross, which ultimately points us to God’s great love for us.
NEW MEANING FOR MOTIVATION
What motivates us to do the things that we do, for example to exercise or lose weight? Is it fear (having a heart attack or dying young), guilt (I know I should but …), anger (I’m not good enough), greed (If I looked better I would be more popular), hate (my body) or more positive attributes love (of myself and others), joy (if I take care of myself I will be happier) or peace (exercising will help me manage my stress). The greatest of these is love. Love is God’s greatest commandment, to love Him and our neighbors.
The cross is the collision point of two of God’s attributes, love and holiness/justice and hope and renewal. God’s motivation for sending Jesus is love. We are reconciled into God’s glory and reconciliation through the cross. God wants us to respond to His love by loving him back, and one way we do that is to respect and care for our body.
Think of your body as a temple, which has been provided to you as a sacrifice of God’s love for you. In return you desire to care for and treat your body as an instrument of service for His kingdom versus an ornament of pleasure for your own self-desire. Internal motivation from your faith guided to serve Jesus is more likely to lead to long-term health behavior change than external motivation for self-gratification. If you want to grow in faith and godliness, you must grow in understanding the significance of the cross. The cross helps us confront the most prevalent and sinister of sins (pride, idolatry, sloth, gluttony, etc.).
Keeping the cross of Christ at the forefront of all that you do helps guide and protect you. The cross keeps you from straying from the truth, the truth that God loves you and cares for you. The lies you believe at times tell you that you are not worthy and that you should just give up on the idea of getting fit and healthy. The cross reminds you daily that Jesus paid the ultimate price. When it was all said and done, it was finished. Our sins are forgiven. If we follow Jesus and keep His commandments, He is there to help us overcome all of our battles in this life. Living in a broken world we are constantly reminded of the profound impact of sin on our lives and the world and that the work of Christ on the cross is our hope and light.
THE CROSS AND FITNESS
How does the cross help us do anything, let alone get fit? The cross (the symbolic obedience to the truth of our salvation) is the place where all of the wounds of our sin are healed. The power of the cross is so powerful but so overlooked by Christians. God does not care what type or degree of sin you bring to the foot of the cross, as long as you bring it to Him and leave it with Him. Lack of motivation, alcohol addiction, gluttony, emotional problems, guilt, anxiety, depression, anger …. whatever it is, healing, progress, moving forward begins at the cross of Christ.
There is no amount of grief or emotional pain that God can’t heal if you let Him. The cross represents suffering and a horrible way to die, and yet comfort and healing because our Lord and Savior died and was resurrected from the cross. If Jesus had not done what he said he would do, return after dying a horrible death, the cross would be of little comfort and use to us.
Through Christ’s death on the cross, those who turn to Him are delivered from both the penalty and the power of sin. All of our problems in life stem from sin from our own sin or from the sin of others against us (and our sinful reaction to it). We also must remember that we live in a fallen world, and that our solutions to our problems are made better or worse depending on belief
in the powers of the cross. The solutions to all of life’s problems, including motivation to exercise and get healthy, are found at the cross of Christ.
When we surrender our lives to Jesus, we are crucified with Him. His crucifixion on the cross shows that he was willing and ready to give his life for the sake of his faith and God. We are not our former selves, we are crucified to sin (un-healthy behaviors) and we are no longer bound to our sin (it doesn’t have control over us). Once crucified to sin we begin a new life in Jesus, a life we are called to live from the time we were born. A restored union with God (in Christ) is how we are defined as children of God. Until then, we are lost sheep wandering among the lost.
When Jesus called James and John to follow him, they put down their nets, stopped what they were doing, and immediately started following Jesus. What about us, have we heard the call, what was the response? Ask yourself are you ready to make changes in your life needed to improve your health and well-being? Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. God can help us improve at stopping un-healthy behaviors and starting new healthier ones. If we first take the time to stop daily, pray, and ask for God’s help, while looking to him to strengthen us God will enable us to have the motivation, strength and perseverance to get and stay fit.
CRUCIFIED TO SIN
“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Paul goes on to say that once free from the power of sin, we are called to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” Our souls, minds and bodies are renewed through the love and sacrifice of Jesus.
JESUS AS ROLE MODEL
Jesus is a good role model because he set a good example of forgiveness and love. The actions and teachings of Jesus teach people to be patient, obedient, loving, truthful, respectful, kind and believe in God. Jesus called himself a servant of God and this can be portrayed through his actions of washing his disciples' feet. He was known to put the interests of other people first. Jesus had an amazing relationship with God and worked to fulfill God's will. He prayed and worshiped God whenever things were good or bad. His crucifixion on the cross shows that he was willing and ready to give his life for the sake of his faith and God.
CHANGING HEALTH BEHAVIORS
So the first question to ask is, do you consider yourself to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus? This is where the battle of fitness, weight loss, freedom from addiction, and more begins. You can’t expect to build a beautiful new house if you don’t have a good foundation. If your desire is to make personal (personal being you and Jesus working together) changes to your health, you must first learn to surrender to the Cross. Once again, this is where the battle is won or lost even before the work (exercise and diet) begins.
To be identified with Christ in His death means that you are separated from the power of the old nature and from this evil world system. I am now separated from that which formerly had a stronghold on me. I can choose to obey God rather than the lusts of the flesh. I can choose to start eating better, taking care of myself and exercising or I can feed the lust of the flesh. I sincerely believe that God’s desire for His children is that they live healthy robust lives so that they can see the fruit of their labor and serve God and his kingdom with energy to spare.
USING THE CROSS TO MOTIVATE
STAY FOCUSED – Remember what this life is all about. Stay focused on Jesus and the cross and push forward every day. The days we don’t want to exercise or think we just don’t have it in us, reflect on what Jesus did for us what He continues to do for us daily.
Hebrews 12:2 says to “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
VISION – World-class athletes routinely use guided imagery to help improve their athletic performance. Before they even lace up their shoes or hit the pavement, they visualize every aspect of the workout from start to finish. We change and get fit from within, we must learn to visualize success and improvement … can you see yourself at a lower weight, can you visualize yourself our walking or running … and enjoying it. A vision of success, for better health and well-being, keeps us going when there doesn’t appear to be any other reason to keep pushing forward toward the goal.
BELIEVE THE TRUTH NOT THE LIE
The truth is we get fit from the inside out, not outside in. Same with our faith, we don’t outwardly work our way to salvation, there is nothing we can do to “earn” God’s love and grace, its free. All we need to do is repent and surrender to the one who became flesh and walked among us. The graph below shows us that once we start on the path to better health and starting moving, we gain significant health benefits before any outward signs of improved fitness (weight loss, the elusive 6-pack abs, etc.) become visible to you or others around you.
It is the same with our faith, when we surrender our lives to Christ we are RADICALLY transformed and renewed (from the inside out). To those around us (even to us) we may appear the same but something inside has changed, we are beginning to grow outwardly …. becoming renewed children of God. Over time, the outward appearance of our inner spiritual transformation starts to become visible (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).
Will we ever see the 6-pack abs or “massive” arms, will we ever look like the model on the cover of the magazine …. you already know the answer to that question! But over time we will have more energy, lose weight, develop muscle tone, look and feel better and isn’t that what it is really about! Change is great on the outside, but real change comes from the inside out. It’s more than cosmetic; it’s more than a skinnier version of the same old you. God wants you to be made new from the inside out – spirit, soul, and body.
“I” CAN’T BUT JESUS CAN
Your right “you” can’t, none of us can. I can’t do anything without Jesus, we were not designed to live apart from God. John 5:30 says that “I can do nothing on My own initiative.” If the Son of man can’t do anything on his own, then why would we expect to be able to do anything on “our” own? Christ-centered health and fitness puts our motivations into perspective and with the right perspective (Jesus first) we are destined to succeed. Remember, Jesus came to give life and
that we might have it abundantly (John 10:10). We were meant to live out our earthly lives in harmony with Jesus, and He will hill help guide and motivate us and put us on the right path.
As you begin your journey to better health and well-being, remember that it is not easy and it will take work and effort. You may fail or succeed on your own, but with Jesus by your side, regardless of whether or not you improve your fitness score or not, you will be better off. When we consider the “big picture” what really matters …. whether or not I fit into a certain dress size or have achieved the ultimate fitness prize … 6-pack abs, we all leave this earth and our earthly bodies behind and either live with Jesus for eternity or not. Health is important and we should all strive to achieve a high level of health and wellness. Our methods of pursuit of health and fitness are what we need to consider. A Christ-centered pursuit of health and wellbeing will be rewarded here on earth as well as in Heaven.
Believe that you can achieve …. Then achieve what you believe!
On those days when you feel like giving up, when the weight of the world is resting square on your shoulders, when you have zero energy to do anything let alone exercise or eat healthy, picture Jesus on the cross and remember what the cross represents for us. No matter what challenges you may face, remember Jesus is the first step.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
Become a Christ-centered fitness disciple. Adopt a Christ-centered habit of fitness and health for a lifetime.
HABITS OF A CHRIST-CENTERED FITNESS DISCIPLE
• God wants a new you who not only looks different, but who lives and thinks and speaks and acts differently. He wants a new you who is being transformed by the renewing of your mind – a new you who is being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
• Ephesians 4:23 says, “Be made new in the attitude of your minds” (NIV).
• Make a commitment to the Lord to do the best you can to take care of your body.
• Realize that your body is not your own as a Christian it belongs to Jesus Christ.
• Get a physical (know what you risks are and what you need to work on) plus now what your ideal weight is.
• One step at a time …. The journey of …
• Become active, daily, exercise 3 times a week, the more the better.
• Eat a health supporting diet!
• Know what your barriers to exercise are
• Have fitness accountability partner or team.
• Avoid fad diets and exercise programs.
• Don’t become overly pre-occupied with your body.
• Make your body the best it can be, but accept the body style that God has given you.
• Daily devotionals, daily physical activity.