Training to be godly is very different from trying to be godly. Trying to be godly doesn’t work, training does.

Training to be godly is very different from trying to be godly. Trying to be godly doesn’t work, training does.

Try harder

When discussing the Christian life with others, advice on how to follow Jesus can easily sound like a push to try harder. Do you ever feel as though you are telling people to do more and more? Do you ever feel like you are merely poking them to be better and act nicer?

Sounds like effort

When Paul tells Timothy to “train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7) is he in danger of creating a moralistic do-gooder? What is the difference between training oneself to be godly and trying really hard to be good? Training sounds like effort. Isn’t effort the enemy of the gospel?

Hit the gym!

I studied that passage in 1 Timothy recently. As you may know, the word behind “train” in the verse above is connected to gymnasium. It was the place the olympic athletes would exercise and condition themselves for competition. The KJV uses the word exercise in that verse.

Training not trying

This type of exercise is not an enemy of the gospel. It is the way God transform people into the likeness of Jesus. Training to be like Jesus is very different than trying to be like Jesus.

You train

Imagine being challenged to run 10 miles (at one time). You could get your most encouraging, inspiring friends to do it with you. The best motivational speaker would come talk to you beforehand. Most of you would not finish. You may make the daring effort to finish at the cost of injury and illness. If you were able to do it the reason would be you trained to run.

Stop trying

Trying to run without training can be dangerous. Trying to be godly without training can be just as dangerous to the soul. Bill Hull, in his book Choose the Life, says, “I think Christians should stop trying to be godly and start practicing the disciplines that form pathways to the heart of God and transform us into his likeness.” Do you see the difference between trying and training?

Key to transformation

A similar illustration is made with playing the piano by John Ortberg in his book on spiritual disciplines, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People. He writes,

“Respecting the distinction between training and merely trying is the key to transformation in every aspect of life. People sometimes think that learning how to play Bach at the keyboard by spending years practicing scales and chord progressions is the “hard” way. The truth is the other way around. Spending years practicing scales is the easy way to learn to play Bach. Imagine sitting down at a grand piano in front of a packed concert hall and having never practiced a moment in your life. That’s the hard way. This need for preparation, or training, does not stop when it comes to learning the art of forgiveness, or joy, or courage. In other words, it applies to a healthy and vibrant spiritual life just as it does to physical and intellectual activity. Learning to think, feel, and act like Jesus is at least as demanding as learning to run a marathon or play the piano.”

Train wisely

So, effort, in this sense, is not the enemy of the gospel. Training is inextricably linked to the gospel. Being transformed into the likeness of Jesus is not a matter of trying harder, but training wisely.


Are you challenging those you are discipling to the spiritual equivalent of a 10-mile run, without the necessary training? What practices can you help lead people, in order to train them to be godly?

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