“Exercise and Self-Denial”


Title:  “Exercise and Self-Denial”
Author:  TheologyGirl-ReformedWomen, Editor & Publisher “Heavenly Notes”

“…and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.  For bodily exercise profiteth little:  but godliness is profitable unto all things….” I Timothy 4:7b-8a

Like most of us at the start of a New Year, I began a diet regime and walking exercise routine to shed those unwanted “holiday” pounds.  I also renewed my yearly commitment to my daily Bible reading and devotional time exercises.  These are “exercises” of both body and mind which are needful, but there is a third exercise that we need to practice.  It is to “exercise ourselves to godliness,” i.e., a hard-working, constant working out, both physically and mentally, of our pursuit of godliness. This is the hardest of the three to perform because it calls for the exercise of “self-denial.”  It is now mid-year and both of these are still working exercise in my daily life.  I still need to shed unwanted pounds and still need to exercise myself to godliness.

In our past ReformedWomen study on Jeremiah Burroughs “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment”[1] we saw how important “exercise unto godliness” is. We learned that in order to be “content” in the Christian life, one must learn many, sometimes difficult lessons and that we must exercise our faith, our minds, and our bodies in the things of God so that we do in fact become content no matter what God brings into our lives.  We were reminded that Scripture instructs us to present our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service”[2] and that means one that is totally 100% committed to God’s plan and purpose for us.  It is learning “self-denial” and submission to God.

What did we say about learning this lesson of self-denial?

“At the outset, I believe that in the Christian life this is the first and hardest lesson we must learn. We are “self-centered” “self-satisfying” people in our natural estate and thus self-denial is a hard thing.  But God has given us an example to follow: Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf. He came, He lived, He died and He rose again for us. This is sacrificing one’s self for another.

Burroughs, in teaching us the “art of contentment,” set forth self-denial as a basis for contentment in the Christian life.  He says, ‘you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment. That is the first lesson that Christ teaches any soul, self-denial, which brings contentment, which brings down and softens a man’s heart.’[3] He then lists 7 ways in which we learn this: 1) self-denial, 2) that we know we are nothing, 3) that we deserve nothing, 4) that we can do nothing, 5) that we deserve nothing good, 6) that we are worst than nothing, and, 7) that if we perished it would be of no loss.  He says that when we learn the lessons here, they bring forth the “soul to rejoice and take his satisfaction in all of God’s ways,” in all of God’s providence and care for him.

Now this lesson is one that really strikes at our human pride. First, we do not like to deny ourselves. Second, we do not like to think of ourselves as “worst than nothing” “deserving nothing” or as one not being missed if we should “perish.” But that is exactly what we must do in order to understand God’s teaching on “denying ourselves” daily, taking up His cross and by our “presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice.” It is being “nothing” so that Christ is all in all. He must increase and we must decrease. Christ, His ways, precepts, commands, and righteousness in our lives must be first. We must “deny” self and “put on Christ” and “not make any provision for the flesh.” [4]  We know that Christ is working in us to “will and to do of His good pleasure,”[5] and we know that He is perfect, His plan and purpose for us is perfect because He has ordained it, and that we must submit to His wise counsel and providence in it.  We must put aside our “self-centered” “self-gratifying” ways of a “me first, me only” attitude and have the attitude of Christ. This is submission, self-denial and this is contentment.”[6]

Finally, as we have seen, in order for us to learn this lesson of “self-denial” we must truly exercise ourselves in it.  Not a “once in a while” exercise but a “daily” exercise.  I am reminded of the Nike® motto “JUST DO IT!”  We are to “JUST DO IT” in exercising ourselves in godliness.  God’s Word says “for bodily exercise profiteth little” [how well we know this] so what good is it to us if we exercise our bodies to good physical health but our minds are filled with things that do not glorify God?[7]  It does not profit us.  We are to “exercise” ourselves to what is good and pleasing to God.  When we do this, we will be content in our Christian life, pleasing to Christ and we will be a happy, healthy, and well-exercised believer.  Be encouraged to “JUST DO IT” and seek to “exercise” today for the glory of God and your eternal good!

Living Coram Deo,
Editor & Publisher
“Heavenly Notes 2002”©2009

[1] Jeremiah Burroughs:  The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust).

[2] I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.  Romans 12:1-2

[3] Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 86-87.

[4] But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof. Romans 13:14

[5] For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13

[6] ReformedWomen Bible Study, Chapter 3, “Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment” Summary Comments, February 2002.

[7] For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:20; Shorter Catechism Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

TheologyGirl, ReformedWomen and its affiliates are Bible-based Titus 2 outreach ministries to women of faith for biblical instruction, ministry and an outreach mission to women and children with the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. For more information, visit our ReformedWomen links here.


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