In Part One of “Healthy, Not Unholy” we discussed the benefits and importance of physical fitness. Specifically, that exercise is important for physical and emotional health, how it teaches discipline and can contribute to our confidence. Today, I want to outline the potential downside to making physical fitness an important part of our lives.

To understand how the pursuit of physical fitness and attractiveness can potentially lead one away from God, it  is important to understand the meaning of the word “idolatry.” Idolatry is one of those words that immediately stokes the imagination. It may bring to mind images of ancient civilizations and mystic ceremonies where people dance around large statues and make violent sacrifices to strange and exotic deities.

Ok, ok….sometimes I let my imagination get away from me….but while what I described is accurate, it is not the whole story. According to the dictionary, the primary meaning of idolatry is “the worship of a physical object as a god.” As Christians, we do not acknowledge the existence of any deity but the God of the Bible. Therefore, it is accurate to label the worship of another supposed supernatural being or physical object as idolatry.

And God takes a very dim view of idolatry. In fact, He considers it sinful. We know this because He told us so several times. For example, in the Old Testament book of Exodus, His dislike of idolatry is revealed to Moses as the 1st Commandment:

Exodus 20:2-3

I am The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.

Remember, God gave Moses 10 Commandments, but the very first one describes His view of idolatry! In verse 5 of the same chapter of Exodus, God elaborates further:

Exodus 20:5

5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.

So it is clear from the Bible as early as the book of Exodus that God is a jealous God, and that He will not tolerate the worship of anything other than Him. However, there is another form of idolatry, that is every bit as detrimental to our spiritual well-being, even though it lacks the visceral impact of literally worshipping “graven” images. This type of idolatry is best defined as an immoderate attachment or devotion to something other than God. And this type of idolatry is much more likely to be the one that ensnares us. We are not often confronted with the option of bowing down to other gods. So it can be easy to believe we have dodged the idolatry bullet. But this second form of idolatry can be especially dangerous and difficult to counter because it often presents itself as something pleasant, enjoyable, or even something good for us – like exercise and physical fitness.

triangle pose

The pursuit of physical health, fitness, and attractiveness, like any activity, can become the focus of a person’s life. We all have friends and acquaintances who devote extraordinary amounts of time and effort running, weight-lifting, biking, spin class, etc… We often marvel at their dedication and perseverance, and maybe secretly wish we had the drive and discipline to do it ourselves so we could look and feel as good as they do.

There is nothing inherently wrong in devoting time and effort to physical fitness. But the potential for a problem exists when a Christian’s desire to be physically fit transitions from an enjoyable activity, something beneficial to our lives, to an obsession. And this type of “immoderate attachment” can include all different kinds of activities and interests, from politics, work, art or other hobbies and passions. And even if it is not to the level of obsession, anything that distracts from one’s dedication and devotion to God, per this second definition, becomes idolatrous. And that is a big problem.

And while nothing is wrong with a desire to be physically attractive, there is real danger in focusing too much on achieving some sort of ideal of physical beauty. When we begin to see ourselves as valuable in terms of our looks, we undermine the self-worth we should have as children of God and loved by Him for who we are on the inside.

Christians should strive to put God first at all times; nothing should be more important. But in ways large and small, we all occasionally fall short of this goal. We convince ourselves our busy lives and hectic schedules prevent us from giving enough time to God. It is true, as adults, we all have to work and eat and this necessity can interfere with our spiritual lives. This makes it all the more important when we do have free time we set aside a portion of it for God. And that means exercise and physical fitness (or anything else!) take a back seat to worshipping and obeying God.

Does this mean we should avoid healthy, wholesome activities that can improve our health and physical fitness and attractiveness? Absolutely not! God comes first, but there is not indication from scripture that He wants us to become sedentary couch potatoes. In fact, the opposite is true.

In Part Three of “Healthy, Not Unholy” we will take a look at the reasons why we NEED to put effort into our physical well-being in order to be more pleasing to God. For now I will leave you with the following verse:

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body…

What do you think?

If you focus on your physical fitness do you believe it has the potential to become a type of idolatry?

Do you believe you have a proper perspective on your health  in light of your relationship with God?

Have you ever been criticized for putting an emphasis on your physical fitness?

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