What Does the Bible Say About Exercise?

During a worship service, our pastor recently quoted Eric Liddell, the 1934 Olympic runner who said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  This statement made me think more deeply about the hobbies I enjoy. God gave me passions and interests, gifts from Him that may be simply for my pleasure and enjoyment.  But that enjoyment should point me towards God.  Do I have an attitude of thanking Him for my gifts and interests?

Nutrition and fitness are hobbies that I am passionate about.  God-given passions can easily turn into idols, and because I invest a lot of time and thought in working out and eating a healthy diet, I sometimes think about whether my priorities are in the right place.  I decided to see if God’s word (the Bible) has anything to say about exercise and nutrition. 

First Timothy 4:8 states, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”   Until today, I never realized that God specifically mentioned exercise in the Bible.  The Message translation, a paraphrase version of the Bible, of this verse reads, “Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.”  Paul mentions physical exercise in a positive light while exhorting us that investing in our spiritual growth has both temporal and eternal benefits.  The implication is that physical exercise and discipline over our physical bodies is good, but that it only has temporal benefits.  We should practice spiritual discipline (e.g. praying, reading the Bible, worshipping), as well, as the benefits of spiritual health are great.

First Corinthians 6:19-20 reads, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”  Again, the Message states, “Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”  These verses have several implications.  If you read the preceding verses, this passage seems to refer to lust and sex outside of marriage.  Additionally, our bodies are literally the place where the Holy Spirit is housed.  In the Old Testament, qualified officials had to go to the temples to access the Holy Spirit, but after Jesus died, God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers, and now the Spirit resides in each of us who belong to God (Acts 2:1-4).  We are now the temples.  More relevant to the purpose of this writing, the words, “honor God with your body” implies that we are to take care of our bodies.  Maintaining appropriate physical health can give us more physical energy to devote to spiritual endeavors.

Like virtually any hobby, bodybuilding and dieting can become idols.  We can begin to put too much priority on our physique and weight on the scale.  I ask myself difficult questions: Am I spending at least as much time with God (praying, listening to worship music, reading and studying the Bible) as I am at the gym?  Do I find my identity in the way I look, or do I find my identity as a child of God?  Am I exercising for fitness and strength, or am I exercising because of my vanity and pride?  

At times, I do not have clear answers to these questions.  I exercise because it energizes me, it helps me to manage my insomnia, depression, and anxiety, it is empowering and fun, and I desire to be healthy and attractive to my husband.

Yet I have always struggled with body image, and I easily slip into a mindset that my physical appearance defines me as a person.  If I don’t like the way I look on a particular day, I feel like a failure.  I tend to compare myself to others, either condemning myself or feeling superior.  When I catch myself struggling in these areas, I ask God for His help in seeing myself as beautiful because I am His daughter, but clearly there is sin in my attitude towards my appearance.  I have begun thanking God for my health and for the pleasure I get from lifting weights, as I have not always been mindful that these are gifts from Him. 

Today I am thankful for my health.  I have been feeling a bit under the weather, but I am free from major illness or disability.  I am thankful for the passions that God gave me: exercise, artistic and creative outlets, writing, and reading books.

Additional Bible verses related to exercise:

3 John 1:2 – Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.

1 Corinthians 9:27 – I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

    • matt
    • August 12th, 2011

    do what you love to do, for God’s glory.
    ANYTHING can become an idol.
    An idol is anything that you seek to build your identity around, anything you ultimately look to for life, anything that relegates God to the periphery rather than invites him into the center.
    Bodybuilding, relationships, food, money, sex, status, all of these things can never be the ultimate goal. If they are, they will never give you what you’re really after and they’ll end up destroying you.
    I’m glad you’re thankful for your health, you’re a great example to the rest of us… My prayer for you and for me is that Jesus is always a more compelling reality than anything else.
    Sitting in the reality of the Gospel of Grace is the only cure for settling for lesser loves.
    BTW, since i’ve left perimeter, I’ve lost 25lbs and I’m still benching 300lbs.. so don’t mess w/ me girl ;*)

    • Nicole
    • September 3rd, 2012

    Wow your article is so inspiring. I really appreciate your honesty. It actually brought a tear to my eye. Keep doing what you do, being an inspiration is such an amazing gift from God.

    • Sharon Oberon
    • November 2nd, 2012

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful insight into this subject. My husband & I lead a very healthy & active lifestyle with my husband being a body builder. We were recently under attack by someone very dear to us stating that he believed it is a sin to be a body builder & plucking verses in the bible to substantiate his claim. I agree with everything that you said. It can be difficult to balance things at times. And it is hard sometimes to fight the urge to compare ourselves to others and I think that every person here on earth struggles to some degree with body image. But I also believe that so much of what we do as Christ followers will be judged on our intent. If the things that we do whether it be body building or some other hobby is done with the mindset & the heart of seeking to please God first before even our own pleasure then I can see no harm. When we seek to know & love & serve God & put HIM first in our lives we will be better prepared to resist temptation. The discipline that it takes to body build is something to be admired & respected. And I think for many that self control affects all areas of life which is what it clearly tells us to do in the bible.
    Again, I thank you for your inspiring & uplifting words. May God bless you in everything that you do.

    Sharon

    • Anna
    • October 8th, 2013

    Thanks for this! You are writing straight from my heart and I needed to hear your words today.

  1. Thanks for your post. My wife and I recently become CPTs so that we can help people live healthier/happier lives. A comment on “In the Old Testament, qualified officials had to go to the temples to access the Holy Spirit, but after Jesus died, God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers, and now the Spirit resides in each of us who belong to God (Acts 2:1-4). We are now the temples.” There is a tendency in the Christianity to view God of the new testament differently from the God of the old. Holy Spirit had the same function in old as well as in the new testament. In fact, the Holy Spirit was mentioned as early as Gen. 1:2. Consider the days of the flood ant the reason for destruction (Genesis 6:3). Even pharaoh recognized that Joseph had the Holy Spirit (Genesis 41:38). God field people with His Spirit not buildings (Exodus 28:3; 31:3; Exodus 35:31). Just like the new testament teaches that people can grieve away the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) so was the case in the old testament (1. Samuel 16:14). In Psalm 51 (David’s repentance), he prays for God not to take away the Holy Spirit from him (Psalm 51:11). I could go on and on… but I think the Scripture is clear. I you like I could recommend you a great book on the Old Testament that really help understand better the New one. I would like to conclude with the words of Jesus: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”John 5:39. The only scripture available when Jesus spoke this words was the Old Testament. Blessings!

    • Bill
    • October 1st, 2014

    God’s process is in phases. Yes, from the beginning of creation the father, son and holy spirit can be found from Gen on. However, God has a process for us (micro and macro) and throughout human history it is clear that each member of the trinity plays different prominent roles in the different phases of this process. OT God the father prominently interacted with the people and yes the physical structure of the temple that was in the middle of the camp was so that God could live within the people’s camp. During Jesus on Earth, clearly Jesus was the prominent person (and yes all three were present but different roles). After Jesus, it is very clear that Jesus had to leave to have the father send the holy spirit and that the holy spirit (God) would live in us (human temple).

    After Jesus (well 50 days after Jesus) its been the Holy Spirit in us and the Father and Son are in the throne room. The next phase of the process will be the holy spirit diminishing when Jesus steps physical foot back on the Earth.

    SO you are correct about God not changing; however, she is absolutely correct on the temple changing to us and that present day the holy spirit is the prominent God head with us.

    God Bless @Aleksandar

  1. September 26th, 2011

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