Everything good seems to evoke one of two extremes: either a perversion or a renunciation. Since I was a young boy, the idea that men should have muscles was rather clear. Of course males have muscles, just as do females; but, males should have muscles that are larger, more conspicuous, and stronger. The image of Charles Atlas appeared on many of the comic books I read. The idea of a male weakling was a negative to be avoided at all cost. Essentially it is a good idea that males have muscles that are developed to the extent of giving a distinct form and usefulness to their physiques.
However, that idea has been perverted by body worshipers and by those who are not content to be reasonably toned; but, want to have an exaggerated appearance of masculinity. That idea has also evoked negative reactions by those who oppose the concept of the masculine strength and advocate a image of the feminine male. Largely, though not entirely, this renunciation has come from feminists who wish to make men into their subjects and despise every concept of strength residing more with men than women. Parents, part of raising boys to be men is the deliberate development of muscles. Don’t be afraid to encourage strength and to discourage weakness on the part of your sons.
But, muscular Christians are not believers with biceps. Muscular Christians are those who accomplish notable works for the glory of Christ. Some of these works are private and some are public. Muscular Christians are strong enough to love Christ more than they love anything else, especially themselves. Muscular Christians love their brethren with sufficient strength to defeat the temptation to be personally offended and alienated from them on account of their weaknesses and offenses. At the same time, muscular Christians love their brethren with such strength as enables them to confront them if their offenses place their souls or the souls of others in jeopardy. Muscular Christians over-come the world. They resist ideas and practices, however popular and commonly accepted, which are the fruit of ungodly thinking or are violations of God’s will expressed in the Bible. Muscular Christians are holy. They are devoted to Christ with a sincere zeal that delights in doing what pleases and magnifies Him. Muscular Christians are active for the cause of Truth in their generation, particularly the Gospel. They are able to deny themselves for the sake of doing good to others. They are strong to love the unlovely and to lift up the lowly. Their strength supports them against attacks directed at them for their public stands for Christ and for the message of His cross. Because they are strong, muscular Christians are not afraid of ridicule or even persecution. Instead, they are bold and frank, speaking with love and candor. Should we not all aspire to become muscular Christians?
How is that accomplished? Probably not in the ways you think. Physical muscles are the result of genetics improved by rigorous, self-discipline. Muscle development requires the determination to work and work and work notwithstanding the pain or depriving oneself much more enjoyable activities. Is this pattern helpful in developing spiritual muscles? Numerous books and sermons say “yes”. The thought has been sounded often that if we are to be holy we must bring ourselves to a decree of self-denial and self-effort that approximates that of the body-builder in the gym. Thus, many Christians are convinced that they can never by really strong Christians because they cannot muster the resolve and tenacity to be sufficiently self-disciplined to develop spiritual muscles. Books recounting saints going days without food or sleep in order to achieve intimacy with Christ or isolating themselves from all human company for days on end in order to read the Bible through or to master spiritual classics like Calvin’s Institutes convince the average believer that he or she will never by more than a spiritual weakling. Such books are misleading! Such testimonials portray spiritual strength as the reward of human determination and effort. That is misleading and dishonoring to God! It is legalism.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul was a muscular Christian of the highest class. Yet, his strength came because of his acknowledged weakness. God granted Satan something of a free shot at Paul. A messenger of Satan brought some sort of physical infirmity and distress to Paul. It was tormenting to the degree that Paul pleaded with Christ to have it removed. Instead, Christ promised him grace. Grace, the infusion of Divine strength, was given Paul to make him resilient and strong in the midst of his pain. Therefore, Paul discovered the secret of having spiritual muscles: feel your weakness sincerely and cry to Christ for strength! The Apostle came to realize that Christ made him strong when he truly felt and acknowledged his weakness! The key to strength was weakness coupled with faith expressed by prayer. As a result of this experience, Paul came to glory in whatever made him more sensible of his weakness–whatever made him more earnestly prayerful , that resulted in the strengthening work of God within his soul. Then, he could do all things through the one strengthening him, even Christ.
Now, please understand, I am not denying that we must be disciplined. We must be in our Bibles. We must resist and defeat the weakness of our fleshly cravings which war against our souls! We must kill those cravings. All that is true. Spiritual muscles must be employed to defeat spiritual enemies. However, my point is that spiritual muscles themselves are not the reward of our hard work and courageous self-effort. Spiritual muscles are the gift of Christ in response to our weakness…weakness expressed in believing prayer! We feel our weakness, our inability to do anything good. We cry to Christ in sincere petitions that He undertake for us. And He does! He comes in grace and infuses His strength into us. Thus, by His strength we are able to do great exploits. Yet, the strength is His, not ours. The praise is to Him, not to us. We appear strong. We appear muscular. We do good things.
But, it is all the result of our helpless cries for mercy and grace. If you want to be a muscular Christian, you must be weak. You are weak; but, you must accept it, feel it, turn it into serious prayer and Christ-seeking. The measure of how weak you are, in your own eyes, is the pathos with which you pray. Prayerlessness is the result of felt strength. Prayerfulness is the result of felt weakness. Our mistake is reversing those realities in our minds. We think that prayerlessness is the result of weakness and prayerfulness is the result of strength. Actually, it is just the opposite. We do not pray because we suppose ourselves strong enough not to need God’s help and blessing. We pray because we feel weak and are convinced that we can do nothing except by the enablement of our glorified Lord. How muscular are you? The answer will coincide with how weak you feel yourself to be and how much you seek strength from Christ: For when I am weak, then I am strong.Gary Hendrix, Pastor Grace Reformed Baptist Church Mebane, North Carolina