A major theme of the New Testament is the concept that not only are we to be physically fit, but God wants us to be spiritually and morally fit. In fact, though salvation is a gift, the only people who will receive this gift are those who are spiritually and morally fit. The question that I want to ask you is, Are you spiritually and morally fit to receive the gift of salvation?
Many people only understand half of the gospel. They understand that you can be forgiven for all of the bad things that you have said and that you can receive a pardon through the blood of Jesus. We would be absolutely lost if Jesus had not made a way so that we could be forgiven; but friends, that is not all of the gospel. Jesus did not just provide a way to take care of all of my terrible past. He has also made provisions for the present and the future, to transform my life so that I do not have to go on living in my old, sinful way. The other half of the gospel is that there is grace sufficient to change my life into His image.
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God. Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” 1 John 3:1–3. If you have the hope of being like Him, you are going to purify yourself as He is pure. He has enough grace to make this a reality in your life.
Several books written by the apostles toward the end of the first century emphasize this theme of spiritual fitness and its importance to us as individuals if we are to pass the judgment and be found fit to be taken to heaven. The book written by the apostle James is one of these. In this book he points out several things that we must do if we are to be spiritually and morally prepared for a place in heaven.
A Twenty Point Fitness Test
If you want to be spiritually fit, you must be willing to endure trials. Putting your body to the test and forcing it to exercise produces physical fitness . The same is true spiritually. You cannot be spiritually fit unless you endure some trials, and the result of enduring those trials is that you develop endurance or patience. “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:4.
If you want to be spiritually fit, you must also be able to endure temptation. “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” James 1:12. Part of the preparation process in the workshop of this world is learning to endure temptation. By the things that they endue, God is polishing His people. This is part of becoming spiritually fit.
“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” James 1:19. It is all right to be as fast as you want to be when you are listening; that is fine; but when you start to return an answer, do not be too quick. Especially be sure that you are slow to become angry, because he says in verse 20, “For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
The Natural World Helps Illustrate Spiritual Truth
I have learned that we understand spiritual lessons by giving them a physical application. Physically, as you put your body under stress and your body endures, your endurance increases until you do not develop an oxygen deficiency because your heart and lungs have developed enough capacity to keep you going. How is your spiritual endurance? When you are under a stressful situation, can you maintain your patience and keep going? The person who is spiritually fit can maintain his patience under difficult situations.
To be spiritually fit, one must become gentle. In the Bible, gentle is translated as meekness. Meekness actually means two things. It means to be humble and to be gentle. “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness [that is, gentleness] the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James 1:21.
Jesus said, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28, 29. Gentleness produces tranquility and rest of soul. There is no strife in heaven, and a big factor is that everyone there is gentle. It is the meek, the gentle people, Jesus said, who will inherit the earth.
When Jesus met the devil, He said to him, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every work that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4. It is not enough to be hearers alone of the word; we must be doers. “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22–25.
While it is good to know what the Bible says, knowledge is not enough unless you actually do what it says. I cannot just talk about being gentle; I have to actually become a gentle person. My wife, my children, the people with whom I work must find out that I am a gentle person. I must actually act that way. There is enough grace, friends; that is what grace is all about.
If a person is going to gain spiritual fitness and moral fitness , the manner of speech must be transformed. “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless [vain or useless; not worth anything].” James 1:26. Though you know the truth, if you do not control the way that you speak, your religion is not worth anything.
Ellen White, speaking of the angels, said, “The angels never fly into a passion, never are envious, selfish and jealous; no harsh and unkind words escape their lips.” Review and Herald, September 1, 1885. Oh, friends, are you ready to go and live with angels, or would your speech spoil heaven?
“For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.” James 3:2. When I come to the place that my speech is perfect and harshness, unkindness, anger, impurity, or untruthful speech no longer find a part in my speech, I am ready to be taken to heaven. I am spiritually and morally fit.
Has your tongue ever gotten you in trouble? “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.” James 3:5, 6. No doubt the majority of wars began because of something that someone or a group of people said. Divorce is often caused by the tongue. All manner of problems result from the tongue. In fact, the tongue is so unruly that no one can control it unless the grace of Christ is in the life. “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8.
I want to challenge you to do an experiment with the Lord. Say, “Lord, You know what I need to change in my speech, and I want Your grace to come into my life. I am yielding my life to You and I want Your grace to come into my life and help me to speak the way that You want me to speak.” If everyone would just pray that prayer, be in earnest, and start practicing it. There are families that are about to split up who could have a little heaven on earth in just a few days if they would change the way that they speak.
“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27. In the social situation in which James was writing, the people in their society that were in the greatest difficulty were orphans and widows. They had no social security or pension benefits. They had no government programs to assist them financially. As a matter of fact, it was very difficult for women to find employment. This was one of the reasons that prostitution became a big business. James says that if you are really a Christian, if you really have “pure and undefiled religion,” you are gong to look around and find the people who are in trouble, and you are going to help them.
We are not to be partial. We are to love every human being and try to help every one that we can.
Love your neighbor as yourself. “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well.” James 2:8. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you are going to have eternal life. Did you know that? The apostle John says that if you do not love your neighbor, your brother whom you can see, then you cannot love God whom you cannot see. (See I John 4:20.) The way that you learn how to love God and do His will is to love your neighbor as yourself. That is a test you can apply to yourself and ask, “Am I morally fit? Do I have spiritual fitness ?”
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10. You are going to be judged by the law of liberty. I took a class in graduate school in the area of physical fitness . One of the things that we learned in physical fitness is that if you are really going to be physically fit, you have to develop all of the muscles of the body. You cannot just do curls all of the time and develop your biceps. That is not being physically fit. To be really physically fit you have to develop the heart muscle, the diaphragm, the lungs, and all of the skeletal muscles of the body. It is the same thing with spiritual fitness . You cannot say, “Well, I keep all the law except for one point.” That is not good enough. You are not spiritually fit if there is one commandment that you are breaking.
“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain [receive] mercy.” Matthew 5:7. If you want to receive mercy from God, you need to give mercy to others.
We must not just have faith, but our faith must work. This is discussed in detail in verses 14–26 in chapter 2.
Pride The Root of All Strife
In James 4, he is talking to people who profess Christianity, yet they are having strife. Now I want to ask you, friend, Do you see any strife in the Christian world today? There is a lot of strife today. Do you know where strife comes from? It is the result of pride. James makes that very, very clear in chapter 4:1–6. Pride produces strife. He says in verse 6, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So if I want to be spiritually and morally fit, I must be striving for humility. How do I get this humility, this humbleness, that I must have if I am going to be spiritually or morally fit?
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:7–10. Make a decision and say, “Lord, I am choosing to humble myself before You. I am not going to be proud.” Do you know that in Christian churches, in homes, in families, and in the work place, if every single person would practice this and become humble, strife would vanish? This does not mean that we would have no problems, but we would not have strife as we try to deal with the problems. Pride produces strife, and in heaven everyone is humble.
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.” James 4:11. If you want to be morally and spiritually fit, you must stop speaking evil of others. “Oh,” you say, “but it is true.” It may be true. There are many things that are true that we could say about each other that are not necessary to be said.
“Oh,” you say, “but he is evil.” Well, he may be evil. The more you talk about it the worse it is going to be for both of you. Do no speak evil about your neighbor. This is part of being spiritually fit. By the way, if you want to read something interesting about evil speaking, study the life of Jesus and notice all of the different times when He restrained Himself from saying what He could have said. It is a very interesting study.
James says that if you want to be spiritually and morally fit, do not be a bragger or a boaster. (See James 4:16.) For some people, this is not a problem; but for others, it is. When you study the life of Christ, you will find no bragging or boasting. Of all people who could have boasted, He could have done so; but He did not.
Do you ever deliberately put your brother or your sister in a hard spot? The same hard-heartedness is often seen in those who may not actively oppress their brethren, but who just watch them without doing anything to help them. I have heard it said when someone makes a big mistake and gets himself into trouble, “Well, I am sorry he is in trouble, but it is his own fault.” James talks about people who, because they have money and power, oppress those who are poor. (See James 5:1–5.) He says that if you do this, you will be condemned in the Day of Judgment. In heaven, the powerful do not oppress, or refuse to come to the assistance of the weak.
“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:7, 8. Have you ever heard the saying, “Only the good die young?” Now that is not totally true. There are a lot of people who are alive today because God has preserved their life from injury, accident, or sickness. God has preserved them from dying because in the past, if they had died, they would have been lost. God lengthened their probation so that they could have a chance to be saved. Maybe God has preserved your life until now because He wants to make you morally and spiritually fit so that He can give you eternal life. An awareness of this fact gives life a very solemn importance.
“But above all, my brethren, do not swear.” James 5:12. The very thing that the Bible emphasizes over and over again is something that people do unconsciously, almost without thinking. Some people can hardly say a sentence without swearing.
“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16.
Oh, friend, has God put within you a desire to be spiritually healed and to be fit, spiritually and morally, for heaven? If so, confess your trespasses to one another. Make things right and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
Do you want to go to heaven? Oh, friend, it is your decision.