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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cellulite of the Soul

Woman doing plank exercise Stock Photo 
Yesterday’s exercise class was packed with young women, most of them in their early twenties, including the instructor. I should have known better. The pace of the class matched its name, “fat burner,” and I struggled to remain energetic for an hour, keeping in step with the fast music. The young woman up front started with a little pep talk. “The warm weather is coming and you want to reach that summer figure!” While working her arms, “now think of your summer figure! Remember you’ll be wearing T-shirts and you want those arms to look tone!” Then during squats, “now just think about what these are doing for your legs and rear.” And so it went. We all know what that summer figure is that the young woman is trying to motivate us with: smooth skin, tight muscles, no flab, perfect proportions. 

It may have been motivating to some, but honestly, I struggled with it. Instead of focusing on health, she made it all about looks. Most likely few of the women in the room had ever borne a child, let alone 5! What will happen to them when they realize having a child with mess with their figure? Few of them seem to be having joint issues. What if they end up with some sort of physically limiting condition? I just know for me, at age almost 44, nothing short of selling myself body and soul to working out obsessively or paying thousands to a plastic surgeon to lipo-fix me will eliminate my imperfections! I have to see working out as the discipline of being a good steward of this body God has entrusted to me, since God chooses to dwell in me through his Spirit.

The Scriptures give us a different motivation for and perspective on working out. Paul believed that physical exercise did benefit a little. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8).” He uses physical exercise as a metaphor for our spiritual exercise. We are to work out and grow in godliness, which is the fitness goal of the inward person or the soul. How do we get motivated to do this? The same way the gym instructor motivated us by reminding us how we'd look someday. By looking at perfection. By fixing our eyes on it. But this time, it is justified!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2 NIV).” The author of Hebrews encourages us to look at Someone who has the perfect spiritual figure as our role model. We are to look to the author and perfecter of our faith, the one who is and can and will make us perfect. His work-out is done, over, finished! He is now resting at the right hand of God himself. This gives me such hope because there are parts of my soul that I sometimes despair about. Spiritual cellulite is so stubborn! No matter how hard I try, it just won’t budge. No amount of working on it seems to help. I am utterly flawed. And yet, the relief-bringing truth that the gospel speaks into my soul is that it is not my effort that will perfect me. It is Jesus’ effort, his endurance, and his suffering that did and will! Jesus, the forerunner, ran the race before me and for me. I will one day be presented perfect before Him. I will be like him! The race will be over, the struggle with sin will cease.
But for now: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Phil. 2:13 NIV).” And so I continue to work at my sanctification, just as I continue to work out to try to keep my physical body in shape. This physical body is wasting away in spite of all my efforts. I am still feeling the aftermath of that class now! But my soul’s future figure is secure because it is not based on my ability to be perfect. I am being renewed day by day. I am being changed into his likeness and cannot wait to stand before him without any spiritual cellulite!

But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Col. 1:22 NIV)
So as the summer approaches and we may be thinking about out swimsuit figure, let's remember what is really important! I ran in to this beautiful video, done by a friend of a friend, a young woman struggling with weight who has grasped the truth about the gospel as it applies to this area of life. To view it click here.