Not everyone has the potential to be an awesome athlete. Not everyone has what it takes even to be a mediocre athlete. And some people, despite all their determination and effort, will always be terrible at anything involving a ball or a court or coordination! Like it or not, genetics play a massive role in how poorly or fantastically athletic you are. You can play tennis all day every day for the rest of your life, but that doesn’t mean you will ever be a Serena Williams or an Andre Agassi. Yes, training is vital. Serena and Andre became ball-smacking beasts because for years they ate, drank, and slept the sport! However, all the discipline in the world won’t make you an awesome athlete if “awesome athlete code” is not written into your DNA.
This reality of “natural advantage” does not translate over into the spiritual realm, though. You might be able to excel in physical athleticism. But if you are a Christian, you absolutely can excel in spiritual athleticism. If he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (the Spirit!) really does dwell in you, you have the same potential as every other Christian to be a God-loving, Christ-exalting, others-serving, Kingdom-advancing, exemplary “spiritual athlete.”
Sure, the Spirit has gifted each of us uniquely for the purpose of ministry. Some believers are gifted to teach; others are not. Some believers are gifted to prophesy; others are not. Some believers are gifted to be administrators; others are not. But hear me: no Christian has more God-given “talent” than another Christian to be godly. We all have the same potential for love, faithfulness, and obedience to Christ.
I think sometimes we see other loving, faithful, and obedient believers and have thoughts like, “If only I had their natural resilience,” or, “If only I had their good upbringing,” or, “If only I didn’t have so much baggage.” No, no, no. You don’t need that person’s natural resilience, good upbringing, or lack of baggage. Why? Because it is the Spirit of God that enables that person to be godly, not their innate personality characteristics or great parents or lack of traumatic experiences! And the same Spirit who dwells in them, dwells in you.
However, though we all have the same potential for godliness because we all drink of the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), that does not mean we all live up to our potential. Godly Christians are not people who sit around twiddling their spiritual thumbs, hoping that maybe one day God might make them godly. Godly Christians are people who train themselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-9) by the power of the Spirit. They labor for the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27). They cultivate endurance, courage, and hope by feasting daily on the Scriptures, which were “written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). They fill their hearts with God’s words so they might not sin against him (Psalm 119:11). They lay aside sin and every other “weight” that hinders their spiritual running (Hebrews 12:1-2). They fan into flame the gift of the Spirit that is within them (2 Timothy 1:6). They gather together with other believers who will exhort them in the faith so that they will not fall away from Christ (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:23-25).
There is a form of godliness that comes only with time—no doubt about that. Despite his very best efforts, a recent convert will not be as wise, self-controlled, or spiritually mature as the woman who has been faithfully following Jesus for four decades. But if that recent convert will purpose in himself to take hold daily of God’s enabling grace, there is no reason he can’t be just as godly as that woman in forty years.
“. . . train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” – 1 Timothy 4:7-9