Jesus Christ lived as a carpenter, teaching not just with his words but by his actions. He was a physically active individual. What lessons can we learn from the example of His activity? How can we truly walk in His footsteps?
Jesus Christ issued an invitation and a challenge to His disciples to "follow in His footsteps." A major aspect of His message was that "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Yet for countless millions of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, this physical life is filled with problems and diseases many of which a "Christ-like lifestyle" would almost totally prevent!
Down through the centuries, theological arguments over Jesus' teachings have split Christianity into hundreds of sects and denominations. Wars have been fought over the fine points of biblical doctrines. However, the clear, practical, powerful implications of Jesus' physical lifestyle are seldom mentioned as important. While His spiritual teachings are promoted and debated, His physical example is largely ignored.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus, as the Son of God, came to this earth as a carpenter instead of an exalted, pampered monarch, or why He did not come as a learned scholar in a famous school in Greece or Rome? Or why not as a cloistered monk in a remote monastery where He could devote his life to quiet study and meditation, or as an altar boy in a large church in Jerusalem or Rome? Have you ever wondered why Jesus spent His youth in the hill country of Galilee instead of in a Jerusalem synagogue?
Growing up as a carpenter (Mark 6:3), Jesus spent many hours sawing, smoothing planks, drilling holes and fashioning joints with a hammer and chisel. As a builder "in a land of little wood," Jesus probably also worked with stone (Everyday Life in Bible Times, 1967, p. 330). This kind of labor in an age without power tools required a considerable expenditure of energy. Have you ever shaken hands with a carpenter or builder? Jesus was undoubtedly a strong, well-muscled person with a powerful grip.
In order to move about the hill country of Galilee, Jesus walked. To make the customary three trips to Jerusalem each year to keep the Holy Days (Passover, Pentecost and the fall festivals-Leviticus 23; Luke 2:41-42), Jesus would have walked about 150 miles round-trip on each occasion. Just to keep the Holy Days, Jesus would have walked in excess of 450 miles each year. When you consider that He probably walked a mile or more a day during the rest of the year, it is not hard to see that Jesus could have easily walked more than 1,000 miles every year!
The Jesus Christ who emerges from the pages of the Bible, and who left us the example that we should follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21), was a physically active individual. But why would the Savior of mankind choose such an active lifestyle? After all, many down through the ages have felt that a Christ-like life was one of study, prayer, meditation and contemplation. Where was Jesus coming from mentally and spiritually? What principles determined His physical behavior?
The principles that formed Christ's perspective on life are found in Scripture. Jesus stated, "I have kept My Father's commandments" and He taught that we should do the same (John 15:10). He fully understood that the purpose of the commandments was to promote human well being. After all, Moses had written more than 1,400 years earlier, "You shall therefore keep His statutes and His commandments... that it may go well with you... that you may prolong your days" (Deuteronomy 4:40; cf. 5:29).
Scripture states that Jesus never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). Sin is defined as the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4, KJV). Jesus knew from the Bible that obedience to the laws of God would produce health and long life, and prevent the development of disease (Exodus 15:26; Deuteronomy 28:2-4). As the Son of God, with an intimate knowledge of the Creation, Jesus understood that the human body, like the universe, was designed to operate by physical laws. Violating these laws would bring physical problems-including disease and premature death.
Jesus lived a physically active life as an example for us to follow. He knew intuitively what modern science has only recently confirmed through thousands of studies-that exercise is a bodily need and that non-exercisers are actually transgressing the physical laws God established. The lifestyle chosen by the Savior of humanity was not an arbitrary or accidental decision. But why did He live that way?
Several motives for being physically active are immediately apparent. To practice the obedience He preached, Jesus had to give His physical body the exercise it needed to function healthily. This let Him be a positive, productive role model for all those with whom He came in contact. It gave Him physical stamina, and helped Him maintain the mental sharpness needed to carry out a three-and-a-half year ministry in the face of persecution.
Jesus intended His disciples to be "lights to the world." But first, they would have to personally experience the results (spiritually and physically) of the way of life He advocated by His example and teachings (Matthew 5:14). He knew that the validity of His teachings would be in the "fruits," or results experienced by those who chose to follow Him. For most people, under normal circumstances, good health and physical fitness can be a by-product of leading the Christian lifestyle.
Modern research shows that the benefits of physical activity are extremely important to every age group. Physically active children and adolescents have increased muscular strength, better coordination, more self-confidence and better school performance (Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Newsletter, Oct. 1991). They are also less likely to be overweight or engage in destructive behaviors like smoking and substance abuse (Journal of School Health, Dec. 1995). Physically active adults have a much lower risk of developing many diseases. They enjoy stronger immune systems, fewer colds and sick days, lower blood pressure, a more positive mental outlook and faster healing of injuries. Their life is truly more abundant!
Senior citizens who begin to exercise or remain physically active reduce their risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. They experience less depression and have less need for expensive medical care. Their life expectancy increases and their overall quality of life improves (Geriatrics, May 1993). Physical activity increases muscular strength and coordination, which enables older individuals to walk faster and climb stairs better. It also reduces the fear of falls and broken bones, which enhances a feeling of independence (Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Newsletter, Sept. 1994). Physical activity appears to slow down the normal aging process. Even disabled individuals confined to beds or wheelchairs feel better if they are involved in an exercise program.
One of the most intriguing aspects of physical activity is its effect on the brain. People who have a physically active lifestyle are observed to be more mentally stable, handle stress more effectively, exhibit better mental skills (creativity, memory, math, organization and logical reasoning) and are less prone to depression. This appears to be related to more oxygen getting to the brain as the result of exercise, faster transmission of nerve impulses, and the release of endorphins (mood-elevating, pain-killing chemicals produced naturally in the brain), which cause the brain to relax naturally (Health, Mar. 1983; An Invitation to Health, 1992, pp. 172-174).
While most of the professing Christian world has chosen to reject Christ's example of keeping God's Sabbath and the Holy Days (Luke 4:16; John 7:8-10), most people in the industrialized Western nations have also chosen not to follow Jesus' physically active lifestyle. Estimates suggest that 80 to 90 percent of people in these countries do not get adequate amounts of physical activity and that 25 percent or more live essentially sedentary lives (Time, Oct. 7, 1983).
In America, unfit employees cost businesses more than $100 billion per year in preventable health care costs. Inactive men and women have a death rate from all causes four or five times higher than their more active counterparts. A recent study found that men who exercised only once a week were seven times more likely to die suddenly than those who exercised at least five times a week (The Arizona Republic, Nov. 9, 2000). Lack of regular physical activity is a major reason why cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are leading causes of death in developed countries.
Inactive individuals tend to have higher blood pressure, be more obese and are more prone to diabetes and the effects of osteoporosis. Hip fractures hospitalize more than 200,000 elderly people each year in America, resulting in nearly seven billion dollars in health care costs (Atlanta Journal & Constitution, June 12, 1990). Elderly people who do not exercise lose muscle mass and strength, neuromuscular coordination, mental abilities and a feeling of independence that could be retained if they engaged in regular physical activity (Tufts Newsletter, Sept. 1994).
Children are, perhaps, the most unfortunate victims of our physically inactive society. Since the 1960s, children have gotten heavier as fitness levels have declined. Estimates suggest that 20 to 30 percent are overweight, nearly one half do not get enough exercise to develop healthy hearts and lungs, and over 90 percent have at least one major risk factor for heart disease (An Invitation to Health, 1992, p. 155). Television viewing, video games and poor parental examples-all of which are linked to inactivity-appear to be primary contributing factors (New Scientist, Apr. 23, 1994).
This regrettable picture is hardly the "abundant life" that Jesus envisioned for humanity. However, it is the "fruit" of failing to "follow in the footsteps" of the Savior of mankind. We are definitely reaping what we are sowing (Galatians 6:7).
The closing years of the 20th century witnessed a major effort to curb this epidemic of inactivity. More and more people are walking, running, swimming, cycling and enrolling in exercise classes. Corporations are developing health promotion programs for employees. Some have even proposed that the United States government produce warning labels (similar to those found on alcohol and tobacco products) stating, "The Surgeon General has determined that the lack of physical activity is detrimental to your health" (USA Today, Feb. 5, 1996). The goal of all this effort is to foster a change in established attitudes, habits and behaviors in order to gain the benefits that regular physical activity will bring.
In biblical terms, this change of direction is called repentance. This was, and is, a major aspect of Christ's message (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 13:1-5). Peter urged a crowd of some 3,000 to "repent" and "be saved from this perverse [turning away from the evidence of what is good] generation" (Acts 2:38, 40). Although Peter was speaking in spiritual terms-of spiritual repentance-the physical ramifications of his challenge, as we have seen in this article, could also apply.
However, real repentance-real change-involves more than just a momentary twinge of conscience and a hope to do better. The biblical term repent (Greek metanoeo) means to turn with sorrow from a past course of action that was detrimental and sinful (breaking God's laws), and thoroughly amending your ways! It involves not only changing your mind, but also changing your actions-by developing new attitudes, perspectives, habits and behaviors (see Romans 6:4-6). If we seriously desire to walk in all the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and to experience the abundant life of which He spoke, most of us will have to change how we think, what we believe and how we live our daily lives-including our physical lifestyle!
But changing attitudes and habits is not an easy task! Established thoughts and behaviors resist being altered! However, change is easier when we clearly see the dangers of continuing old habits, understand the benefits we can gain by adopting new behaviors and learn what actions are needed to replace our old behaviors. This gives us a clear path we can follow.
Basic motives are also important if lasting change is going to occur. While we may exercise to improve our physical health, appearance and skills, these are only physical reasons. The sad fact is that many more people know they should exercise than actually do! We need a more powerful motivation in order to achieve lasting changes. This is where religious values come in. When religious reasons are coupled with physical reasons, real change is more likely to occur, because we act on our core beliefs-what is right or wrong, good or evil-what glorifies God and what does not! Jesus knew this! He understood how the human mind works. It is no accident that Jesus instructed His disciples to "follow" in His footsteps and to "walk" as He walked. Jesus knew the positive results that would come by following His physical example. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that "your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit… therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It is our responsibility as Christians to take care of the body God has given us. This can become a powerful motivating factor!
In a letter to Timothy, Paul further states that while spiritual growth is most important, "bodily exercise profits a little [for a little while in this life]" (see 1 Timothy 4:8). This is exactly what modern science understands about the benefits of physical exercise-its benefits are important, but they are temporary and do not last long! For optimal results, physical activity must occur regularly-once a month or once a year just does not work! This requires discipline. Again, Paul comments that anyone who desires to walk in the footsteps of Christ must discipline his mind and body in order to achieve the rewards Jesus promised (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Hebrews 12:11). Exercise benefits the body in this life. The discipline required to exercise becomes part of our character that will last for eternity! Real Christianity is not a spectator sport! It is an active and challenging way of life that involves growing and changing, overcoming old attitudes and habits and replacing detrimental behaviors with new ones-which the Bible calls overcoming (see Revelation 2:26; 3:12). Overcoming is just as important in the physical realm as it is in the spiritual! It is also the basis for our future reward in the kingdom of God (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).
The good news about developing a more physically active lifestyle is that almost any amount of regular activity is better than none! If you cannot start with 30 minutes a day, then try ten minutes three times a day. Instead of a coffee break, take a short walk-out the door, down the hall, down the stairs, around the building, back up the stairs and back into your office. You will feel refreshed; you will burn off calories and strengthen your heart, lungs, bones and muscles. Exercise with a friend, or with your pet, or make it a family affair-talk over the day as you walk together. Let your children and grandchildren see your example. Invite them to go along-show them the path to follow! Regular physical activity will change your life-how you feel, how you think and how you look!
Jesus Christ came to this earth to point the way to a more abundant life-not only now in this physical life-but also in the future kingdom of God (see John 10:10). Jesus' mission at His First Coming was to call and train a small core of disciples (John 17:6-19). By following His example, His disciples would develop an understanding of the practical applications and benefits of His teachings. Eventually they would reach the point where they "trembled at God's Word" (Isaiah 66:2)-where they understood and deeply valued Scripture. As they learned to live this new way of life, they would grow towards the perfection (the spiritual maturity) that God desires eventually for all mankind (Genesis 17:1; Matthew 5:48).
Those who come to understand the value of living according to God's physical and spiritual laws will, in the future, be able to share this life-saving knowledge with all humanity. As teachers in the coming kingdom of God, they will show the right way to live (see Isaiah 30:20-21). The saints-future sons and daughters of God, who will reign on this earth with Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:10)-will show millions of human beings, previously confused and deceived, how to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and live a more abundant life! These individuals will be effective teachers because they first learned how to live that way themselves.
Regular physical activity was an important part of Jesus Christ's lifestyle. It is absolutely necessary for our bodies to function properly and be a "temple" of God's Spirit. The physical and spiritual laws of God are part of the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). Walking in the footsteps of Christ brings real benefits. That is part of the gospel-the good news that Jesus Christ brought to this earth by His example as well as His teachings! You can prepare for a meaningful role and an exciting future in the coming kingdom of God if you begin now to walk in the footsteps of Christ-both physically and spiritually! As you begin your walk, you may want to request our free publication Your Ultimate Destiny, which explains this exciting future in more detail.