by Shannon Caughey
Developing the right muscle memory is essential for thriving in athletic competition. Muscle memory is “the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition.” When athletes put in the time and effort needed to develop the right muscle memory, they can keep doing the things that lead to success even when the pressure increases, the opposition stiffens, and the stakes are highest.
The same is true for us spiritually. In this series of devotions, we’re considering how we can get better at living for Christ. Growing spiritually is about doing the right things in the right ways with the right consistency – all by Christ’s grace and power. We’ve seen in the previous devotions that these “right things” include consistently looking to God in prayer and consuming the nourishment of God’s Word. A third element is developing the right muscle memory: the muscle memory of obedience to Christ.
When we practice obeying Christ with frequent repetition, this enables us to live for him even when the pressure to do otherwise increases, the opposition to Jesus and his values stiffens, and the stakes are highest. How do we develop this spiritual muscle memory? 1 Peter 1:13-15 points the way: “13 So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. 14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.”
From this passage, we see three dimensions of developing the muscle memory of obedience to the Lord:
1) Motivation for obedience: we’re part of God’s family
Obeying the Lord isn’t about trying to earn something from God. When we respond in faith to what Jesus Christ did for us through his life, death, and resurrection, we receive his “gracious salvation” (v. 13). We’re saved from the eternal separation from God we deserve because of our sinful disobedience. By God’s grace to us – every one of us an undeserving sinner – we’re welcomed into God’s family as his children (v. 14). We’re also promised an amazing future when Jesus comes again (v. 13). Our gratitude for God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice motivates us to live like a member of God’s family would live.
2) Goal in obedience: reflect God’s holiness
To live like a member of God’s family would live is to bear the family resemblance: to reflect God’s holiness (v. 14). To be holy is to be “set apart”: set apart from sin (“your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires”) because we’re set apart for God (“God…chose you”). This covers every area of our lives – so every dimension of how we live day by day. Our goal is to reflect God’s character and values in how we approach coaching, work, relationships, family… As Dallas Willard put it when talking about spiritual growth: our desire is to increasingly think, speak, and act like Jesus would if he were in our setting and circumstances.
3) Process of obedience: intentional practice
How do we pursue this goal of holiness as members of God’s family? We “must live as God’s obedient children” (v. 14). And how does this increasingly become a reality? “[P]repare your minds for action and exercise self-control” (v. 13). The Lord doesn’t force us to obey him. But when we choose to obey him, he gives us his grace and power to follow through. It takes intentionality on our part: preparing our minds through understanding what holiness looks like (reading and reflecting on God’s Word), and exercising self-control through choosing God’s way rather than another way. The more we intentionally practice this, the more we develop the muscle memory of obedience.
Coach, the more you develop the muscle memory of obedience through frequent repetition, the greater your inclination and ability to follow Jesus will be in every situation. By his grace and power, you can obey Christ no matter what the pressure, opposition, or stakes are. Keep taking the steps needed to grow the muscle memory of obedience to him. This is how you keep getting better at living for Christ.
For reflection: What specific steps is God leading you to take to develop the muscle memory of obedience? Talk with him about this. Trust his power and grace to enable you to follow through on these steps.