Did you ever hear the phrase “muscle memory”? Basically, muscle memory means that you do the same activity over and over until your muscles get trained to do it the way you always do it. I find this fascinating. Our muscles get so trained and used to doing things the way we always do them that it takes constant and consistant work to retrain them to do it differently. Lately, I’ve been thinking thinking about spiritual muscle memory.
Every one of us is born with a sinful nature. Our heart, our spiritual muscle, is sinful and corrupt by nature. It is normal to us. It is what we know, how we are programmed to live and act. When we decide to accept Christ as our personal Savior, we start a new way of life. Unfortunately, our spiritual muscle memory is trained to live a worldly, sinful life.
Paul described this struggle in Romans 7:
For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Paul understood that his sinful nature, his spiritual muscle memory, was getting in his way of doing what he wanted to do for God. Paul didn’t use this as an excuse to stay the way he was. Instead, Paul realized that the only way to change his muscle memory was to live differently through the power of Jesus.
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, Who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Paul understood that victory was available to him through Jesus’ power! However, Paul also knew he had to work hard and retrain his spiritual muscles.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Phillipians 2:12
Paul is telling us we need to work out our salvation. We can’t just say “God forgives me when I sin, so I will just keep doing what I do and just ask for forgiveness.” That is cheapening God’s grace, and it will never cause you to retrain your spiritual muscle memory from a life of sin to a life of godliness.
God wants His sons to be Overcomers. He wants us to be conquerors. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that we need to become “More than conquerors through Him Who loved us.”
So how do we retrain our spiritual muscles? Well, Paul tells us how he did it in 1 Corinthians 9:
Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul did it the hard way….through hard work. He was tough on himself. He stuck blows to himself in his weak areas. He pursued a righteous lifestyle. He forsook the worldly ways around him and pursued a holy lifestyle. He obeyed the Word of God. He retrained his spiritual muscle memory and followed God wholeheartedly. We can do the same.
So how do we do it? Well, for starters, we need to immerse ourselves in prayer and Bible reading. We can’t become like Jesus if we don’t know anything about Jesus. We have to learn how God thinks, feels, acts, and functions. All this information is available in the Bible and through revelation from the Holy Spirit.
Another way is to regularly take spiritual inventory of your life. It is important for us to be hard on ourselves spiritually. I am not saying we need to condemn ourselves. I am saying we need to be truthful with ourselves and our spiritual condition. By repeatedly examining ourselves, we train our spiritual muscle memory to live a new way.
One great way to do this is to ask ourselves accountability questions. It is also good to find another man who will ask us these questions. I recommend doing it both ways. So what should you ask? Here are questions I have found helpful over the years.
How is my character development?
-Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am a better man than I am?
-Is there the least suspicion of hypocrisy in my life?
-Am I honest in all my words and actions?
-Do I exaggerate?
-Am I reliable?
-Can I be trusted?
-Have I demonstrated a servant's heart?
-Do I confidentially pass on what was told to me in confidence?
-Do I grumble and complain in the church?
-Am I jealous?
-Am I impure?
-Am I irritable and touchy and distrustful?
-Am I self-conscious, self- pitying and self-justifying?
-Am I proud?
-Do I thank God I am not like other people?
-Is there anyone I fear or dislike or criticize or resent? If so, what am I doing about it?
-Have I given in to an addictive behavior this week? Explain.
-Have I continued to remain angry toward another?
How has my spiritual life been doing?
-Have I spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
- How much time did I spend in prayer this week?
- Do I pray for the needs of others?
- Am I enjoying my prayer life today?
- Does the Bible live in me?
- Do I give it time to speak to me?
- Do I go to bed in time and do I get up in time?
- When I am involved in a problem in life, do I use my tongue or my knees to solve it?
- How has my relationship with Christ been changing?
- Did I worship in church this week?
- Have I shared my faith this week? How?
- Am I disobeying God in anything or insisting upon doing something about which my conscience is very uneasy?
- When did I last speak to someone else with the object to try to win him to Christ?
- How do I spend my spare time?
- What one sin plagued my walk with God this week?
- What was my biggest disappointment? How did I decide to handle it?
- What was my biggest joy? Did I thank God?
- Am I satisfied with the time I spent with the Lord this week?
- Do I disobey God in anything?
- Am I defeated in any area of my life?
Am I living a pure life?
- Have I compromised my integrity in any way?
- What am I wrestling with in my thought life?
- Have I committed any sexual sin?
- Did I look at a woman in the wrong way?
- Have I had any flirtatious or lustful attitudes, or tempting thoughts?
- Have I been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
- Have I been exposed to sexually alluring material or allowed my mind to entertain inappropriate thoughts about someone who is not my spouse this week?
- How have I been tempted this week? How did I respond?
- How am I doing with my relationships with others?
- What significant thing did I do for my wife and/or family?
- What did I do this week to enhance my relationship with my spouse and/or children?
- Have I told any half truths or outright lies, putting myself in a better light to those around me?
- What have I done for someone else this week?
- Did I control my tongue?
- How do I spend my spare time?
How am I doing in my professional life?
- Am I giving to the Lord's work financially?
- Have I lacked any integrity in my financial dealings this week, or coveted something that does not belong to me?
- Did I treat my peers and coworkers as people loved by God?
- Have I been completely above reproach in my financial dealings?
- Do I pray about the money I spend?
- Have I done my 100% best in my job?
- Did I take time to show compassion for others in need?
- Have I secretly wished for another's misfortune so that I might excel?
- Have I damaged another person by my words, either behind their back or face-to-face?
Finally, the most important question to ask:
Have I been completely honest with my answers?
That is the key to developing new spiritual muscle memory. We have to be honest and hard on ourselves. Don’t coddle yourself to make yourself feel good. Actually take inventory and see how you need to change. Then make the changes through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Every one of us can retrain our spiritual muscle memory. We can become new creatures who think, live, talk, and act like Jesus. It takes hard work, but it is worth it when we stand before God in eternity and hear Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant!”