Did you know there are more than 200,000 health and fitness clubs throughout the world? From local enterprises like your neighborhood YMCA to global corporations like Gold’s Gym, the industry reports an estimated $84 billion in annual revenue. Clearly, people understand the benefits of physical exercise.

But what about spiritual exercise? If building one’s physical strength and stamina is important, imagine how vital it is for us to continually work to strengthen our faith. As our faith strengthens, we become more forgiving and more peaceful. Strong faith leads to great courage and deeper confidence in God. And best of all, it makes us more loving.

Faith for discipleship

Jesus and his disciples were heading out of the city of Jericho, surrounded by a crowd of people. The crowd was just as noisy and tightly packed as ever, but one voice rose above the din: “Jesus son of David, have pity on me!” (Mark 10:47). It came from a blind beggar named Bartimaeus who was sitting by the road. Some people in the crowd tried to silence him, but Bartimaeus only cried out louder.

Finally, his voice caught Jesus’ attention. Jesus asked him what he wanted, and Bartimaeus replied, “Master, I want to see” (Mark 10:51). Then came these familiar words: “Go your way; your faith has saved you” (Mark 10:52). At once, Bartimaeus was healed. But the story doesn’t end there. Bartimaeus didn’t go his own way, he followed Jesus “on the way” instead (Mark 10:52).

Bartimaeus could have gone home, found a job, and lived his own life, but instead, he threw in his lot with a poor wandering Rabbi. It was a riskier path, but Bartimaeus had been changed. His spiritual blindness was healed and he came to see Jesus in a new way.

Bartimaeus’ story shows us that part of being “saved” involves being moved from our way to God’s way. It involves being set free from a self-centered view of life and being set free for a life of discipleship. It involves receiving the grace to open our hearts to Jesus so that he can teach us how to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord and to reach out to the poor and needy around us.

In the 1930s Dietrich Bonhoeffer dedicated part of his life to creating a seminary to train ministers for a “confessing” Church, one that would “speak out for those who cannot speak.” During that time Bonhoeffer would challenge Adolf Hitler. His writings would become a book entitled “The Cost of Discipleship.” It is a book that has gone down in history as one of the most important religious texts ever written. It is not enough to simply believe in God, Bonhoeffer says. That is “cheap grace.” One must take actions based on that belief.

Faith in God sets one free

A story may illustrate this experience best! One day a traveler came across three stonecutters working in a quarry. Each one was busy cutting a block of stone. Interested to find out what they were working on, he asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. “I am cutting a stone,” came the reply.

That wasn’t a real answer, so the traveler turned to the second stonecutter and asked him what he was doing. “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that its dimensions are uniform so that it will fit exactly in its place in a wall.”

That was a better answer, but it still didn’t satisfy him, so the traveler turned to the third stonecutter, who also seemed to be the happiest of the three. “What are you doing?” he asked. The man answered, “I am building a cathedral.”

This little story illustrates how we can focus on what is right before us rather than step back and get the bigger picture. We can see this when parents get stuck in the details of the day-to-day chores and lose sight of their high calling to attend to family faith needs. It can happen at work when we focus only on our tasks and lose sight of how our work contributes to the common good. And it can happen when it comes to our life of growing in faith.

Think of the word “Salvation.” We tend to think it means the way Jesus has saved us from sin; of course, that’s true, but salvation means much more than this. Yes, Jesus came to save us from our sins, he also came to announce the Kingdom of God. This means he came to save us so that we could live in freedom, joy and peace; so that each of us, in time, could be changed into another “living stone” that makes up the Cathedral of God’s Church (1 Peter 2:4).

Jesus freed people from many ailments and sometimes told them “your faith has saved you.”

So, let’s look at the bigger picture and be aware of what they were set free from and set free for (eg. discipleship, relationship with Jesus and breaking with a sinful past).

Jesus saves. Your faith has healed you. Your faith has saved you. Two different translations of the same Greek verb. Yet, as different as they may appear at first, these translations communicate one marvelous truth: Jesus came to save us from sin and to heal us toward a new life here and hereafter.

So, keep your eyes on Jesus. Be bold like the men and women in the gospels. Keep overturning the obstacles and meet the tests and trials of the journey to reach eternity!

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