In this past weekend’s sermon, senior pastor of City Harvest Church, Kong Hee started a new series, teaching the church how to practically grow in Christlikeness through the discipline of the body, and exercising oneself unto godliness, as Jesus did.
Over the past two years, Pastor Kong has delivered sermons on living out the heart of the gospel, that is, to cultivate Christlikeness. “God wants us to have no anger, no resentment, no gossip, perfect purity, honesty, love—many would say this is impossible,” Pastor Kong began on the weekend of 15 and 16 Oct. “Today, I want to start a series to teach you how to practically do it—to grow in Christlikeness.”
Acknowledging the heavy premium Singaporeans places on knowledge, he pointed out that in this case, passive knowledge—to only think about or know about Jesus—is not enough to bring about real transformation. After all, Jesus said to His disciples, “Follow Me”, which was a call to take action and pattern themselves after His behaviour, to imitate Him in His way of life.
In the Gospels, Jesus’ consistency in acting in a godly manner, even during difficult situations is clearly documented. Pastor Kong explained, “When you study His way of life, there were certain things Jesus did that prepared Him for every crisis and trial, that kept Him in a constant loving attitude and very close fellowship with God and the Holy Spirit. Jesus practised spiritual disciplines.”
TO BE DISCIPLINED IN THE SPIRIT
In the Gospels, Jesus is often found in prayer, sessions of silence and solitude and the intense studying and meditation of the Word—these are His spiritual disciplines. Jesus led a simple life of sacrifice and dedicated it to serving God and people.
“Jesus was totally human,” Pastor Kong noted. “He was very busy and tired, with many things to do, just like all of us here.” It was not easy for Jesus to pray, fast or show up at the synagogue weekly to serve either. However, Jesus “exercised Himself unto godliness” (1 Tim 4:7), the pastor pointed out.
Spiritual disciplines are not salvation by works. “It is not about you trying to be good enough for God, to earn your way into heaven,” Pastor Kong preached. “Spiritual disciplines are all about loving God and wanting to be more and more like the one whom you love.”
Church history has shown, that the more a Christian does these spiritual disciplines, the more grace they receive to live a life pleasing to God.
Sharing from his own life, Pastor Kong recounted that he suffered from childhood asthma and hence, he was never much of a runner. While serving time, he only had one hour of yard time, three times a week. Not having run for many years, the first time he jogged in the yard, his body reacted badly after just 10 rounds around the 100m yard. His head was spinning, he felt nausea and could not walk for the next few days.
“My skin got very itchy because all the toxins were surfacing,” he described. But he persisted in running every chance he got, and over time, he could run more than 200 rounds around the yard. Now, he felt light and alive whenever he ran—this physical discipline had been elevated into a form of enjoyment rather than a burden. “I would be running and praising God, praying and reciting verses in my mind,” Pastor Kong shared.
He also told the church about a member whose physical discipline of five-minute daily planks has helped him to lose all his belly fat, strengthened his core and eliminated his backaches. “Today, he cannot imagine not planking at all! It has become his daily physical discipline,” Pastor Kong added. “The first time was hard, but after a while, it brought so much joy to him.”
Exercising spiritual disciplines looks something like this: “At first, you may not be used to it—you will struggle a little bit because all the ‘spiritual toxins’ are coming up to the surface,” Pastor Kong analogised. “The first day you fast will be the toughest day of your life.”
He gave a funny anecdote that once, while he was fasting, he dreamed of a grape coming very close to his mouth and when he was about to bite into it, he woke up.
“But the more you exercise yourself unto godliness and get into the rhythm, it brings heavenly joy to you. It gets rid of all your stress and frustrations,” the senior pastor taught. “Most importantly, it will transform you to be more and more like Jesus.”
EXERCISE UNTO GODLINESS
Christlikeness should not just be a nice ideal that stays stagnant in the realm of head knowledge. Truth is, Christians often treat it as such. Pastor Kong acknowledged that believers may feel discouraged when they fail to keep the commandments in the Bible, or even frustrated with God for setting such high standards. “But the Bible says that His commandments are not burdensome (1 Jn 5:3). Jesus promises an easy yoke; a light burden, which our soul will find rest (Matt 11:28-30),” he reminded.
To illustrate this, Pastor Kong pointed out that the misguided notion of having head knowledge of what Jesus did is enough to display Christlikeness, is like thinking one can play soccer like a soccer star simply by imitating his swagger, mannerisms or attire. He pointed out that soccer stars like Ronaldo have exceptional skills which are largely attributed to a strict adoption of a disciplined lifestyle and funnelling many hours into training.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, the author proposed that unless a person was willing to put in 10,000 hours of practice, he will never be great at something.
“What is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual,” Pastor Kong said. “Any Christian will tell you just because you are saved and converted does not mean you are automatically loving or holy.”
He added, “Wanting to be like Jesus without exercising in godly living is as ridiculous as wanting to be good in soccer without exercising your body and skills.”
Pastor Kong pointed out that even Jesus exercised Himself daily in spiritual disciplines. It was this daily preparation that allowed Jesus to be so effective in ministry. Even on the day of His arrest and impending crucifixion, there was a deep abiding peace and joy within Him—He was found in the upper room praying for His disciplines, that they might also be filled with this same joy (Jn 17:13). It is the kind of joy that goes beyond sudden bursts of inspiration. Jesus gave His whole life into exercising Himself unto godliness, such that when it came time to go to the cross, being godly came naturally to Him.
Pastor Kong then shared his personal secret to having zero anger: spending time with God in silence and solitude. He admitted that his natural inclination was to assert Type A leadership—his former self was easily provoked, quick-tempered and impatient.
Now, after learning to exercise spiritual disciplines, he is now slower to speak, and even slower to react. “I can be still and quiet knowing that He is God, and He is in full control,” Pastor Kong said.
During Jesus’ time in the desert, He was provoked in every area of His life and yet, He overcame it. He could do it because He had been led by the Holy Spirit into the desert for 40 days of solitude and fasting. “From today, you must exercise yourself unto godliness, such that when you are tempted sexually, purity is your natural response,” Pastor Kong urged the congregation. “But none of these things will come naturally to you and me unless we exercise ourselves unto them.”
Speaking to those who might, at this point, be protesting that they are too busy to add another thing to their plate, Pastor Kong remained adamant that these spiritual disciplines are necessary. “You struggle because you don’t understand how spiritual life works. Most of you think faith is just a mental and emotional thing, that ‘if I just think enough, feel enough, hear enough, that I will automatically become more spiritual’,” Pastor Kong noted, adding that most people want a spiritual life without inconvenience.
However, the spiritual life cannot work without the human body. The body is needed to express worship, to contain the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and to fully experience the joy of heaven. That is why bodily resurrection will happen when Jesus returns. “Otherwise, you cannot experience the fullness of God,” Pastor Kong explained.
In Romans 12:1, Apostle Paul urged Christians to offer their “body” as a living sacrifice. Given that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 4:19), when the body is not in sync with what the Spirit is doing, then victory and the joy of heaven will remain elusive to the believer. For this reason, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27 (ESV), “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
“I don’t want to be preaching Jesus when there is no Christlikeness in me,” Pastor Kong said. Hence, he encouraged the church to place their spiritual disciplines at the centre of their life, quoting a saying of the Early Church: “The soul and body make a man…but the Spirit and discipline make a Christian.”
In closing, Pastor Kong explained that it is when heavenly joy dwells within the heart of the church, that heaven has truly invaded earth. He ended the service by leading the church in a time of prayer and worship, to start them on their journey of exercising spiritual disciplines.