Lining up to race my father on the pavement is a favorite pastime. When I was young, he’d always win, only slowing down every now and then to let me think I was fast. Then, one day, I took off, one quick foot in front of the other, and that was the swift end of my father’s winning streak.

My love for physical fitness began as a young child, adoring my father’s presence and involvement, and grew into a lifelong love of sports: gymnastics, dance, track and field, cheerleading, cycling, and more.

When I became a Christian at age 22, I discovered a new dimension to my favorite activities. Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:8, “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” As Paul advised Christians to be trained in good doctrine and discernment, he knew it required diligence and effort—as does physical training.

More Americans than ever know the rigor of exercise firsthand. We have become a nation of athletic hobbyists: runners, cyclists, yogis, and CrossFit devotees. About half of US adults meet current federal guidelines for aerobic activity. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s the highest figure on record. Millions of kids play organized sports, so much that the question hasn’t become if your kid will participate, but which ones. This year, my kindergartner was thrilled to don pink shin guards and start soccer.

We’re right to be concerned about what happens when our love of fitness gets taken to extremes—over-exercise, pressure, competition—and the church should continue to caution us against any hobby becoming an idol. But before we roll our eyes ...

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