Born in Italy in 1892, Angelo Siciliano moved to Brooklyn, New York at the age of eleven. As a young man, Angelo was slight, round-shouldered, and scrawny, weighing in at just 97 pounds. One day, while spending time on a beach, Angelo was accosted by a bully, who kicked sand in his face. Determined to prevent that sort of thing from happening again, Angelo turned to exercise in an effort to build up his body. Through a regimen of exercise and diet that he learned by talking to the strongmen at shows in Coney Island, Angelo went on to win a contest at Madison Square Garden in 1922, where he was dubbed as “America’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.” That same year, Angelo Siciliano officially changed his name to Charles Atlas, and soon went into business, offering a bodybuilding program by mail order that he claimed would “make you a new man” in just seven days.
God’s Word tells us that exercise, physical training of the body, is of some value (1 Timothy 4:8, NIV). Discipline in nurturing the body through exercise and diet makes us physically stronger and can help us to be physically healthy. Having spent a few years working in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, I can attest to that. But here’s the thing: physical exercise is only beneficial in this life, in the time that we have before our physical bodies eventually fail us and we face our earthly mortality. That certainly was true for Charles Atlas. He was physically fit even into his old age but, in his final years, he developed diabetes and died in 1972 at the age of 80.
God’s Word also tells us that, through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ conquered both sin and death (2 Timothy 1:10). Jesus has abolished death and taken away its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55). Does this mean we will not face physical death? No. Until Jesus returns, physical death will still claim our mortal bodies. But there is a life beyond the grave, and how we spend that life will depend upon how we train in this life, how we discipline ourselves. It depends upon how well we train spiritually. 1 Timothy 4:8 points out that, while physical training can benefit us in this life, training for godliness provides benefits not just in this life, but in the life to come.
We need to work hard at godliness, striving to become more and more like Jesus, fixing our hope on Him, our Savior. But it is not just for our own benefit that we must do so, it is also for the benefit of others who, seeing the way in which we live our lives, may also choose to follow Christ and be assured of the salvation that comes through Him. Our example can mean the difference in how those around us will spend eternity, in God’s presence, or separated from Him. And it’s for this reason that, we who have believed, who have chosen to follow Christ, must closely watch our lives and our beliefs. We must persevere in them because by doing so, we save both ourselves and those with whom we share the Good News (1 Timothy 4:16).