Train yourselves for godliness; 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.--1 Timothy 4:8 (ESV)
As I pedaled on a stationary bike this morning, I read this passage. As I looked around at my schoolmates, I saw many people training themselves bodily. But they were not alone, nor were they using their own equipment. We needed the gym. We could do some calisthenics outside, but the gym equipment took our exercise to a whole new level. In the same way, Christians need the local church.
We can expect some growth in godliness through disciplines such as personal Bible reading, private prayer, and secret fasting. But we severely hamper ourselves if we neglect God's spiritual gymnasium: the local church. Preaching, corporate worship, and corporate prayer are essential duties of the Christian life. Think on 1 Timothy 4:13--"Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching."
As brothers and sisters in a local church, we fulfill the many "one anothers" of the New Testament. We love one another. We admonish one another. We prophesy to one another. We correct, protect, encourage, pray for, and teach one another--in the church. Most of the New Testament epistles were written to churches for a reason. The pattern for Christians that we find in the early church can be simplified to (1) Belief, (2) Baptism, (3) Church membership.
If godliness truly holds promise for both the present life and the life to come, we should be striving for it as hard as we can--in both our private lives and in the local church.