Bodybuilding is often perceived in a bad light, due to the sport being associated with steroid-use.
Because illegal drugs are so rife in the industry, many believe bodybuilding will never become a major worldwide sport. However, in recent times bodybuilding's fan base has grown significantly, resulting in the Mr Olympia prize fund increasing from $250k to $400k in just 3 years (from 2013-2016).
So although bodybuilding is still very much a niche sport, it is rapidly growing in popularity. So the question beckons - is bodybuilding pleasing to God?
When trying to decide whether bodybuilding is moral in the eyes of the Lord, there are several related topics that need to be addressed.
Enjoyment vs Obsessions
When trying to understand if bodybuilding is righteous or sinful, it can often depend on a person’s attitude. Many people become obsessed with bodybuilding, to the point where it's the first thing they think about when they wake up, and the last thing they think about when they go to sleep at night. If you share a similar mentality to this, then you're at risk of bodybuilding becoming your idol.
Do not turn to idols (of cast metal): I am the Lord your God. - Leviticus 19:4
However, God does want us to have hobbies and enjoy ourselves, so the key is not to take bodybuilding to extremes - where it becomes more important than God in your life.
To test whether bodybuilding is your idol or not, ask yourself what you'd do if the Lord asked you to quit bodybuilding, inevitably causing your muscles to shrink. Would your natural reaction be to resist and want to carry on lifting weights, or would you stop?
Equally if you're spending a fortune on supplements every month and only giving a tiny amount to the poor/needy, this may also be a sign that your priorities as a Christian are shifting.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. - 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Exercise and lifting weights has many health benefits; such as increasing blood flow and strengthening your immune system. A study from Tufts University has also concluded that having more muscle mass could result in living a longer life.
Quantity of muscle mass was deemed a more crucial factor in determining a person's lifespan, in comparison to cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Thus lifting weights is a healthy form of exercise and will strengthen your body - which is pleasing to God.
Many can become vain or proud after losing 40lbs and getting ripped six pack abs. The obsessed bodybuilder may spend more time looking at themselves in the mirror or flexing their biceps than praying or reading their bible.
Although being proud is sinful in the eyes of the Lord, it's still perfectly acceptable for us to want to look nice and achieve a muscular body. However, God only cares for what's on the inside, so if we want to have a positive relationship with him - we should also work at improving our inner beauty.
"Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."- 1 Samuel 16:7
Many bodybuilders illegally use steroids so they can build more muscle than what their bodies are naturally capable of. Taking steroids for such purposes is likely to be a sinful act because of 2 main reasons: steroids are damaging to the body (God's temple). And steroids are illegal in most countries.
From a health perspective, steroids are well-known for: causing high blood pressure (hypertension), increasing the chances of cancer, causing liver damage and worsening diabetes. Thus in the wrong hands, steroids can potentially lead to death. They can also pose mental side effects too, including: anxiety, depression and paranoia. Alongside causing many behavioural changes, such as becoming increasingly aggressive (known as 'roid rage'); and overly competitive (leading to strife). Taking steroids without a prescription from a doctor is illegal (except in Mexico and Thailand).
God commands us to abide by the law in Romans 13:1-2:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Every bodybuilder who competes in the Mr Olympia is thought to be taking steroids, hence how the IFBB is a non-drug tested federation. However, not everyone in bodybuilding resorts to taking steroids. There are many natural bodybuilders who've proven that it is possible to build large amounts of muscle without drugs; although these athletes are lesser known and paid significantly less money. There’s also evidence to suggest that Chris Hemsworth, and other Hollywood actors who’ve built incredibly muscular physiques, have done so without taking steroids.
To be successful in bodybuilding, you'll need to be disciplined inside and outside of the gym. From diligently planning your workouts to being conscious of everything you eat/drink. This strict discipline is something you can apply to other areas of life, including your faith. The key here is to put God first before anything and everything, especially when it comes to sports and looking good aesthetically.
There's no reason why a Christian can't be a bodybuilder as long as he/she refrains from using steroids and doesn't become obsessed with the sport. If you follow these 2 guidelines, bodybuilding is something that can keep you healthy physically and spiritually.