Spend some time reading these insights and as always, be a Berean - hold it up to the light of Scripture. You will find, as I did, that what Pastor Hughes is saying is true, and it is convicting. Examine your own heart in the light of God's revelation about sin in this area, and remember that every day is a new beginning and opportunity to repent and start anew!
It just so happens we are addressing one of the sacred cows of the modern day church – eating (pun kind of intended). There is so much being said about eating, exercise, and dieting today, but very little is being said about these things from a biblical perspective. Our plan has been to first examine the wide range of Scriptures to determine the instances when eating becomes a sin.
At this point you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed if you struggle with exercising self control in your eating. And you may be thinking to yourself, What is my “godly weight?” Or “How much can I eat and not sin?” or “Is dieting biblical?” Or “Is exercise a proper solution for obesity?” Or “If someone has practiced indulgence and has become obese, would true repentance require them to lose weight?” Or “If I have gained weight slowly over many years am I in sin and should I lose weight? Or “Can you be skinny as a rail and still be a glutton?” These are just the kinds of questions that need to be asked because they force us to apply the text of Scripture to real life situations, which is what studying the Bible is all about. Let’s start off with some encouragement.
God’s grace is sufficient for you!
The Apostle Paul in Rom. 6:14, speaking about how salvation frees us from sin said, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Salvation releases you from the grip of sin so that you do not have to obey its lusts. You now have a choice. You can say “Yes” to God and “No” to sin.
In I Cor. 10:13 Paul explains this when he says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” In the preceding context Paul lists several instances when Israel fell into sin. His point is clear, God always provides a way of escape for believers so they don’t ever have to sin.
Speaking to the Galatians, Paul said in Gal. 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Every believer has the Holy Spirit dwelling within him (Rom 8:9) and because the Holy Spirit abides in us we do not need to carry out the desires of the flesh, in other words we can say “No” to temptation through the power of the indwelling Spirit.
James reminds us that when a believer sins, it is the believer’s fault. James 1:14-16 reads, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” James reminds us that no one makes you sin, you choose to sin. Others may tempt you to sin, but whenever you do sin, its your fault. Sin always begins within your heart and when your heart lusts, it often gives birth to sinful actions. James even says, “do not be deceived” because many are quick to blame their sin on someone or something else. Our sin is always our fault.
Finally, we come to a very encouraging Scripture, II Pet. 1:3. Peter is speaking about our resources in Christ and says, “seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” What this means is that a believer has everything he needs to live a life of godliness and self control. Christians have the answers to living a godly life in the Word of God.
Before we start into the practical aspects of the Christian and eating, I think it would be helpful to think through some of the worldly ways people try to deal with their sinful eating habits. This will help us, by contrast, apply biblical principles to sinful eating habits.
Worldly Methods for Dealing with a Spiritual Problem
The Apostle Paul speaking to the Roman’s in Rom. 13:14 said, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Do you know why Paul gives this exhortation? Because he knew every Christian has every resource to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust.” Christians don’t have to accommodate their fleshly desires.
Yet there are always those who don’t recognize their sin for what it is and end up trying to address a spiritual problem by dealing with its symptom. The Colossians were being tempted to do this very thing and in Col. 2:20-23 Paul told them this, “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” Here Paul condemns man made religion that attempts to produce holiness in the believer. Paul’s point is that man made religion does not sanctify us or make us more godly. It has no power against fleshly indulgence. Worldly solutions are at best temporary fixes of symptoms but do not touch a sinful heart. Let’s say a Christian struggles with eating too much. They are not exercising self control. They are living an undisciplined life. They are being gluttonous. They are being mastered by their fleshly desires. They are failing to take care of their body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. They are practicing fleshly indulgence. We have examined all of these sins in previous Calvary Review issues. As a consequence of their sin, they become obese. Others can tell that they are out of control in their eating.
Many Christians may not realize that their obesity is actually the symptom of various sins of the heart. They know others know they are out of control and so their primary desire is to lose weight. So you see the folly of this? Their primary desire should be to glorify God. They should desire not to look good on the outside but to glorify God in their body, exercise self control, master their fleshly desires, and be disciplined. Instead, the fear and approval of man motivates them to address their appearance rather than the spiritual problems of their heart. And the world is more than willing to distract them from glorifying God. Let’s look at how the world often distracts Christians from dealing with sins related to eating.
Some people have their stomach stapled. Is this a cure? Well it may make it so they can’t eat as much, cause them to feel the sensation of fulness sooner, and may even cause them to lose weight. And if weight loss is the primary goal, then having your stomach stapled might be an option. But if your main goal is to glorify God in your body, exercise self control, be disciplined, have mastery over your fleshly desires, then having your stomach stapled does nothing to address the problem of sin. Stomach stapling has no power over fleshly indulgence. It doesn’t sanctify you. It is like locking up a criminal in prison. The prison may confine the criminal so that he cannot do the crimes he lusts to do, but it doesn’t change his heart. The heart problem, the attitudes and lusts that give birth to sin are not dealt with. Hence stomach stapling fails to address the problem. Instead, it attempts to address an outward symptom of the problem, obesity.
Others have opted for plastic surgery techniques like lypo-suction. Fat cells are removed from the body by suction and hence are gone forever. But the suction doesn’t remove the sin of the heart. The person may even feel a new found freedom to indulge like never before because they fear knowing their fat cells are gone. Hence they might increase, rather than decrease their sinful behavior. Their weight may stay down and their appearance remain constant but lypo-suction hasn’t dealt with the sins of the heart. Plastic surgery has no power against fleshly indulgence. It is merely cosmetic.
Diet pills are another approach to curbing our fleshly appetites. This is an attempt at sanctification through pharmaceuticals. The problem is that chemicals don’t solve spiritual problems. Instead, they make them worse. Those who take drugs to deal with their sin end up relying more and more on the drug and exercising less and less self control. When the drug is removed, they go gastronomically postal and eat everything in sight. The drugs allow people to be lazy and not exercise self control. In the end, the person either becomes dependent on drugs or quits taking them and is worse off than ever before.
Others have tried hypnosis or acupuncture to curb their appetites. Hypnosis is wrong all together. God does not want us to give someone else control of our minds and bodies. This is what happens in demon possession. The Scriptures never condone letting someone else take control of our mind. Acupuncture is another technique which cannot deal with spiritual issues of the heart. Both hypnosis and acupuncture may curb the appetite and cause a loss of weight (the symptom of the sin) but they cannot change the heart. Hence they are of no use against fleshly indulgence.
Another very popular means Christians often get drawn into is going on special diets which train people to eat certain foods and to avoid others. For instance, there are low carbohydrate diets that allow you to “eat all the meat and vegetables you want.” There are the juice diets, vegetarian diets and most allow you to “eat all you want” of certain kinds of food. These kinds of diets, instead of teaching self control, self discipline and mastery over one’s fleshly desires, encourage or allow gluttony which is the very sin that needs to be dealt with. Most who try these kinds of diets end up cheating, eating what they want and also being gluttonous in “approved areas.” Even if the person sticks to the diet faithfully, when they get tired of eating a limited food group and go off the diet, they usually gain back the weight they tried so hard to lose. This leads to frustration and exasperation. The real problem is that they have not learned to be self controlled. They have tried to deal with the symptom of the sin, obesity, but have not dealt with the sin that is causing the symptom.
Others try to deal with sins related to eating by buying special foods that are sold by companies wanting to make money off of people who want to lose weight. Of course losing weight is not a bad thing, but it isn’t the problem, it is the symptom of the problem. Eating certain kinds of prepared foods might allow you to lose weight, but they are no cure against fleshly indulgence. Of course the companies that prepare those specialty diet foods and provide training which encourages you to rely on them, hope you never go off their diet. But if you do go off their diet, you will most likely gain the weight back because you haven’t learned to practiced self control. You haven’t learned to say no to the flesh and have mastery over your fleshly desires.
Excessive exercise is another path that some have taken. There is nothing wrong with exercise, in fact, it is good for us. But if you are out of control in your eating habits, exercise is not the solution to your heart problem. It may keep you from gaining weight and may make you look and feel good on the outside, but it doesn’t address the sins of your heart. It merely allows you to continue to indulge yourself, without others realizing you are out of control.
As Christians we must not get swept along in the flood of dieting and weight loss gimmicks in an attempt to deal with our sin. Losing weight is not the solution to our lack of self control and sinful indulgence. Looking good on the outside is a fine goal, but let us be clear, it doesn’t sanctify the heart.
For our next Calvary Review we will discuss how to practically deal with the sins of the heart related to sinful eating habits and the lasting consequences of learning to say no to the flesh and living a disciplined, self controlled, spirit empowered life. Until then, look at your life and consider if you’re trying to deal with the sin in your life with worldly techniques that have no power against fleshly indulgence.