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Are Exercise and Healthy Eating Optional?

healthy food

One thing I’ve noticed since moving to Hong Kong is that many people here are obsessed with appearance. For those of you who haven’t visited, in Hong Kong there are 3-meter-wide and 1-meter-tall ads for beauty houses (that usually provide slimming and various non-invasive beauty treatments). The ads feature Photoshopped women in bikinis to encourage all women that in eight weeks they, too, could look that way in real life! The ads aren’t just here and there, either; come spring, you’ll see ads like this on pretty much every wall of the subway, the sides of buses, and TV.

It’s not just Hong Kong; I think it’s a lot more visible and in-your-face here, far more so than anywhere I’ve been in the world. But it doesn’t take a 30-foot-tall Swarovski ad of Miranda Kerr to see that in our global culture, how you look and dress determines your value, worth, and social standing.

There are countless devastating consequences from this rather insidious and wrong shift in culture. Statistics of eating disorders affecting children as young as 7, the rising rate of steroid use among middle school boys, girls prostituting themselves for the money to afford the season’s latest handbags — the list is heartbreakingly long. I think it’s clear to anyone with an identity built on Christ that such a worldview is dangerous and detrimental and thus not what God has intended for us.

Yet over the last 10 years, I’ve begun to see a bit of a counter-swing among Christians that I’m equally as concerned about. The church has reacted, along with certain elements of culture, by proclaiming the gospel of self-esteem: “Jesus loves you just the way you are. He died for you to save you because you’re beautiful and unique.” Thus, exercise and healthy eating are completely optional, and in some cases, too worldly. Such pursuits are relegated to be less important than prayer meetings, ministry, and coffee with friends. While your average Christian might be willing to drop everything to pray with a friend in need, the idea of setting aside a couple of hours a week to exercise is considered unrealistic.

Yes, Jesus died for us to demonstrate His love for us. However, He did it because He’s a good God, not because of anything we’ve done or are. He also didn’t die for us because we’re valuable, but His death gives us worth. See, Jesus loves you just the way you are, but He doesn’t want you to stay that way. The doctrine of sanctification is the idea that God is redeeming every part of your life, making you more holy, more perfect, and more like Him through every situation. Not only that, but as Christians we represent Christ through everything we say, do, or fail to do.

My point? Christians should aim to be fit and stay healthy (which usually gives an added benefit of looking fit and healthy), while not founding their self-value on their physical appearance. They should do it to bring glory to God (by being good stewards of the physical temple He’s blessed us with) but also to not be a stumbling block to nonbelievers learning about Jesus. After all, we don’t want to give the impression to anyone that to be a Christian we somehow have to give up being fit or even putting some effort into our appearance. That’s a lie. Regardless of our justifications for looking the way we do, sometimes we won’t get a chance to explain those reasons to others.

As young Christians, we need to understand the importance of our health as soon as possible and then have the discipline to take care of our bodies. It can certainly start small, perhaps reading about the nutritional value of instant ramen versus Burger King, or researching what kinds of exercise are best for your body type. However, (eventually) it should progress toward a healthy lifestyle, with exercise every day(ish) and a solid understanding of what’s good to eat and what’s not.

I suggest hitting up Google or WebMD if you have questions, and do some research. Obviously obsession is not the aim (although if it becomes a hobby, that’s fine), and we shouldn’t base what’s healthy on Hollywood or airbrushed models without pores. But as we seek to honor God with our bodies in every way, we’ll start becoming better representatives of Christ to the world.

What do you think? Do you agree with this take about fitness and the church? What’s your favorite workout? 


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