When I got sick with an autoimmune disease several years ago, I was motivated to discover how diet impacted my health. My eyes were opened to the complexity of diet and nutrition. I had never considered that nutrient density could tangibly impact my health, or that some foods would increase inflammation while others reduced it.
As a Christian, I struggled to wade through the diversity of opinions about diets. Some Christians questioned whether we should prioritize physical health at all. Others were completely on board with the miraculous, pound-shedding, health-boosting claims of the latest fads.
With so many conflicting voices, I struggled to discern what an ideal plate of food actually looked like and whether I should devote much energy to improving my physical health. Thankfully, God’s Word gave me clarity to move forward. I discovered that my body matters to God and He has purposes for it. For the Christian, a healthy diet is about more than following rules, shedding weight, looking good or proving our worth. God has purposes for our diet that are both motivating and liberating. And contrary to what the diet and health industries preach, these purposes are not all about us.
We Diet to Be Generous to Others
Perhaps the most unhealthy aspect of today’s diet culture is the obsessive preoccupation it creates with our bodies. We rarely consider how our diets affect other people. But when we eat healthy food, it is an act of generosity toward others.
A healthy diet improves our stamina and physical energy so we can fulfill our role in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12). It sharpens our minds so that we have clarity to share the gospel and encourage believers’ faith. Good health actually frees us up to do the work of ministry. It is part of what it means to “offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice” to God (Rom. 12:1). It can seem super pious to physically “burn out” for Jesus, but in reality, taking time to care for our bodies will likely prolong the length of our ministry and increase our effectiveness.
Sometimes physical ailments are outside of our control and it’s tempting to throw our hands up in a “Why bother?” attitude. But even in the midst of physical illness or disability, caring for our bodies allows us to serve the church with more strength, clarity of mind and longevity than we would otherwise have.
We Diet Because Our Bodies Matter to God
Christians sometimes operate under the misconception that our physical bodies don’t matter. The first-century Gnostics argued that physical things were bad and spiritual things were good. But God doesn’t despise the physical realm; He created it. Even Jesus “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) in order to redeem humanity.
The scriptures teach us that our bodies matter to God. When the church at Corinth was deceived into thinking that what they did with their bodies didn’t matter, Paul wrote to them that their bodies mattered for at least three reasons: First, the Holy Spirit dwells in them. Second, they belong to God. And third, we are meant to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
When we take care of our physical body, it acknowledges our body is not ours exclusively; it belongs to God. Our food choices should reflect that our primary desire is to glorify Him, not to please ourselves.
We Diet in View of Our Freedom in Christ
The world tells us that in order to properly follow a diet, we must be a slave to it. Even a cursory glance at the online world of diet tribes introduces a tsunami of cautionary tales, dramatic claims and dire warnings. If we don’t buy organic, will the chemicals give us cancer? If we don’t choose the right diet, will we mess up our health forever?
Our fears and guilt surrounding food escalate when we consider the consequences of breaking fad-diet laws. Like Adam who plunged the human race into a state of sin by eating the forbidden fruit, we imagine our food choices have serious and irrevocable consequences.
When wading through the confusing mess of healthy food, it’s important to remember that the Bible tells us that all food is permissible to eat. Nothing is inherently tainted. When God created all plant-based food, He called it “good” (Gen. 1:29, 31). Jesus later proclaimed all food “clean” (Mark 7:19, Acts 11:9), including meat and all food previously restricted under the Jewish food laws.
We may benefit from avoiding certain foods, but we have to be careful not to think of foods outside of our diet as “gross,” “unclean” or somehow inherently tainted. God made all food to be enjoyed in moderation (Col. 2:16) and human regulations should never enslave us. As Paul said, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23).
We Diet Knowing It Won’t Save Us
The world may claim that a slimmed-down body will change our lives. But no diet can fix our deepest need. Even if we discovered the world’s most perfect diet, it would have no power to free us from sin and its consequences. Diet regulations make a poor substitute for Jesus when we consider that even those of us with less than perfect physical health in this life will enjoy perfect health in heaven for all eternity. We don’t earn this gift by following a perfect diet while on earth; God gives it freely because we believe in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:23, John 3:16).
When we prioritize care for our physical health over that of our spiritual health, we’ve turned things upside down. As Paul says, “…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 Tim 4:8). Very often our problems with diet come not because we need to try harder, but rather because we’ve made an idol out of diet. Idolatry promises happiness, but in reality it enslaves us, offends God and steals our joy. No wonder we struggle to make progress!
Our fears surrounding food and our health dissipate significantly when we remember that our diet choices do not hold eternal consequences. We are not bound by human regulations. We have liberty to choose a diet that benefits our health, but to borrow Paul’s rhetoric, “I will not be dominated by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). If you have ever felt enslaved by a diet, remember that “for freedom Christ has set [you] free” (Gal. 5:1).
When it comes to diet, Christian virtues such as self-control and moderation are important, but pursuing a healthy diet requires more than this. It requires wisdom to choose something sustainable and restraint to keep from obsessing over it. Our barometer for success is not the number on the scale. Christians have a higher purpose for our diet than an idealized body or the approval of peers. We choose a healthy eating plan because God cares about our body, and physical health enables us to fulfill His purposes for us in the world.
Copyright 2019 Christel Humfrey. All rights reserved.