This article is part 2 of a 3 part series on how the gospel changes the way we look at weight, body image, and food. Read Part 1: Two Ideas that Change How Think About Food, Weight Loss, and Body Image.
John is a friend in his mid-thirties. He works out very little. He has never had to think about his health or his eating habits. He can eat three cheeseburgers in a single meal and not gain any weight. Each day he eats fast food for lunch. This has created a lifestyle that is not sustainable as he gets older. He confided in me recently that for the first time in his life he feels lethargic after eating and is starting to feel like his clothes are getting tighter.
In high school and college, Daniel was in great shape, as he played sports. But then he got a job, got married, and though his exercise habits slowed down, his eating stayed the same. He is now almost thirty and starting to long for what he used to look like and the pace that he used to live. He always feels behind at both work and home and wishes for the stamina he once had.
Heather is single, works part-time, and goes to school full-time. She wants to get married but has always struggled with her weight. It isn’t that she eats a lot of food; she just makes poor choices about food. She wishes that she could have more time to exercise, but with school and work, it ends up being a quick bite here, a short night of sleep there, and a Friday night with friends that leaves her feeling lonely and unhappy. Whenever she sees her friends who keep their weight off, eat whatever they like (at least in her mind), and slender women at the mall or in a magazine, she feels heavier and heavier. She wants to have time for community and church but struggles to make this happen on top of a healthy lifestyle.
Austin is overweight by about sixty pounds. He works too many hours each week, sleeps too little, and eats too much. He never exercises. He takes time to be with his family and attend church. He doesn’t have a desire to lose weight or be healthier and doesn’t really see the need as it hasn’t affected his health–yet. In fact, he would say that his weight isn’t a problem, and it certainly isn’t a sin.
Lisa is married, in her mid-thirties, and a mother of two toddlers. She spends her days chasing after her kids and picking up after them. She wants to get back to her pre-baby weight but is too tired. She looks at magazines, which never help her to feel better. They only remind her of the body she used to have. Her husband doesn’t complain, but she is unhappy. She feels like a failure as a mom because of how tired she is, longing for five minutes of quiet, a hot shower, and to know that she is making an impact on her kids. She misses the romance she and her husband used to share and laments the feelings she has whenever her husband asks her about sex because of how she feels about herself.
Are these stories familiar? The problem is these things are so normal and so accepted that we don’t think twice about them.
Do you find yourself eating mindlessly? Do you start a snack and, before you know it, the bag is empty? Are there leftovers on the counter or food on your spouse’s plate that you just eat? When you have a long day at work, do you find yourself eating to numb the pain or bring some comfort? If a meal you make is so good, do you find yourself having a second and then a third trip?
If you answer yes to enough of these questions, you are addicted to food. You are not alone. Most Americans are.
In fact, if you attend church, it is one of the addictions you can have that no one will call you out. When was the last time you heard a sermon on weight or eating habits? We talk about overindulgence, but always in relation to alcohol or money. Pastors typically stick to the really “big” sins, partly because it is easier and partly because most pastors are overweight.
It is so accepted in our culture to be overweight, it is almost expected.
Questions for Each of Us
I’ve spent some time sharing my story (see part 1 of this series), so now it is time to talk about yours.
Where do you fit into this? Do you have an eating disorder wherein you won’t eat anything or throw it up out of fear of what you look like or try to look a specific way? This tragic thinking affects so many people, particularly women. I remember a college student who couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred pounds, telling me how fat she felt. It was heartbreaking.
Maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum, and you can’t stop eating. At the end of a long day, you find yourself eating not one Oreo but the whole box. It seems there are many foods that you can’t eat just one of.
You could also be there person who works out but can’t take a rest day. If you work out and enjoy it like I do, do you get angry if you miss a day? Are you frustrated that you will not be building the muscle that you want?
The Image of God
How do you think about your body? Many people who attend church regularly every week and follow Jesus do not believe the truth of Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” And, 1 Corinthians 6:19–20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Together, these two verses lay out a simple truth that many followers of Jesus know in their heads but fail to live out in their lives. Why do we not connect the dots on these two key verses? If we truly believed that we were created “in the image of God,” we would look at our bodies with more wonder, more joy, and gratitude for how we were made instead of thinking about why we can’t be thin or even lose weight. We live as if God messed up in the process of creating us and gave us the wrong bodies. We often take 1 Corinthians 6 as simply a suggestion, yet rarely take it seriously and think through how we honor God with our bodies, how we treat them, and what we put into them. We thank God before a meal and then stuff thousands of calories into our mouths, slowly destroying the bodies God has given us.
It’s popular in our day to think our bodies belong to us. We think, “No one can tell me what to do with my body!” In fact, in our culture nothing is more essential to our identity than the freedom to express ourselves and use our bodies as we choose. But God says our bodies belong to him, not us. We are temples of the Holy Spirit and members of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15). The body is no longer for self-gratification, but rather for God-glorification (v. 20).
Let’s go back to Genesis 1 for a minute. If you and I are made in the image of God, then that means we are not an accident. The body, DNA, and genetics you have when it comes to how you burn through food, or not, are not an accident. They were planned. According to Ephesians 1, God planned these things before he created anything. Think about your body and what you would change. Maybe it’s your nose, love handles, legs, or arms. Those were planned and created by God, in his image.
1 Corinthians reminds us of the price that God paid for us. Jesus went to the cross to redeem our bodies. They are broken; sin is real and has brought havoc to us in the form of our eating habits and how we think about our bodies.
The only time I’ve heard 1 Corinthians 6 mentioned has been in connection with why someone says a Christian shouldn’t smoke or drink alcohol, as we stuff chicken wings into our mouths. Our view of this verse is too small and misses the grandness of its intentions. Taken together, these verses reflect how our bodies are to be reflections of God to the world around us. On top of this, we see God’s love and care for us in our bodies that he has created.
Several years ago, my brother-in-law asked me, when I was at my heaviest, almost three hundred pounds, “How can you challenge people in your sermons to have self-control if you don’t have any?” It’s a tricky question. Why do people lack self-control? Is it just born in them (or not, in some cases)? Are some people just more strong-willed than others and that’s it?
The reality is that, personality-wise, some people tend to be more driven and strong-willed than others. As a follower of Jesus, though, self-control is something we’ve been given by God. In Galatians 5, after Paul laid out how followers of Jesus have been set free by Jesus, he tells them how to see this truth in their lives in verse twenty-two. He said that they will have fruit, evidences in their lives of this change, in the form of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (emphasis added).
The Holy Spirit has given followers of Jesus the power of self-control. This has enormous implications for how we eat, exercise, look at our bodies, sleep, and work. Those moments of weakness when you want to eat another piece of pie or stay up and watch one more show, you have the power through the Holy Spirit to control yourself. The moments that you find your mind drifting and thinking about the body you wished you had or are trying to please in appropriate ways, you have the power through the Holy Spirit to control your thoughts and focus on how God created you. Sound impossible? But is anything that is worth doing not hard in the beginning but easier as you commit to it?
What Does Repentance Look Like?
We’ve addressed the heart issues, the scriptures, and the role of the Holy Spirit. What would it look like to repent from your current life-style and the beliefs beneath it? This is what I suggest: Stand in front of a mirror. I know, for some of us mirrors are our enemies, but push through your fears. As you look in the mirror, look at the things you would change. Now, remind yourself that God created those things for a purpose before the foundations of the world.
Then, think about what you ate today, the pace you have kept with work, and exercise and sleep in the last week. Are you honoring God with your body in those areas?
Josh Reich is the Pastor of Preaching & Vision at Revolution Church, an Acts 29 church in Tucson, AZ. He is married to his high school sweetheart and they have 4 kids and are adopting any day from Ethiopia. He is currently working on a book about weight loss, health, body image and the gospel. He blogs at www.joshuareich.org and you can follow him on twitter at @joshuareich.