I’ve recently been on a diet, and I’ve lost 30 pounds in as many days. It was time. It needed to happen. 30 days ago, I was the heaviest I have ever been. I’m ashamed to even tell you how much that was, but I’ll do it because it’s good for my humility, keeps me accountable, and it’s a testament to the goodness of God toward me in the past month. I was…ugh…three hundred and sixty-five pounds.
There. I said it.
No, I didn’t take before and after photos. I was too embarrassed to take the before photo – even if I was the only one who was ever going to see it. I’m that guy who didn’t take his shirt off at the pool. Still don’t. I didn’t like mirrors because secretly I knew that what I saw was a reflection of my physical laziness and food-idolatry. Now, I doubt anyone would have guessed that I weighed quite that much. I carried it quite well (if such a thing is possible). I’ve always been a big guy – and I don’t mean “big” in the euphemistic sense that obese people use it in order to excuse their obesity. I am 6′ 5″ and have a very large frame. Losing 50 pounds for me would certainly be significant, but probably not as noticable or significant as it would for those of you who are naturally smaller than I am. I’ve been overweight since I was a child, save for a few months after high-school when I lost a significant amount of weight – right before I gained it all back after my first indulgence in a post-diet bowl of fettucine alfredo. But I’m not a teenager anymore, and at 29 years old and 365 pounds, my body was certainly beginning to draw my attention to the ill-effects. I ached. I was out of breath. The skin on my legs was turning purple. My back spasmed. I had developed chronic gout. I felt weak. I was constantly battling to keep depression at bay. That was at my heaviest. It was simultaneously my high and my low.
Now after 30 days of healthier living, I am down 30 pounds. I’m lighter than I have been in a very long time. I am also noticing that all of the maladies I just mentioned are either happening with decreasing frequency or intensity (or both), or have ceased happening altogether. I feel better. Perhaps more important than that, I am beginning to internalize some very important truths. I knew some of them better than others before this past month, but on all counts I am now experiencing the first-hand reality of these truths more directly than I was before. And so, I wanted to share with readers some of the things I’ve learned (and am still learning) along the way. Hopefully you’ll be encouraged to stay healthy or inspired to get healthy. Hopefully, if this is something you struggle with like I do, this post will help you to realize how the “weight” of the gospel tips the scales in your favor when it comes to slimming down. So, here we go. 7 ways that the gospel should change your outlook on weight loss:
1. Your Weight is a Gospel Issue
Why? Because if you are in Christ, all of life is a gospel issue. Every part of it. There is to be no corner of your heart which you cordon off to keep Christ out. No action you take is to remain unsubmitted to his lordship. This includes how long you sit on the couch for that Duck Dynasty marathon. It includes that extra slice of stuffed-crust supreme pizza you have after you are already full. And yes, it includes your body fat percentage. This last point about body fat percentage rubs some of you the wrong way. I know. It rubs me the wrong way, too. If you’re anything like me, it’s because you place too much of your identity in how much you weigh. Here’s how I know: your first knee-jerk question is, “Well, what percentage does God demand? 60%? 30%? 5%?!” It’s the heart motivated by works-righteousness that asks the question, “how good is good enough?” If you find yourself asking that question, you’re missing the point. Jesus submitted his body to God on your behalf. If you find your identity in Christ and reverence him as Lord, then your confidence does not lie in a percentage, but in the fact that Christ’s perfect treatment of his body is credited to your account in the eyes of God. The reason the percentage matters is not because a lower number necessarily means you’re more holy, but because a higher number might suggest that you are not properly submitting that area of your life to Christ.
No matter how high or low your body fat percentage is, if you have trusted in Christ for your salvation, your eternal health is secure. Your attempts at weight loss on this side of eternity are just attempts to properly reflect that truth with your body. You aren’t fat, you have fat. Your weight does not define you. The gospel does.
2. Your Weight is a Holiness Issue
I’m going to say it – being overweight is sinful. I’m just going to let that statement hang out there for a minute. Let it sink in. Are you overweight? Then you’re sinning. Uncomfortable yet? Good. Then you’re in the perfect position to repent. I’m not going to waste time with the obligatory caveats of sickness, disability, side-effects of medication and other legitimate medical reasons why someone might be overweight by no action (or inaction) of their own choosing. We both know such examples exist. We also both know that the person in that kind of situation is manifestly not who I’m talking about. I’m talking to you – the guy who’s reading this article from the couch with greasy fingers and potato chip crumbs on his shirt. Your weight is determined by your habits…and your habits are killing you. Christ died that you might live. How then can you go on doing the things that are sending you to the grave? Does that question prick your conscience? Then today is the day to change.
You see, Paul had two categories for our actions in this lifetime: faith and sin. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” Romans 14:23 tells us. Can you eat that third bag of chips in faith? Can you sit over that super-sized value meal and honestly pray to God that he would bless it to nourish your body? No? Then it’s sin.
Gluttony is real. Gluttony is practically reverencing food as God. “That’s not me,” I told myself. But a funny thing happened once I started going without the unhealthy foods I had regularly eaten for so long. I had cravings. Withdrawal symptoms. Terrible headaches. And something occurred to me: I was addicted to food. I was indeed a glutton. As a disciple of Jesus, my only addiction is to be to the intoxicating presence of God. Unbeknownst to myself, I had made food into a false God. It had covertly sickened my soul. My dependence on food had gone unnoticed (or more probably ignored) until I didn’t have it anymore. My idolatry was so bad in fact, that it wasn’t merely a heart issue anymore; it was manifesting physically – at first in my continual eating, and then in my cravings. I remember sitting down to eat meals and imagining what the next meal would be like. The signs were always there. Maybe they’re there for you too. Gluttony is real, it’s sinful, and its sinfulness isn’t mitigated just because you’re at a church potluck. Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise.
Ultimately, Christian, your body does not belong to you. It belongs to the God who redeemed you. Many dieters seem to think that once they get to the point to where they can say, “I’m doing this for me,” they will be successful. Nope. In the case of your health, take Romans 12:1 to heart, and “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Make healthier choices in order to more perfectly worship your God with a grateful heart over the grace he has shown you. That way, even if you never lose the weight, you won’t have failed.
3. Your Weight is a Missions Issue
The Christian has three primary spheres of mission in his life: his family, the community he lives in, and the world. Does your weight keep you from being on mission in each of those spheres? Probably so, and in more ways than you might think.
A man’s family is a missional microcosm, and the one in which the effects of his weight will be most directly felt. Your spouse and children are your first mission field. Of course, the most obvious of the ways you are kept from serving them is due to a shortened life – and being overweight empirically shortens your life. Will your spouse be left to raise a family alone when you die prematurely from a preventable cardiac event? Consider this: Would that all of your children should accept Christ in their childhood, but that’s not always the way it works out. Your young children who haven’t yet accepted Christ may not be ready to accept Christ until they are in their sixties. Will you be here in your eighties to be an evangelistic presence in their life when their unregenerate hearts are white unto harvest? Not if you can’t say no to an Oreo milkshake when you need to. Do you have the energy to chase your children around the house and play with them as is needed for proper parenting and evangelistic opportunity? No? Then your weight is preventing you from being on mission with your children and it’s time to lose it.
What about your missional influence in the community? This would include your friends and the people of your city in the places where you live your life. Take work, for example. Do you have the energy to work hard all day without slacking off as a way to win a hearing with your unbelieving boss? No? What about being able to run and jump for extended periods of time without passing out so that when the unsaved guys in your college dorm ask you play some ultimate frisbee, you are ready to develop that relationship with evangelistic expectations? No? Then your weight is in the way of the mission of God, and you need to lose it.
What about world missions? People in starving countries have a hard time listening to a fat person talk about trusting God to meet their food needs. Your proclamation of the gospel to those people may well be getting upstaged by your flabby middle. Furthermore, like it or not, many missions agencies require you to meet certain BMI standards before allowing you to minister in certain places. It simply isn’t wise for them to send you to a remote mountainside village where constant trekking and hiking will be required if you are likely to keel over from exhaustion or injury. But what if God calls you to a place like that? Or maybe he already has. Will you be ready to go? If not, then your extra weight is an obstacle to the mission God wants to place you on, and people may end up going to hell if you don’t get rid of it.
4. Your Victory is Assured
In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Does that mean that because Christ strengthens you that you are able to go from a life of sloth and laziness, junk food and bingeing, to a running a full marathon overnight? Of course not. Because such a feat requires physical strength and endurance. And usually, that’s not how Christ strengthens us. There is a way, though, in which he always strengthens us – in the gospel. We are made spiritually strong in the midst of our spiritual weakness because Christ himself is spiritual strength on our behalf. Our lives as sinful human beings are pitiful stories of spiritual failure, upon spiritual failure, upon spiritual failure. Christ’s life was one of spiritual success, upon spiritual success, upon spiritual success. And in the great exchange that happens upon the moment of our salvation, his successes become our successes in the eyes of God. We are given a new heart. Where once, our heart may have been enslaved to food, or television, or sugary sweets, our heart is now freed so that we might freely enslave it to Christ.
Disregard your physical limitations for a moment and think about the things that really keep you from being fit: your appetites, your habits, your lack of conviction, your lack of perseverance. All of these problems are inherently spiritual in nature, and hold no ultimate power over you if you are in Christ. Why? Because during his earthly life, they held no power over him. In his life he conquered temptation, in his resurrection he conquered death. He embodied submission, restraint, wisdom and devotion. In him, all those same spiritual benefits are ours. God the Father, Ephesians 1:3-4 declares, “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” You can be holy in the arena of your weight, because the spiritual roadblocks that might have otherwise prevented your success in this spiritual task are already conquered in Christ. Take hold of this truth: you are empowered to submit your body fully to God in your life because Christ first submitted his body fully to God in his death.
5. Your Sins are Covered
There’s a reason we call some sweet, rich foods “sinful.” Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with eating them on occasion and in moderation, but if you eat them too much, you might rightly be said to be sinning. A small slice of chocolate cake at a birthday party with your unbelieving friends? Completely appropriate. Two-thirds of a chocolate cake because your boyfriend just dumped you? Gluttony. I think you get the idea. But maybe your sin takes a different form. It’s not that you run to food for comfort, but maybe you just can’t muster the willpower to be able to say no microwavable pizza rolls in favor of a salad. One of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 is self-control. To the extent that you are not in control of your desires, you are being led by them, and not by the Spirit. Paul would say that your actions were proceeding from sin, not from faith. He acknowledged this reality in his life in Romans 7:18-19: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Sound like you when it comes to food? Yeah. Me too. Paul goes on in verse 21-24,
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Maybe Paul’s particular hot-button temptation wasn’t food, but the principle still applies. We are sinful creatures driven by fleshly desires instead of the Spirit. Our bodies and old natures continually try to pull us back from wholeheartedly chasing the grace and wisdom that God offers to us. We really are terribly corrupted. And we would be doomed to death were it not for the One who Paul joyfully exclaims will deliver him from death in verse 25: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul’s sins. Your sins. My sins. All covered in Christ. My gluttony would send me to my doom, were it not for the life saving work of Jesus Christ.
It’s axiomatic: If you diet, you will cheat. Everyone falls off the wagon. It’s not a matter of if, but when. But the next time you fall off the wagon at 12:31 a.m. when you are craving Rocky Road so bad you feel like your head is going to explode, or the next time you fail to get up for your morning workout because your comforter is just too comforting, remember this: it’s okay. You have not failed because Christ didn’t fail. As Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Put your trust in him to cover your lack of self-control, submit yourself to him anew and get back on the wagon. He is patient. He is kind. He is gentle. And he understands.
6. Christ is Enough
Of course, as you progress in holiness, you should desire to struggle with certain of your sinful behaviors less and less over time as you are continually transformed more into the likeness of Christ. Your tearful confessions over the latest failed attempt at self-control will begin to happen with decreasing frequency. They will – remember: your victory is already accomplished. But more self- control isn’t an end in itself. Neither is a weight loss goal. Both are admirable, but neither are sufficient to save your soul. Christ is, however. Your hope, child of God, is to be in Christ and in Christ alone. Food, weight loss goals, and body-image ideals, if not kept in proper perspective, can all easily turn into idols. How do you know when they have become false gods to you? Ask yourself the question, “What do I need to have to be secure?” Well? What do you need? Washboard abs? 120 pounds of fat melted off of your body? 5 compliments a day on your newly-sculpted physique? A jar of Nutella and a spoon? Your answer should, of course, be “Nope. Just Jesus.”
Will you worship the scale at your feet, or will you worship at the foot of the cross? Will you bow before airbrushed beauty queens, or before the man who is himself the very definition of beauty? Will you taste everything you see, or will you “taste and see that the Lord is good?” Your ultimate satisfaction must be in Christ and not in the next 10-pound threshold. It has to be in the real presence of Christ and not some far-off, imaginary version of yourself. When you get hold of this – when you take hold of Christ as you pursue a healthier life – you start to lose weight because you know you can, not because you have to in order to be happy. And that makes all the difference.
7. You Didn’t Lose the Weight, Christ Did.
If it’s not obvious by now, let me say it explicitly: You can’t do this without Christ’s help. You need him. You need his perfection to be your perfection. And just to be clear, that may mean redefining your preconceived notions about what perfection actually is. You see, there is only one person in the history of all mankind who has treated his body with utter reverence as the temple of the Spirit of God at all times. That man was Jesus. That’s the mentality and strength you need to be successful in getting your body to properly reflect the change that has already happened in your heart. Can you hope to conjure that strength on your own? I think we both know the answer to that.
There is a sanctifying work that Christ does in the heart of a believer that is nothing short of miraculous. Somehow, some way, Christ actually does good works through the believer on his behalf. God sees that you are unable to rescue yourself from your sinful behaviors, and he sends his perfect Son to step in and do it instead. Consider Philippians 2:13: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” You see, God himself is working right now, inside of you, to lead your heart to desire the things that he desires for you, and to lead your body to take the actions that he desires you to take. Are you a robot? No. But in some mysterious way, God proactively sanctifies your heart in such a way that your own will is simultaneously his will. And it all happens because you have the spirit of Christ living inside of you. This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus himself enlightened his followers to this very reality when he said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (emphasis mine).
And so, weeks, months, or even years from now, when you have finally reached your weight loss goals – whatever they are, you will look back at all you have accomplished and you will ultimately realize that it was not you that accomplished any of it. The whole endeavor has been one big excercise of faith. Faith produced in you, not by you. And as you take joy in your newly-sanctified body, you will take joy in Christ all the more because you will realize that your new body isn’t yours at all. It’s his. And he shaped it. And when people looking for the latest, greatest, most effective weight loss fad ask you how in the world you lost so much weight, you will point them to the timeless power of the gospel. And in that moment, the extra fat that you carried with you for all those years will ultimately be worth it.