The topic of fitness in modern day evangelical Christianity is one of great interest to me. It’s to no surprise that like every other topic under the sun, there are many different beliefs and approaches to health and fitness in our communities. You see more and more, pastors and leaders who are clinically obese with ever-increasing body weight. Then on the flip side, there are pastors that seem to spend as much time in the gym as some professional athletes. In our congregations are business professionals who would claim they don’t have time to exercise, and in stark contrast, fitness professionals who are posing nearly naked for a living. So where is the balance? What should a Christian be doing to stay fit? What does scripture say? What’s biblical? Is there even any mention of such things?
For starters let’s outline a few key points:
We are made in the image of God.
Genesis 1:26 says: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness”. Just as God himself is 3 distinct entities within the triune Godhead, each man and woman within mankind was created uniquely by God as well. Each with unique strengths, weaknesses, physical appearances, body types, gifting, and callings.
Physical training is mentioned as having benefit in scripture.
1 Timothy 4:8 states:” For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way since it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” It seems Paul is suggesting that there is most certainly some value in physical health and training the body (to which I’m convinced includes the mind) but that it pales in comparison to growing in Christ-likeness. I would add that this also leads me to believe that physical training can become an idol, which we’ll discuss later.
We are called to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God
Romans 12:1-2 tells us “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
This particular section of scripture leads a lot of people down a path of completely ignoring health and fitness in a vain attempt to “sacrifice” for the Lord. I would argue that Paul’s point here is not to openly give up your health as a way to please God. Rather, that you be prepared to lay down everything, even that which you find value in if it is contradictory to pursuing holiness and Christ-likeness.
Gluttony can be a form of idolatry.
1 Corinthians 10:7 warns us not to become idolaters, as those people were who would sit down to eat and drink and get up and party. (Referencing Exodus 32:6) We are warned right and left throughout scripture to not become gluttons and drunkards. In Deuteronomy 21:20 a man is mentioned as being stubborn, rebellious and disobedient through his gluttony and must be put to death by stoning. Wow.
I’m convinced through study that gluttony is really just the overconsumption of anything. It’s similar to lust in that gluttony is a heart issue. Just as you can lust over anything that the Lord hasn’t specifically given to you, or has given to another (someone wife, house, money, vacations), gluttony is the overconsumption of a thing, even which God may have deemed good. Most notably over consuming food, but it doesn’t stop there. I believe you can be a glutton in regards to spending money or specifically buying new things, alcohol, sex, fitness, personal development and more.
Idolatry is really just anything that comes between us and God. Gluttony is idolatry, plain and simple. I’d be willing to guess we’ve all been guilty of it before in some form or another. Anytime we place our own desires over that which is asked of us in scripture, we are idolaters. Placing an importance on work over our family. Morning workouts over morning devotion time. Flippantly spending money rather than planning generosity with our money. These are all forms of gluttony and idolatry.
So how do we reconcile these ideas and land in a healthy place specifically regarding our fitness?
It starts with the heart. I would ask 2 simple questions as you consider the topic of health and fitness in your life:
WHY do I want to be healthy and fit? Or on the flip side, why haven’t you done what’s necessary to get healthy?
Why do you desire to be healthy and fit? Take an honest assessment of your heart in this current season. Are you desiring to look good? To be more attractive? To be taken seriously by others? To rid yourself of insecurities? Is it vanity?
Do you desire to steward your one and only body well? To honor the gift of life you’ve been given and use it to serve others? Do you want to be healthy and fit to play with your kids? Have more energy to be more impactful in your job, life and ministry?
A better question here might be as a self-assessment of the opposite behavior. Why do I want to continue to eat whatever I want? Why do I desire to drink alcohol more than I probably should be? What is the heart motive for my gluttony of food? Why do I eat the whole bag of chips when I really should only have a couple handfuls and put them away?
Perhaps you’ve never connected the dots before about your consumption and looked at it as a spiritual act, one that opposes the way we were made behave?
WHAT benefit does it add to my life and walk with Jesus?
How will being healthy and fit benefit me in my walk with Jesus? Will it help aid my calling to be a servant-leader of my home? Loving deeply and putting forth my best effort to serve and honor my wife and kids? To have the energy to volunteer on Sunday at church, even after a long work week and still find joy in my contribution?
On the flip side, what does it take away from my life and walk with Jesus if I am unhealthy in my eating and exercise routine? Does my lack of health focus put me at great risk of squandering what God has given me? Will it shorten a life that God intended to be longer so that he could use me for greater impact? Does my obsessive fitness routine take my attention away from the Lord, my family, and my ministry? Does my drive for more fitness lead me to think more about myself than others?
This is a challenging topic to address because we don’t know what God is calling others to do. A fitness professional could be doing exactly what God has called her to do, walking in obedience to her unique calling. She could also be chasing something unhealthy that is destructive for her walk with the Lord. Someone else could also be overweight due to health challenges, but making healthy choices and steering clear of gluttony. I don’t think we can look at others from the outside and really know where they land in these areas.
Like many topics regarding our walk with Jesus, fitness & gluttony are topics of the heart. Something that must be self-assessed. Topics we must take to Jesus and ask the Spirit to convict us where necessary. We must ask him to lead us to change and into freedom where it’s required.
The great news is we serve a God who empowers us when we need it, in order to take the appropriate action. He is faithful to convict, comfort, encourage, lead, grow and love us. We can fully rely on he who has already given it all for us, even his life. As we fail, we’re not disqualified. We have a gift of grace afforded to us that is profound and scandalous. Jesus has already lived the perfect and sinless life for us so that in him, we might have his righteousness. As we pursue holiness and growing in Christ-likeness we will most definitely stumble and even sometimes fall. Jesus knew that, and he made a way for you and me.
Our responsibility starts now. What will we choose today? His way, or ours? Only we can decide our path.