No matter where you stand with food, this faith is steeped in it. The garden overflowed with choice fruit. God provided manna for His needy people in the wilderness, and Jesus Himself is the Bread of Life. We come together as a family around a table in memory of the work He’s accomplished for us. And then there’s the happy ending of this history and the happy beginning of a new one: the marriage supper of the Lamb. One of my favorite lines from this last year was that “Jesus ate His way through the gospels.” Surely there’s more to the Christian life than counting carbs and getting our step goal in. Surely there’s more than eating until we want to puke.
When the gospel started affecting my waistline, I knew God was up to something.
Up until that point, I’d held two vastly different mindsets, both very present in the church, when it comes to physical health: legalism and liberalism. The first breeds a group of sour-faced disciples fixated on the idea of the body being God’s temple and forgetting that we are to taste and see that the Lord is good, that He’s the initiator of every feast in the Old Testament. It was all about what others might think—how could you possibly have a good witness if you obviously can’t control yourself? Name-calling, self-righteousness, and self-loathing silently dominated my heart. As I focused on the exterior, my interior world was being hollowed out.
Liberalism, on the other hand, told me to cling to the cross with one hand and all the pizza in the world with the other. Let’s gobble up the freedom we have and not think about stewardship, it cheered. This doesn’t have anything to do with others. It excused, justified, created a false sense of comfort that drained my soul while promising to satiate it. Laziness crept in, accompanied by fear, darkening my mind and pushing away community. I became consumed with self as I consumed without limit.
As you can imagine, these two competing voices constantly played off of each other in my heart. Externally, I might have looked like a fairly normal pastor’s wife, but internally, I felt more like the naked crazy guy hanging out among the tombs (Luke 8). But then the same sweet Savior who silenced the taunts of legion showed up and began setting me free, restoring my humanity, calling me away from graveyard living.
Both legalism and liberalism forgot Jesus and engendered slavery. Legalists are mastered just as much by the rules they must follow as liberals are mastered by the rules they refuse to follow. (And no, this isn’t just about food—it’s self-discipline in general. Sleep, stress, exercise, vitamins, medication, you name it. If it could be warped by becoming a tyrant that demanded all or demanded nothing, I warped it.)
Cross-shaped physical health looks different for each of us. For me, it means that I can take deep delight in any food but not be bound to overindulge. Exercise isn’t something I must do to make God proud of me or to earn what He’s given me, but a way I can revel in His creation and express thanks in love (even if I don’t particularly like sweating). No room for bullying myself exists here. Jesus has spoken kindness over me, and His is the final word.
If identity shapes everything we do, it can’t help but affect our approach to fitness. When the truth of who I am in Christ really began to sink into my soul, I started treating myself differently. The tendencies of having to binge and veg to feel happy or having to avoid and bust my rear to feel worthwhile faded. All that’s left is grace, this wild expanse of freedom. And now we can get down to the Spirit’s work of living satisfied.
Where do you land in your thinking on this topic—legalism, liberalism, or the gospel? What does cross-shaped physical health look like for you? What might the Lord be inviting you to enjoy? to change? to know? to be?
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