“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Cor 6:19-20
Gym rats. Cardio queens. Muscles Heads. CrossFit fanatics. In my previous articles I began each premise with the assumption that most of us are not eating healthy or exercising on a regular basis. I put focus on showing why there is a theological “ought” behind glorifying God with our health that included eating right and exercising. In this article I want to shift focus to the other extreme where a Christian may be taking healthy eating, sports and fitness to the point of idolatry. My hope is that we can use the same biblical grounding I put forth in my previous articles to create a robust guide to curb either extreme and to help align our thinking and planning to best glorify God with the freedom that we have regarding our health.
There are people out there that eat, sleep and breath health and fitness. Yes, these people do exist and I interact with them every day. Are most of these individuals Christians? Most likely not but I know that there are quite a few professing believers out there that utilize health and fitness as one of their main self-identifiers.
So who are these people? They are the “type A” individuals that prioritize their day around the gym. They systematically and precisely plan out their meals and work out schedules for the week. They don’t bat an eye dropping $200 a month on supplements or a $400 grocery bill at Wholefoods. These seemingly exemplary models of humanity may be your family, coworkers, church members or even you. When you see them you might think they are idolatrous, prideful boasters that are self-absorbed, arrogant and completely wasting their time, energy and money on vain pursuits that will one day be eroded away with time. And you know what? You may be right…or, you could be completely wrong and sinning. Let me explain.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said these iconic words written in Matthew 7: 1-5: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” These verses are typically used as a rebuttal to justify a behavior when someone is calling into question your actions. Yet, as pastor Gabe Hughes explains in this When We Understand the Text Video, it has more to do with our motives and perspectives than anything else.
The point I want to make at the outset, because it is so foundational, is that one of the biggest initial roadblocks I see for a Christian to start making meaningful change to glorify God with their health is that when they see a person that is more fit and healthy than they are, they immediately think that person is “in sin” because they are “prideful and using their bodies as an idol.” They think that there is no way a Christian can successfully steward their body and not be in sin. Now I’m not saying that doesn’t happen (it happens A LOT) but what I want to make crystal clear is that what you perceive as idolatry and pride might actually be that person fully glorifying God with their health and with a clear conscience. That person may be just so far down the line from you that by comparison is looks like sin. Yet, until you know that person’s motivations, agendas, goals and Spiritual fruit, you need to be careful in how you frame and categorize that person or group of people. Because, and this might have never crossed your mind before, a person abusing their health by neglecting proper eating and exercise might be far more steeped in the sin of idolatry and pride than the person you perceive as idolatrous & prideful because they put forth effort to “stay in shape”.
So then, how do we diagnose sinful versus God glorifying activities with our bodies? We need to delve into the two major categories of sin associated with this issue and how to uncover them: Idolatry and Pride.
When I say the word “idolatry” most people think of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf or some South American tribe bowing down to a ‘god’ carved out of wood. But, idolatry is actually much more insidious and corruptive than mere false worship. As John MacArthur has pointed out:
“Idolatry is the most serious and contaminating sin there is. And the reason is because it strikes directly at the character of God. And once you have adulterated the character of God, you have lost the guidelines for any other moral judgment.”
MacArthur goes on to show examples of how the Bible defines aspects of idolatry:
- Idolatry is libel and slander on the character of God.
- Idolatry is failing to trust God.
- Any unworthy thought about God is idolatry.
- Worshipping the True God in the wrong way is idolatry.
- Idolatry is worshipping any image, angel, demon, idea, concept or created thing.
It is this 5th example that is pertinent to today’s topic because it gets at the attitude of our heart. Whatever you worship is whatever you pour worth into. As Christians, we should daily strive to focus our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) at loving and glorifying God because He is the only thing in this universe that is worthy. By doing this we get the attention off of the “lesser things” and put it squarely on our Father. Once we have achieved this motivation we can then enlist whatever medium, be it reading or eating or exercise or any other activity, to glorifying Him through it.
As I’ve pointed out in my previous article, our bodies are meant to glorify God and we are to pursue the glorification of God in all that we do, including how we steward our health. Yet, how do we know that we are doing this and not using some other lesser thing as our motivation? How can we perceive if we are worshipping the True God with our bodies or instead serving an idol? It starts with a heart check by looking at God’s Word. Phillipians 2:3-4 says: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The first step is looking at our pride. Are we engaging in our pursuit of health to fulfill some prideful ambition or are we doing it to glorify God and serve our neighbor? As Stuart Scott defines pride is his book From Pride To Humility:
When someone is proud he or she is focused on self. This is a form of self-worship [or idolatry 1]. Prideful people believe that they are or should be the source of what is good, right and worthy of praise. They also believe that they, by themselves, are (or should be) the accomplisher of anything that is worthwhile to accomplish, and that they should certainly be the benefactor of all things. In essence, they are believing that all things should be from them, through them, and to them or for them. Pride is competitive toward others, and especially toward God. Pride wants to be on top. 2
The self-focused and obtusely boisterous person bent on self-glorification is one ditch that a person may fall into. On the other side, the alternative ditch would be self-pity or a self-absorbed neglect of their health. This too is pride. If you are engaging in neglect or self-pity or self-loathing over the body that you currently have, that is sin and impairs your capacity to properly exhibit love to your spouse, family, church or neighbor and thus diminishes your capacity to glorify God in the good works He has created for you (Ephesian 2:10). Between these two poles there is a wide range of manifestations for idolatry and pride to rear it’s ugly head. Here is list of examples on how pride can manifest taken again from From Pride to Humility.
As you can obviously see, idolatry and pride can sneak up and manifest in all sorts of insidious and often neglected ways. Because of this, it is extremely important that we are daily presenting our thoughts, attitudes, motivations and desires to the Word of God and asking God to examine our hearts and align our thinking to His.
Through this thorough examination, you most likely have uncovered some wretchedness in your motivations and attitudes. You may have realized that what you thought may have been a noble pursuit in actuality might be idolatry and pride. If that is the case, then what is the solution? The Gospel. The Gospel is ALWAYS the solution because through it, it will align and reshape our motives and goals so that we will glorify God and actually develop a stronger and deeper intrinsic motivation to fully utilize and steward our bodies for God. Paul wrote the following to the church in Collosae:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Col 3:1-11)
Because Christ has redeemed us through the Cross, we are free and able to set our minds on God to serve Him and Him alone as our primary motivation. Once we have done this, we are then free from doing things out of pride and idolatry. In the book “Conscience” the authors succinctly sum up my entire point: “In Christianity, why you do things is more important than what you do.” 3 Getting to the root of our motivations is the key to successfully navigating all aspects of our Christian experience, including our stewardship responsibility with our health.
Dr. Joshua Trock is a doctor of physical therapy with a home-based practice that focuses on geriatric disease management. Dr. Trock lives in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and daughter. He attends Wayside Chapel and enjoys reading theology, outdoor activities and discovering how to get the most out of the amazing bodies God has blessed us with.