There is a lot of junk food available here in the U.S. And let’s be honest—a lot of it tastes really good. My favorite has always been Reese’s peanut butter cups. Oh, and I’m a sucker for ice cream too.
A few years ago I was at a birthday party for an extended family member when I got talking to one of my cousin’s who is a personal trainer and fitness guru. While I was chowing down on some birthday cake, I asked his advice on how to lose my flabby gut. I was no gym rat by any stretch of the imagination, but I did somewhat regularly run or do some form of calisthenics and circuit training. Perhaps not with impressive regularity, but it was more than just the first few weeks of each new year.
Do you know what his biggest piece of advice was? Aside from discipline, he said that if I changed nothing else, but would just eat healthier, I could lose that gut. Both aspects were important—physical training and diet. But the idea was that if I continued to eat garbage, I would stay in poor health—and would likely become discouraged that my sparse exercise regimen wasn’t yielding any results, and eventually stop trying altogether.
But I’m not a fitness and health blogger, so what’s my point?
There’s a good chance your theological diet is sabotaging your spiritual health.
Here are a few scenarios to try to help you diagnose your spiritual fitness.
#1 — Malnourished
I’d say the majority of professing Christians in the West fall into this category. You may be spiritually malnourished by not consuming the amount of nutrients you need.
If you only ate one meal a week, how long do you think you could survive? Yet that’s exactly what many of us do when we don’t open the Bible except on Sunday when the preacher reads from it (if you’re fortunate enough to be in a church that still preaches God’s Word).
What’s the solution for spiritual malnourishment?
Well, don’t start eating like a big boy overnight. I.e., you probably shouldn’t start with a contrasting study of the different theories of the Atonement. If you start there, you’ll likely become discouraged and give up.
Instead I’d recommend beginning by finding the Gospel of Mark in the Bible, and just read a paragraph or so each day. And each time you sit down to read, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and help you understand what you’re reading. You may even want to find a good Study Bible which will have helpful notes to assist your understanding of some of the things you may be unfamiliar with. Find a Bible-teaching church in your area and commit to being there on Sundays to hear the Bible preached; that’s one of the ways the Lord has chosen to help His children understand the things that are in the Bible.
#2 — Obese
You may be spiritually obese because you are consuming a lot, but they’re not the right kind of calories. These are “empty calories” like Oreos, and ice cream, and Reese’s, and Joel Osteen, and Joyce Meyer, and… I may take some heat for saying so but televangelists like Joel Osteen are the spiritual equivalent of junk food. What they say is really enticing—God wants you to be happy, healthy, and wealthy. God wants you to be successful in everything you do. God wants you to find a spouse.
But does He want all those things? Are you sure? For some I’m sure He does, but there are many whom God has chosen to serve Him in poverty and sickness in this life, but to be spiritual giants (James 2:5). There are those whom He has called to be single (1 Cor. 7:6-7), but the world all around them is saying, “If you’re not dating or married, you must be doing something wrong. If you’re not financially successful, you can’t be happy. If you’re sick, you must have some hidden sin in your life.” And so the spiritually flabby buy into it. And get flabbier. And eventually, it will kill you.
What’s the solution to spiritual obesity?
What I needed to do in order to lose my gut was not simply to remove certain foods from my diet, but replace them with healthier alternatives (Luke 11:24-26). For example, I made a choice to cut out processed sugar. So when I would get a craving for something sweet I would grab an apple. You can’t merely stop consuming spiritual junk food and not replace it with something better, or you’ll wind up either in the Malnourished category, or falling back into your old habits.
Remove the marshmallows from your diet and replace it with almonds, avocados, apples. Remove the fluffy prosperity preaching from your diet and replace it with reading 3 or 4 pages of the Bible each day, ask your pastor for a recommendation of a solid, biblical daily devotional, or ask him for a list of Christian authors he recommends (Pro-tip: if he says Osteen, et al., he’s either joking or not a spiritually discerning person), get involved in a Bible study at your church, faithfully attend a Bible-teaching church, and so on.
#3 — Puffed Up
These are the guys in the gym that not only lift 2 billion pound dumbbells and nearly burst a blood vessel in their eye doing it, but they also drop said dumbbell to the ground so loudly and with a beastly roar that everyone in the gym turns to look.
I’m that guy. Not in the literal gym, but spiritually. Because I love to talk about the deep things of Christ, and when I know something about the Bible someone else doesn’t, I’m given to pride. It’s actually hard to spot in yourself because you’ll usually have a better image of yourself in your mind than actually corresponds to reality. Know how I know? ‘Cause like I said, I’m that guy.
What’s the solution for spiritual pride?
Not to make it seem as though I’ve figured it out (it’s still a sin I’m trying to put to death, and by the grace of God I will), but instead of always and only engaging in spiritual body-building competitions, change out of the Speedo, put on some decent clothes, and get into the trenches with your brothers and sisters in Christ—ask them how you can pray for them, and put some of that spiritual strength to good use. Instead of just spending your time in the gym, get out and put those muscles to use helping others (Gal. 6:2). You’ll have to watch out for that pesky sin of pride because it will try to rear its ugly head every chance it gets (Gen. 4:7).
It’s not that being theologically strong is bad. It isn’t. In fact, it can be a very good and godly thing—IF it is accompanied by the fruit of spirit—love (Gal. 5:22); IF you are abiding in Christ and He in you, and you’re bearing much fruit (John 15:5). Otherwise, you’re just making a lot of noise (1 Cor. 13:1).
Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Cor. 8:1). Let’s stop puffing up our theological muscles and start building one another up in love as a result of the things we are given understanding of in God’s Word.
#4 — Dead
There’s a very good chance you might be dead. Right now in fact. Spiritually that is.
But there’s good news. All of us who are in Christ were dead at one time too, but we were made alive together with Christ, because of God’s mercy (Eph. 2:4-5).
What’s the solution to spiritual death?
Here’s the crazy thing—there’s nothing you can do about it.
Wait, I thought you said there was good news….
There is! You can’t do anything to make yourself alive, but there is One who can. And if you have a sense of your sinfulness and God’s holiness, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Hear Him calling to you as He called to His friend Lazarus, “Come forth!” Today if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart (Heb. 3:7-8,15). Indeed, if you’re beginning to recognize your need for the Savior, repent and trust Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38).