I’ve been learning a lot lately about how important food is to our bodies. Sure, food is delicious, but it’s also the fuel that gives us energy, keeps us going physically, helps us learn, and even keeps us emotionally and mentally in check. Putting the wrong food in our bodies can affect us even more than we realize.
Even more important than the food we eat is the fuel we use spiritually. Don’t get me wrong—I’m going to talk a lot about the food “fuel” issue, but it all ultimately goes back to an example of what spiritual fuel we’re using. Stop and think about it: What fuels your faith? In other words, what is the motivation behind your faith? The answer to that can deeply impact who you are and what you do.
Titus 3:3-7 says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…”
We Were Once Foolish
I wish I could say that my problems with food were recent or that they weren’t really a problem at all, but that wouldn’t be true. Somewhere along the way, possibly even as early as elementary school, I decided that food was something that I needed to be in complete control of. I wanted to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and I did not want anyone telling me how to eat differently—friends or family. I can’t even tell you the number of times I asked a friend to be an accountability partner and ended up getting angry with them within the next two days because they tried to actually help. I often felt like I deserved to be able to indulge in foods that weren’t good for me. Bad day? Candy bar. Stressed out? Fast food lunch. Bored and lonely? Extra 2, I mean 5, cookies. When things were tough, I ate. Like a five-year-old kid sneaking candy, I would sneak food—even if the people I was with didn’t care. I felt shame, so I acted in shame. And in reality, the food I was eating was controlling me, and it was certainly not healthy, physically or emotionally.
How many times do we let our own desires and our need to be in control fuel our faith? It’s so easy to pick the parts of the Bible to obey and then justify the parts you don’t listen to, just because you want to keep control and follow your own desires. This not only pulls us away from God, but it makes for a shallow, short-lasting faith. The Holy Spirit cannot work through us when we refuse to listen to anything but our own voice.
Not Because of Works Done by Us
Sometimes I would get really (ok, kind of) motivated about losing weight and getting in shape. But I was always determined that I could do it without changing my diet. I would exercise more, snack a little less. But the food that was going in my body wasn’t any healthier. I remember my sophomore year of college, I had gym class one semester. At least once week we would run a mile. I exercised more that semester than I had probably in my entire life, and I still continued to slowly gain weight. But I also continued to eat Cheez-its, ice cream, fried foods, and frozen burritos on a regular basis. I thought I could change my health all through exercise, and while my mile time got better, my overall health did not.
We often do this with spiritual fuel. We try to create our own righteousness by following the rules, setting up some sort of spiritual routine, making sure that everything on the outside looks just right. But inside, we are motivated by our own sense of self-worth, by our own need to prove ourselves. But we can never be righteous on our own, and we will continue to fail if we try to prove our worth by our acts. God wants to affect us from the inside out—to make us new through His sacrifice and His spirit. We can never be worthy because of anything we do ourselves.
According to His Own Mercy
Let me first say that I am, by no means, a model of how to eat and exercise. This is just the beginning of a journey for me. But making the decision to change my lifestyle—in particular, how I eat—was one of the best decisions I’ve made in the past year. I definitely don’t always love eating healthy. My sister and I live for the days that our meal plan includes avocado or almond butter on toast or banana-based ice cream. A few days ago, I cried when I took a bite of grilled chicken because all I wanted was to pop a bunch of frozen, boneless Buffalo wings in the oven alongside some French fries. But most days, I’m so thankful for the food I eat because I’m free from the shame, the sneaking, the overeating. I don’t eat when I don’t need to. I can have a piece of my coworker’s homemade cake without feeling like I’ve sentenced myself to an extra five pounds. My pants even fit better. I haven’t been this excited for an upcoming diabetes appointment since I was a kid because I know that my numbers are in control, and I know that scale will at least be a few pounds lower than it was before. For once, I’m actually gaining control over my food and feeling the freedom that comes with living a clean, healthy lifestyle.
And just like clean, healthy food is ultimately the best fuel for our bodies, God’s grace and mercy for us is what should motivate and fuel us spiritually. If my faith stems from the knowledge that God’s grace has made me worthy and Christ’s sacrifice made me righteous, that will be the fuel that will fundamentally change my life. In fact, it was shortly after being reminded of this motivation that I began to be more motivated to change my food and exercise routine! Christ has given us the freedom to live in His victory, without shame, and that should be the ultimate motivation for holding onto and living out our faith.