CULTURE WATCH: Faith and Fitness (Part 2)

Is Obesity A Sin?

By Wendell Cantrell

(This is the second of four articles examining the Christian response to faith and fitness. As you recall, in the last issue of Culture Watch, we used Pastor Rick Warren as an example of taking up the challenge of fitness.  A discerning reader pointed out that the Daniel Diet Plan was developed and promoted by three very popular secularist physicians.  While we didn’t recommend, nor will we promote this diet, the reader’s point is well taken.  In today’s world, even diets or exercise plans should be approached discerningly. Read the first article.)

Last month we started the discussion on the lack of fitness in the body of Christ. Does holiness depend on being an ultra-marathoner or as thin as a rail? Fortunately, our holiness doesn’t depend on the shape or weight of our bodies like the venus factor reviews are saying, but on Christ’s sacrifice of HIS body. Our body shape isn’t a fair fight, and the last thing any of us should do is judge someone by how he or she looks. Our fitness today is literally based on the thousands of decisions we have made concerning what and how much we ate and whether we exercised regularly. Sadly, as a typical consumer in an affluent country, we all teeter on the precipice of some form of gluttony pretty regularly. Food producers and restaurants have a financial interest in finding just the right mixture of sugar, fat, and salt to addict us to certain foods. Their goal is often to get each of us hooked where we will thoughtlessly consume foods that are harmful to our bodies, souls, health, and witness.

A fascinating study was presented in the April 2010 issue of International Journal of Obesity exploring the historical paintings of the Last Supper. The biblical account mentions only bread and wine. Over the last 1000 years the liberties taken by artists have increased the main course size on the table surrounded by Jesus and the disciples by 69%, adding fish, lamb, pork, and other goodies. We are seeing visual assumptions based on contemporary experience, and they continue growing! The typical European visitor to the US is literally amazed by our portion sizes and our propensity for snacking.

We all need to ask a big question. Are my eating habits pulling me away from a close walk with the Lord? Is food shaping me into a person who lives mainly for my own gratification rather than nourishing me so I can serve others better? As we look at Old Testament scripture, we see multiple verses denouncing gluttony (Proverbs 23:2, 23:19-21, 28:7). In the New Testament we see Paul advising, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). He then describes the Cretans as “lazy gluttons” needing rebuke in Titus 1:12-13. Paul was clearly not a fan of overindulgence. Although scripture warns about gluttony, the teaching is usually brief and somewhat indirect. It doesn’t seem to rise to the level of sexual immorality or lack of empathy for the poor.

Obviously, overindulgence is displeasing to our Father. Gorging on food could be considered sinful, just like getting drunk.  We need to understand, as I have stated previously, the extra pounds may not be due to eating habits. I agree with Gary Thomas, the author of Every Body Matters, that it is no more appropriate to call being overweight a sin than to call being an alcoholic sinful: the act yes, the result – no. Sin can lead us to become overweight, but being overweight is not, in and of itself, a sin1. This is a book I highly recommend, and numerous ideas in the remainder of this series are borrowed from it.

Now that we have discussed the contemporary challenges to gluttony, we must also address the second driving force causing the “unfitness epidemic” – laziness. Laziness (called sloth by our forefathers) is basically a well-veiled spiritual assassin.  It kills our bodies, our bank accounts, and our relationships. Laziness leads us to ignore any obligation, defining sin as just something we shouldn’t do, while forgetting all we are commanded to do. The ancients tackled slothfulness with the same zeal that they tackled excessive eating. Lorenzo Scupoli, a 16th century priest, wrote of the “miserable bondage of sloth, which not only hinders all spiritual progress, but also delivers you into the hands of the enemy. It will, like a worm in the wood, insensibly eat away and destroy the very marrow of the spiritual life.”

Does this sound like works-righteousness or legalism to you? Or maybe you are thinking that we are making a big deal out of non-scandalous sins. This mindset can foster an attitude that will erode our spiritual life as well. If we coddle laziness in one area of our life, it easily spreads, becoming part of who we are. I know from personal experience that the opposite is true.  Cultivating discipline in physical fitness enhances my spiritual journey. Body and soul fitness is like farming in a way. In 2 Timothy 2:6, Paul uses the metaphor of the “hardworking farmer” who gets the first share of the crops. Ancient, non-mechanized farming was grueling work that took persistence and consistency of effort. Much of the work is unnoticed by the crowd and no one is applauding. However, the life it creates can be used by God to bless and serve many. The plowing and planting is sometimes very grueling, but harvest can be bountiful.

As you have delved into this issue with me, are you being convicted that this is an area where you have been less than faithful as it concerns your self-control? Which two greetings would you rather hear as you enter eternity? “You wicked, lazy servant!” (Matthew 25:26), OR “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21)!

In closing, let me remind us that within the church, we must learn to view fitness (ours and others) through the lens of humility that leads to encouragement and inspiration instead of judgment and condemnation. We must also be cautious of noting the speck in a brother’s eye and missing the log in our own (Matthew 7:3-4)!

Questions or comments about this article may be directed to

1)    Every Body Matters by Gary Thomas


**  If this topic intrigues you, I would encourage you to check out the following link where John Piper speaks of his commitment to fitness.  There are two short articles called “What I Do and Why”