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There are seasons in our lives when the temptations that resist self-control and discipline are strong. The holidays come to mind, as well as personal and relational challenges—not to mention sheltering in place indefinitely. Then we come to our senses, start a new diet and jump in the gym as we take our pledges to fight the battle of the bulge. These resolutions are commonplace because many people struggle with their weight.
It does not have to be bad news to have this kind of self-awareness. Imagine any other problem we might have but were not aware of. That would be the bad news when it comes to anything wrong with us. Losing weight and taking better care of our bodies is an excellent idea, as well as a biblical one, so let’s go ahead and get a couple of familiar verses out of the way since you’re anticipating them anyway.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
These are great verses, and I am sure they are not new to you. Perhaps you have read them, but you are still battling the bulge. May I be honest? I do, too, and there are times when the Word of God comes across as a book of black letters on white pages—especially if we do not approach the Bible biblically. It’s vital to know that the words in the Bible are not magic words. There is power, but that power does not work passively, randomly, or arbitrarily. The power of the Word works in proportion to our proper engagement with those Words while actively praying, authentically seeking, humbly expecting, practically applying, and transparently living in the context of community.
If we think wrongly about the change process, we will become disappointed when circumstances like weight do not change. The issue in view here is not so much over-relying on the Word of God as it is a lack of understanding of what the process of change requires. It is like giving a child instruction to do right, but he does not follow through with your guidance because he does not know how to do that. The words appear to fall on deaf ears. God’s Word can fall on deaf ears, too (Hebrews 5:11-14). Therefore, we must,
There is an excellent chance to make great strides in heart and body transformation as we do these things. So, with them in mind, take a look at how you can bring the Word of God to bear on being overweight. Let’s begin with two fundamental questions:
I love those questions because it is imperative to make Bible connections to our lives. The Bible, or the gospel more specifically, is the starting point and the sustaining power for our sanctification. To lose weight makes the gospel question an important one. Therefore, you ask, “What does the gospel have to do with overeating?” There are two ways to think about and apply the gospel to the problem of overeating:
One of the advantages of Christian discipleship over secular self-help is that the Christian discipler does not experience satisfaction with a behavioral modification exclusivity. While we must change our behaviors—eating poorly or too much—we know the necessity of resolving our problem at the source of the problem. Jesus tied the tongue—the words we use (symptom)—to the heart—who we are (core problem) (Luke 6:45). We find a connection between the words we use and our hearts.
Similarly, being overweight is not an external problem with no relationship to our inner selves—who we are at the core of our being. We are not biblically allowed to say, “I’m fat,” and act as though our external condition disconnects from the internal state of our hearts. For example, here is a shortlist of potential soul problems a Christian discipler wants to explore with a person who is overweight:
Anxiety, fear, self-sufficiency, performance-driven, sadness, arrogance, lack of self-control, unbelief (pertaining to our sanctification), self-righteousness, frustration, comfort, anger, slothfulness/lazy, folly (impulsive), disappointment, jealousy, regret, envy, resentment, and hopelessness.
Are any of these characteristics part of who you are? If so, there is a more significant issue in play, which is in addition to lack of exercise, overeating, or making poor food choices. In most cases with overweight people, it is a soul problem too. Though there are a few people where overweight and obesity struggles can be an organic problem only, it would be unwise to neglect a fuller exploration of the whole person before settling on organic exclusivity.
Can you see how the deeper issues I listed will feed the temptation to overeat or not exercise? How aware are you that the gospel speaks specifically to a person struggling with those core, underlying issues? The gospel brings hope and help to the craving or disappointed heart, and with that kind of internal support, the overweight person eventually experiences change on the outside.
The gospel teaches how the Lord executed His Son (Isaiah 53:10) on the cross to redeem helpless and hopeless people (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our souls were the most expensive purchase ever made. But the gospel goes beyond redemption. After the good Lord regenerated us, He began to abide in us, and we in Him (John 15:4). Thus, we can make these four admissions about how the gospel applies to us.
Because of the gospel, we want to make His name great in our lives, families, friends, and communities. We want to manifest the transformative power of the gospel to all those who are desperate for the hope it offers. If we are not rightly and practically affected by the truths of the gospel, we are not in line with the gospel (Galatians 2:14). It is essential that we provide our bodies as a sacrifice to our Lord (Romans 12:1-2), as vessels that show off the wonder-working power of the gospel in our lives.
The more sobering fact we must deal with is the potential to suppress the gospel because of how we live (Romans 1:18). Altering the truth is more than being an overweight issue. I am talking about our affection for Christ. If the power of the gospel bought all of us, body and soul, we need to figure out how to practically live out all of the inheritance our Father provides for us (1 Peter 1:4). We do not want our lives to be in vain (1 Corinthians 9:27).
If your mind is more affected by Christ than by food, you are in the perfect position to deal with the real problem of overeating. Are you ready? The next step is to come to terms with a comprehensive understanding of how sin operates in your life. I will do this by choosing one of the core heart issues listed above—a lack of self-control.
In this instance, part of the person’s problem is a lack of self-control. This vital aspect of the Spirit’s fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) is not actively and practically working in Mable’s life, so let’s examine Mable’s struggle with self-control. A person with little self-control in one area of their life will have self-control problems in other spheres. For example, a lady who has trouble controlling her eating habits is overweight. Minimally, in our case study, Mable lacks self-control in this one area.
But if you talk to her, you will realize she lacks self-control in several other aspects of her soul, like worry, anxiousness, fear, and anger. Sin does not discriminate. Sin seeks to destroy the entire soul, not just part of it. It will explore every possible area of our lives with the hope of spreading its poison. Rarely will you find a person who struggles with self-control fighting only in one place, like overeating. Here is a possible sin list regarding Mable’s weight problems, looking only at self-control. Notice how that one issue snakes its way into many other areas of her life.
Furthermore, Mable struggles to bring her mind into obedience. For example, she can gossip, be critical, angry, fearful, make uncharitable judgments, rarely thinks the best of others, and be cynical and self-righteous. Then other bad habits will show up as she continues in these self-defeating patterns, those things that hope to catch a ride on the endless loop she has been building. Here are a few more examples:
Can you imagine that when she first perceives a lack of self-control in all these areas, how overwhelming and discouraging it will be? It is like finding the first termite in your home, but after you call the termite man, you realize an infestation of the destructive bugs is in the entire house. Intuitively, we know this is the case with most crucial things in our lives, but knowing something theoretically is a far cry from when those problems “out there somewhere” are destroying us.
People typically think the best approach for combating a permeating and pervasive sin like a lack of self-control is to bring every area of their lives back into control at the same time. This approach usually ends with frustration while convincing the overwhelmed person that further resistance is futile. The temptation to despair settles in while begging the question: is it wise to attack every area simultaneously? I do not think so—at least not always.
Key Idea: One of the best ways to learn and practice the habit of self-control is to tackle one area of your life that is out of control rather than every area. As you attack this single area, you will begin to learn how to eventually attack all the other areas of your life that are out of control. Here is a list of a few things you will experience as you gain victory in one area:
In time, you attack other problem areas in your life because you have learned how to mature in this one area. You can take any problem, e.g., poor sleep habits, gossiping, addictions, working too much, shopping too often, and apply these ideas to them and gain victory throughout your life. Finally, perhaps the most vital thing you need to know is that transformation on matters like these takes time. You prepare your mind for the long haul while begging God for the gift of perseverance and the grace to work it out practically.
We do not provide medical advice, so before you do anything that alters your health, you must check with your trusted medical community to gain their perspectives, advice, and recommended paths forward.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).