How Legalism Makes You Fat


Legalism often goes something like this:


"If you want to be right with God, then read your Bible." So you read your Bible.

"If you are right with God, you will enjoy reading your Bible." But you don't always enjoy it.

Since you don't always enjoy it, you reason that you must not love God enough. So, what should you do in order to get right with God? You must read your Bible more. And then we start all over again.

Guilty if you do, guilty if you don't.

A friend of mine is struggling with her weight. She is one of the most God-loving people I know. She is passionate about her worship, her service, and her love for her fellow Christians. She is one of the least judgmental people I know, partly because she acknowledges that she can be judgmental. I love this woman. She has been a mentor, a friend, and someone I feel safe with.

Since I've known her, she has asked me several times to pray that she can overcome her addiction to food. She lists all the reasons why she needs to (they are good reasons), shames herself for how many times she's failed, reasserts the fact that gluttony is sin, and reasons that she must not love God enough.

Did you catch that? A woman who is passionate about her love for the Lord is telling herself that her weight is a clear indication that she doesn't love God enough.

So I called her on it. (Really, I was calling myself on it as I was processing this all in real time.)

"Is that true? Do you not love God?"

Silence. She knows without a shadow of a doubt that she loves God. "Well, I guess if I did I wouldn't keep overeating."

"So, the fact that you overeat means that you don't love God?"

She laughed at herself, thought about it, then started quoting scripture. I don't remember all the verses she so easily rattled off by memory, but they would have been verses like, "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)

What's interesting is that we'd been having a heartbreaking discussion on the damage of legalism right before this.

"So, when you see an alcoholic go back to drinking, do you think they do it because they don't love God enough?"

"No." Silence. "But…" More scripture.

"If you can give them grace, why can't you give it to yourself?"

More scripture.

So, if she loves God, she will not overeat. But she overeats, so she must not love God. In order to prove to herself that she really does loves God, she guilts herself into dieting. Guilt feels horrible and she overeats when she feels horrible. Her diet fails and she is back to guilting herself into dieting.

And then I had a thought:

What if our legalistic dieting is the root cause of our gluttony?

What if it's the guilt we bathe ourselves in that is making us go back for food?

What if it's not a lack of faith, but a lack of love that sets us up for failure every. single. time?

Maybe it's two weeks into our diet plan when we just can't eat one more salad and we blow our diet right there at the church potluck in front of everyone that Jesus kneels down and writes in the dirt, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone." Perhaps you were sure that when you looked up from your plate you'd see Jesus with a rock in His hand.

Just like Adam, we hide in shame and we just can't allow ourselves to drink from the Living Water because we think cheesecake disqualifies us.

Gluttony is wrong. You can't deny it and we all know it. In America, we throw it out there every time we have a discussion on not judging others. But how can we give ourselves grace and get over our legalistic diet plans? 

I don't have a list of ways that we can make that happen. That's like a dog going back to his own vomit.  (Proverbs 26:11) The only thing I have to offer that has been helpful to me is THIS GUY:




He seems to be able to live out that strange command where we're told to be perfect, all the while knowing we won't be perfect. (Matthew 5:48) Goal-setting books are emotionally harmful for me because I fail to live up to their standards. Fail, fail, fail. That's all I did. But somehow Jon Acuff got through to me and all the "right" things have just kind of come naturally. I think that's a result of learning grace, not following a goal-setting plan. Oh, and about 5 years.

Back to our original discussion, having an excess of fat on our bodies is not healthy, but it is not an indication of how much we love God. -20 pounds later, I think I'm finally getting it.

Legalism's purpose is to show us where we are wrong. (Galatians 3:24) Grace's purpose is to make it right. (Galatians 5:4-6)

Which one will you choose to make it right?

2 comments:

  1. This is absolutely fantastic. I love how you walked us through your conversation. You really made me take pause. I have a friend battling an eating disorder right now. These thoughts will be helpful.Congrats on the new blog!

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  2. Thanks, Amy! I'd love to hear if these thoughts do indeed prove helpful and I'd especially love to hear if your friend has any insight, should you choose to share this.

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