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Our hunger or appetite for food isn’t a bad or sinful thing, it’s natural; God put that in us. But we can easily fall into sin when it comes to food, the most available pleasure of the flesh.


Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Time for another post.

Food. We all need it, we all love it. Everyone has at least one food they like. Food is the most widespread and commonly available pleasure of the flesh. But God clearly designed us to need this pleasure of the flesh, for without it we die.

If we die without it, surely it can’t be a sin to eat it. But what about enjoying it? Is it a sin to enjoy food? Because we know that many people are controlled by their desire for food instead of controlling their desire. And that’s not what God wants for us.

So where’s the line? When does eating (a natural activity we must do to live) turn into sinning?

That’s what today’s topic is all about. So read on and let’s think about it.

Where’s the Line??

Of course we all know from Galatians 5 that the Spirit and the flesh are opposed to each other. If we feed one, it gets stronger than the other. This creates the conflict between walking in the Spirit vs. walking in the flesh. When we walk in the flesh we do whatever we desire at the time, whatever the body wants at that moment. When we walk in the Spirit we deny the body and focus on drawing closer to God. It’s a Spiritual-focused life.

This is explained in Galatians 5:17 (the CEB version translates “flesh” as “selfish desires”).

(17) A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires. They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do.

Galatians 5:17 (CEB)

When it comes to pleasures of the flesh, there’s one pleasure that’s more available than any other. We can find it absolutely everywhere, usually for cheap. And what is it? It’s food, of course!! Food is the most common and widespread pleasure of the flesh on this whole planet.

Not only that, but food is (obviously!) something we need to survive as human beings. Since we need food to survive, our hunger for it isn’t a bad or sinful thing. Hunger is the body’s natural signal to our brain that … we have to eat!! If the human race lacked these kinds of survival signals, we wouldn’t have survived.

Our hunger or appetite for food isn’t a bad or sinful thing, it’s natural; God put that in us. But we can easily fall into sin when it comes to food, the most available pleasure of the flesh.

God knows we need to eat to survive, and if we want to be healthy (which God wants for us) we need to eat every day. He knows this, but He also knows how much food we need to survive and be healthy. If we eat more than what we need, now we’re eating for pleasure. Now we’re feeding the flesh. Eating above and beyond what our body needs, that’s where the sin is. Eating purely for pleasure is the road to gluttony, which is a sin.

In a recent post I wrote about Augustine of Hippo’s famous Christian writing, The Confessions of Saint Augustine. He writes about this question in the book (which created the inspiration for today’s post). He knows we need food to survive, and that God wants us to eat. But he says there’s a certain line we cross when eating where we go from eating for survival to eating for pleasure, which is a sin. And this line that says when our eating becomes sinful is very subtle and hard to discern.

Let’s take a look:

There is yet another “evil of the day” to which I wish I were sufficient. By eating and drinking we restore the daily losses of the body […] This much thou [God] hast taught me: that I should learn to take food as medicine. […] And while health is the reason for our eating and drinking, yet a perilous delight joins itself to them as a handmaid; and indeed, she tries to take precedence in order that I may want to do for her sake what I say I want to do for health’s sake. They do not have the same limit either. What is sufficient for health is not enough for pleasure. And it is often a matter of doubt whether it is the needful care of the body that still calls for food or whether it is the sensual snare of desire still wanting to be served. In this uncertainty my unhappy soul rejoices, and uses it to prepare an excuse as a defense. It is glad that it is not clear as to what is sufficient for the moderation of health, so that under the pretense of health it may conceal its projects for pleasure. These temptations I daily endeavor to resist and I summon thy right hand to my help and cast my perplexities onto thee, […]

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Ten, Chapter 31 (Pages 197-198)

So he’s saying that any time we eat, pleasure is there waiting, trying to get us to sin by eating more than we need. By being gluttonous. But again, that line of where exactly eating turns from healthy to gluttonous is unclear and hard to detect. The idea of learning to take food as medicine is very interesting. I think it’s a great idea, and also accurate. If we look at food as medicine we need to sustain us in our post-fall corrupted human condition, it totally changes how we look at food.

Besides the quantity, quality is another area where we can sin with food. Our body is a temple for the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We must do our best to keep it as healthy as we can. That means that we should make every effort to avoid foods we know are bad for the body: Foods that are high in fat, sugar, fried foods, and soda … soda is definitely bad.

(19) Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves?

1 Corinthians 6:19 (CEB)

The context of 1 Corinthians 6:19 is actually talking about sexual immorality, and keeping the body clean as a temple in that sense. But the verse still applies to other harmful habits.

God created us in His image and we must care for our bodies because of that. We must not harm our bodies by fattening ourselves (a major health risk) through gluttony. We must also avoid foods we know are bad for the body—fatty foods, sugar, soda, and so on. These things harm our body, which is a temple for the Holy Spirit.

Of course in the modern world, sometimes we can’t avoid eating some of these things. Don’t let that be any excuse though—if we give an honest effort, it’s surprising how many of these harmful things we can avoid!! But that’s another matter I won’t get into. The point is, even eating some of these harmful foods is not sinful, not if we eat them in strict moderation.

Because eating itself is never really where the sin comes from. The sin comes from our appetite and what we want, as Augustine goes on to explain.

Eating Isn’t the Sin

Augustine explains that the act of eating can never make us clean or unclean in God’s eyes. It’s a basic biological function—it is what it is. And in the New Testament, the LORD did away with the dietary laws of the Old Testament, so Christians have permission to eat anything. No one is made unclean by what they eat (Matthew 15:11). And this point is further explained in both Acts and Romans.

(11) It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person.”

Matthew 15:11 (CEB)

But besides a sinful, gluttonous appetite, there are other ways we can sin against God through food (and our attitude toward food). As he explains the point about uncleanness, Augustine points out examples from the Old Testament of people sinning against God because of or by means of food.

And by thy favor I have also heard this saying in which I have taken much delight: “Neither if we eat are we the better; nor if we eat not are we the worse.” This is to say that neither shall the one make me to abound, nor the other to be wretched. […]
It is not the uncleanness of meat that I fear, but the uncleanness of an incontinent appetite. I know that permission was granted Noah to eat every kind of flesh that was good for food; […]. And I also know that Esau was deceived by his hungering after lentils […]. And, thus, the people in the wilderness truly deserved their reproof, not because they desired meat, but because in their desire for food they murmured against the Lord.

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Ten, Chapter 31 (Pages 198-199)

Esau disrespected his father and his family by giving up his inheritance for some stew. That act showed how much he cared about his inheritance, father, and family. The Israelites in the wilderness (in the Book of Numbers) sinned by complaining against God because of food. They were given the Holy manna to eat, supernatural food that could take any flavor they desired (according to the Wisdom of Solomon). But the lust of their flesh rejected God’s gift, and desired the meat and fish they had in Egypt. God was not pleased with their complaints about His blessings on them.

In both these cases, the desires surrounding food were what caused sin against God. Any time we allow any of our physical (flesh) desires to control us, we walk in the flesh and sin against God. So we need to be careful and use Self-Discipline to control our desires of the flesh. All our physical desires are for biological needs. Like food, none of these things make us unclean to God if we use or consume them the way God intended. But when we let our Discipline slip and the appetite gets out of control, that’s when we start sinning.

That’s something we need to keep in mind, because there’s no way we can avoid eating food. But our attitude toward food and whether our desire for it controls us rather than the other way around are things we need to be aware of.

Control Desire, or it Controls Us

Food is the most commonly available pleasure of the flesh, and also one we must consume to stay alive. Obviously, we have no hope of abstaining from food any longer than several days. But that doesn’t mean that we must sin against God with food, or that we can’t allow ourselves to feel any pleasure from eating something.

Yes, food is a worldly pleasure and a pleasure of the flesh. But God designed us to need it, and to feel pleasure from eating. If eating were painful instead of pleasurable, our early human ancestors might not have eaten enough and survived as a species.
Still, there can always be too much of a good thing. Like with any other pleasure of the flesh, if we don’t take it in moderation or use it the way God intended, we run into sin. We must control our appetite and desire for food, and not let it control us. Losing Self-Control over food is a sin. And so is harming the body—a temple for the Holy Spirit—through a bad diet.
Food and eating do not make us unclean. But if we’re not careful, we can still sin against God through food.

Augustine sums up this question pretty well. He says he fights every day against his appetite, which is not one he can get rid of forever like he could with fornication, since eating is survival. So in this case, the flesh must be held between strict and relaxed Discipline.

Set down, then, in the midst of these temptations, I strive daily against my appetite for food and drink. For it is not the kind of appetite I am able to deal with by cutting it off once for all, and thereafter not touching it, as I was able to do with fornication. The bridle of the throat, therefore, must be held in the mean between slackness and tightness.

Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book Ten, Chapter 31 (Page 199)

Everyone struggles with some desire of the flesh. For some it could be food, for others it could be sex. But everyone has their own weak point with the desires of the flesh. We all know the struggle … so we can all understand the importance of walking in the Spirit like Galatians 5 teaches.

Feed the Spirit, not the flesh!! Live a Spiritual life, focus on following and getting closer to God more than all worldly desires!! Read God’s Word every day, pray, spend time in worship with other Christians!! Feed the Spirit, not the flesh. The pleasures of walking in the Spirit are much better than the short-lived, temporary pleasures of this world.

Food is a special case. Food isn’t a pleasure of the world that we can abstain from. So when it comes to food, walking in the Spirit is more important than ever.

If we don’t control our desires, they will control us. And that never feels good.


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Until next time, be strong and do good!

Your new best friend in Christ,

99:9

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