Worth Reading–May 1, 2012
I thought this was a really helpful look at gluttony from Matt Wallace.
How the Gospel Overcomes Gluttony
By Matt Wallace
Having worked professionally as a personal trainer for over 15 years, I know millions of people resolve each year to get control of the overeating that has haunted them and perhaps threatens their health. And I’m not talking about enjoying an occasional dessert, but rather a desperate dependence upon food.
In attempt to fix the problem, millions of dollars are poured into the fitness industry, gym memberships expand, and every manner of diet book and fitness product. No doubt these books will be full of easy-to-follow principles. Nevertheless, a month or so later we learn the five easy principles are anything but easy. The constant failure reveals that the problem with chronic overeating goes deeper than we have ever imagined.
“The root of every sin is a disaffection for God.
”Food Isn’t the Real Problem
Turning to the Scriptures, we see a diagnosis of the human condition that goes to the root of all our problems. What we see is that the real problem isn’t food, or weak willpower, but the affections of our hearts. In Genesis 3, we see the root of every sin is a disaffection for God, based in unbelief. Satan used the fruit to sell a grand story of how food would impart to Adam and Eve a better identity than being God’s children and reflectors of his glory. As the story was sold, the fruit would give knowledge that would make them not merely image bearers of God, but gods.
“Gluttony is based on the lie that food is more pleasurable than God.
”Because Adam and Eve didn’t trust in their exalted status, approval, and security in God, they sought to establish their own righteousness. It was the forbidden fruit that promised salvation. So, in rebellion, they ate to satisfy their deepest longings. Although they had plenty of food in the garden, it wasn’t enough. Their hope was that food would give them a better existence than being loved by God. That is the root of gluttony. It is a deep seated rebellious affection based on the lie that food is more pleasurable than God. Gluttony is not merely a lack will power, it is religious in nature as it is service, devotion, and worship of the pleasure of food instead of God. In short, gluttony is idolatry.
Why Gluttony Is Idolatry
As Richard Baxter explains, “Gluttony is a sin so exceedingly contrary to the love of God: it is idolatry. It hath the heart which God should have . . . because that love, that care, that delight, that service and diligence which God should have, is given by the glutton to his belly and to his throat.”
Paul underscores the severity and end of trusting in food as a god. “Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil. 3:19).
For the glutton, food is more pleasing, more alluring, more enthralling, more satisfying, and more beautiful than God. The glutton has covenanted with overeating to be their comfort, security, approval. In doing so, the glutton has become his own savior, eating his means of grace as a sacrifice on the altar of pleasure. If this is true, then we need to assess overeating with new eyes. We must say plainly, “I treasure food more than I treasure God.” Gluttony exposes how we really feel about God.
Resolutions Are Powerless
That is why our resolutions are powerless to change the heart. We need more than principles and personal trainers. The good news for the glutton is that acceptance and change aren’t based on our resolutions and effort (Gal. 2:15–21), but on God’s gracious resolution and effort to make us his workmanship in Christ (Eph. 2:8–10). The only resolution that matters is God’s gracious resolution to give sinners himself through the blood-stained cross and empty tomb. The gospel of Christ offers us all we need to satisfy the hungry soul, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger” (John 6:35).
“Though guiltless, Jesus became the glutton on the cross.
”How do we change? Thankfully God has revealed gluttony’s fatal weakness: gluttony is fool’s gold. The truth is that gluttony owes its leverage over our affections to the degree that we believe its lie and have nothing bigger to chase it out of our hearts. In other words, to change we need to have a disaffection for gluttony and a new affection for God.
Look to Jesus
How do we develop a disaffection for gluttony? By faith, look to the cross and see the horror of gluttony in the stripes of Jesus. Charles Spurgeon said it this way, “Look to the cross and hate your sin, for it nailed your well-beloved to the tree.” The glutton needs to see Jesus, who lived a life of self-control and perfect moderation, dying for the glutton. That is what gluttony deserves before God’s tribunal—death. As an idol, gluttony deserves to be cursed and exiled from his holy presence. Though guiltless, Jesus became the glutton on the cross. The pleasure of gluttony loses its luster under the shadow of the cross, where gluttony is revealed as just another broken cistern (Jer. 2:13).
“The wandering soul has been brought home by the relentless love of God, at the cost of Jesus.
”However seeing gluttony as desperately wicked is only half the battle, we also need to “de-leverage” the cravings gluttony once appealed to by loving something bigger. Here again we look to Jesus. When the glutton deserved separation, they received reconciliation. Why? God has done something utterly astounding and amazing for the glutton at the cross. Because Jesus was rejected by God, the glutton is now accepted in Christ. The wondrous accomplishment of the cross is that glutton is no longer a glutton, but an accepted child of God. In Christ, God gives himself to the soul in deep intimacy and affection, restoring the union and communion once enjoyed in the garden (1 John 1:3; 2 Cor. 13:14). But our new standing isn’t based on our approval, but on the approval of Christ. The wandering soul has been brought home by the relentless love of God, at the cost of Jesus.
New Affections and Desires
The intimacy we always craved, but never could earn, is now given to us freely in Christ. By faith in his gospel they now enjoy the sweetness of Christ, for he has become our acceptance, our security, our future, our elder brother, God is our Father, the Spirit is our comforter, and the church is our new family. Our future is moving irresistibly toward unfathomable glory because it is tied to Christ’s merited reward. God has given us everything by giving himself to us in Jesus. In light of the eternal benefits of our reconciliation, the temporary spell of gluttony is broken. Everything has changed.
In the contrast, we see what we deserve and what we are given: the power of new affections. It is the freeness of it all that staggers the affections. It is by daily appropriating Christ by faith in our moment of need when gluttony’s grip is weakened. The gospel of Jesus is just too big, too strong, too beautiful for gluttony to compete.
The Expulsive Power of New Affection
Thomas Chalmers called it “the expulsive power of a new affection” that uproots and dethrones gluttony. The vain and fleeting pleasures of gluttony are replaced by our union and communion with the breathtaking loveliness of the blessed Trinity. So to the degree that the glutton sees the contrast between what we justly deserve and what we are freely given, new affections take over and we “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8), that in God there is, “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
“The gospel of Christ is the ground upon which gluttony is put to death.
”So when the soul is depressed about the future, when failure breaks into our lives, when the break up happens, when the loneliness shows its teeth, when grief will not relent, when the daily rhythms of existence seem lifeless and bleak, when our dreams crash, it is not to the kitchen we go, but to Christ and recount his heroic exploits on our behalf. We must learn to rely on his gospel on the spot. The gospel with all of its flavors are to be savored and enjoyed drawing down nourishment and delight in the soul. So the gospel of Christ is the sole ground of the glutton’s approval, but it is also the ground upon which gluttony is put to death and where renewal and change take place until the work is finished.
“But I discipline my body and keep it under control.
”1 Corinthians 9:27
When we start loving God more than food, what does this look like in our lives? Like repentance. Repentance is the outcome of changed affections. When the Holy Spirit shows us that Jesus is more beautiful than overeating, we will stop overeating because the power of the idol has been uprooted. Paul says self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. So when the Spirit shows and teaches us how to rely on the promises of Jesus’ gospel everyday, our hearts change and so our choices change.
Moderation and self-control are but the byproducts of proper delight and joy in God, which is the work of the Spirit who shows us Jesus as our all-satisfying treasure. Although Spirit-produced self-control may look like human will power or religious effort, it is not (Col. 2:23)! Spirit-produced self-control has its source and sustaining motivation in the freedom of the Jesus’ gospel. That is why Paul would not allow anything to master him (1 Cor. 9:27). Paul was not able to cause or sustain this by his power or effort. God was Paul’s delight so every idol was slowly dethroned in his heart. So Paul’s self-control was generated by faith in Christ. He drew his strength down from his continual gaze upon Christ’s gospel by faith and his prayerful reliance on the Spirit to show him Jesus (Eph. 3:14–19). It is feeding on Christ by faith which exiles gluttony from the heart and develops gospel grounded self-control.
The Ripple Effect
The implications of mortified gluttony ripple as a pebble dropped in a pond. The repentant glutton, instead of hoarding and overeating food, may give food to the hungry because they realize God has fed them so generously in Christ. They might reach out to people who struggle with gluttony because God reached out to them. Why? Because they have a new relationship with food, because they have a new relationship with God.
“To persevere, the soul will need constant reliance on Jesus’ gospel.
”Overeating doesn’t have mastery over them anymore because they now love God more than food. Thus they begin to eat the gift of food to the glory of God, they begin caring for God’s temple, they may even be moved to fast for the salvation of their city. What matters is the image of God is restored in them by holy affections; they are freed to live for God’s glory because they are free from serving the glory of gluttony, and God has become their all-satisfying treasure. And when we love God more than gluttony, we make him look beautiful above all other things.
A Daily Fight
Fighting against gluttony will be a daily battle. The world, flesh, and the devil will allure, entice, and try to convince the soul through hardships and enchantments that food is more beautiful than God. To persevere, the soul will need constant reliance on Jesus’ gospel through deep community, daily feeding on the gospel, reliance on the Spirit’s work, preaching, and worship to keep the all satisfying splendor of God before our wandering appetites. But perhaps, above all, the Lord’s supper will be prove to be a great comfort, as it points to the consummation of the new age, when we will dine with Jesus and every longing of the human heart, “may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19), forever and ever, amen.
This post is adapted from one that originally appeared on Gospel Alliance NE.