A lesson in false humility: Christians are allergic to healthy lifestyles

The idolatry of chasing the perfect body. (h/t Coastal)

As many of you know, I work in the fitness industry. So articles like this amuse me as a Christian. Amuse me a lot. Let’s deconstruct this, shall we?

Vanity

There is a certain accomplishment in achieving your fitness goals. You’ve been working hard on that fitness program and are finally seeing the fruits of your labor. You also may start to get some attention from others who are also noticing your fitness progress. And you like it. A lot.

In our world of constant social media updates, we often view fitness-related images with arms and legs bared. Skintight clothing. Muscles bulging.

It makes sense to a degree: People are proud of their hard work. With all arguments for modesty set aside, I think that it is crucial to consider, from a biblical perspective, why we post or share these fitness achievements.

While many desire encouragement from friends to reach their goals, and others have a mission to inspire others to live healthfully, there is an underlying trap of vanity amidst these displays of fitness. We like to see ourselves looking good, and we like for others to see us looking good as well. This tendency to crave attention can quickly devolve into making our bodies our idols.

Or, you know, you could just not post attention whoring posts to Facebook and Instagram. I’ve never once posted a picture of my fit body to any social media website or blog. On the other hand, I have posted on developing good habits and discipline as a key to healthy living. Perhaps some of that discipline should be applied to not “being vain.”

It’s ironic to talk about modesty and then actively ignore the solution.

I haven’t even talked about how disciplining the physical body helps you be disciplined spiritually as well. Why yes, working out and eating healthy helps your spiritual walk as well. Surprise!

Toll on Relationships

I am a bit of a healthy eating fanatic. I’ve tried just about every “health food” out there. I love it because I find it enjoyable. However, there have been times when I have put my healthy eating before people.

God forbid one of my family members forgets that I cannot eat pinto beans while completing day three of Whole30! I can be at a party, and there’s not a single, decently healthy side-dish in sight—aside from the depressingly predictable veggie tray. Don’t they know me at all? I guess I’ll have to starve until I get back home, I whine to myself.

When I look back on these events, the defensive side of me cries out, “Wait! Isn’t eating healthy food a good thing? Doesn’t God command us to take care of the temples of his Spirit?”

Well, yes. But if I allow myself to revisit these events with a lens of honesty, I have a few recurring thoughts: How immature. How selfish. How very unlike all of the virtues that Christ has commanded me to cultivate in my life.

I have avoided social events because I knew that nothing on the menu would fit within my meal plan. I have bemoaned friends who are in need because they have derailed my leg-day plans.

It’s in these moments that I am forced to face my true motives, which unfortunately often value the temporal rather than the eternal.

There is such a thing as meal prep, bringing a healthy snack, or even fasting if you don’t want to eat out. You can even suggest healthy restaurants to go to. I do it when I go to places with nothing I would want to eat. Even if you don’t and miss a healthy meal? Fine. Miss a day of workouts? It’s pretty easy to make up. You don’t have to throw people away completely when living a healthy lifesetyle.

It’s a lifestyle for a reason. If you get a bit sidetracked, it’s not like you’ve not living a healthy lifestyle anymore. It’s not like you’re going to sink into not working out, not eating healthy, not sleeping, and stressing over everything… unless you believe the lie that healthy living is incompatible with being a Christian.

The false dichotomies are dumb.

Focus on the Temporal

In the same way that we can neglect relationships because of our fitness needs, we can waste two precious resources: time and finances.

No, I am not arguing that fitness is a waste of those two things, but I am saying that too often I find myself spending more time on fitness than I do on my relationship with Christ.

I also find myself spending more of my finances on fitness and healthy food than I do on furthering Christ’s kingdom. That realization convicts me and challenges me to transform my mentality. Because even though that acai bowl tastes heavenly, it isn’t actually taking anyone to heaven.

And even though my gym membership may help me feel confident, it’s not bringing anyone to the knowledge of the Gospel.

We will never reach either physical or spiritual perfection in this lifetime. However, Christ has declared that he will be judging us in only one of the two categories.

Sure, I might slightly resemble the guy on the shoddy treadmill trying to achieve Christ’s perfection. But I’m okay with that.

This is just getting more and more absurd.

Here’s the thing with a healthy lifestyle. You can use it minister to people too. Many of my fitness and hobby friends know I’m a Christian, and I know they aren’t Christians. I talk about my faith with them sometimes when I get a chance. I’ve invited them to Church.

Life isn’t supposed to be some compartmentalized phenomenon where this healthy living business is “some other thing you do aside from being a Christian.”

Ever heard of budgets? That’s what a budget is for. You plan out your tithes and offerings to God, so that you can put Him first. You don’t just give Him leftovers of what you don’t spend. I budget so that I can much more than 10% of my “disposable income” to God. Scripture says God will bless me for it, and I have seen that He already has.

Malachi 3:8 “Will a man [m]rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and [n]offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are [o]robbing Me, the whole nation of you! 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be [p]food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until [q]it overflows. 11 Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not [r]destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the Lord of hosts. 12 “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land,” says the Lord of hosts.

As of this post, 1300 people have shared this to Facebook. I hope that 1300 those people, their friends, and their families will not have deluded themselves into believing this nonsense and destroy their good eating and working out habits. All of the posts like this discouraging healthy living reeks of excuses to be lazy under the guise of being godly. In other words, false humility.

As Coastal said in his comment, I’ve said before that Christians in general are more prone to obesity and lack of exercise because they think anything remotely healthy is supposed to be made into some sort of idol aside from God. I’ve seen more obesity within the Church than in events outside the Church. It’s just a sad fact of life to me now. Most of the friends I have in fitness or sporting hobbies are non-Christian, and it’s hard to find someone who is a serious Christian. Honestly, it’s an untapped field for witnessing.

If only some Christians could look past their false humility to be good stewards of their bodies and actually use their healthy lifestyles to be salt and light to their non-Christian friends.

Rant over.

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20 Responses to A lesson in false humility: Christians are allergic to healthy lifestyles

  1. Pingback: A lesson in false humility: Christians are allergic to healthy lifestyles – Manosphere.org

  2. SnapperTrx says:

    I remember reading an article a long time ago about a Christian guy who was at the gym when he ran into a lady he knew, who wasn’t a Christian. They started talking about a mutual friend and the lady mentioned that this guy was down at the gym for 2-3 hours a day working out. The guy writing the article said that the first words out of his mouth where: “Really? But I thought he was a Christian?”. The lady got really offended and replied, “You Christians are all alike, why do you judge everybody over every little thing.”, and she walked off. The guy said he immediately felt ashamed because she was right. What did this guy working out have to do with his Christian walk? And why did he feel the need to question the guys Christianity because he spent more time in the gym than the average person? I think we, as Christians, get kind of programmed to compare everything to ‘what we could be doing for Jesus’. Spend a lot of time in the gym? Well what could you be doing for Jesus instead? Going to the movies for the second time this week? Well what could you be doing for Jesus instead? Its a weird thing, and though we should encourage one another to stay in the Word daily, I don’t know why we feel the need to point out what we see as other peoples shortcomings when we likely suffer from the same issues. Maybe its a reaction that helps us defend ourselves against our own shortcomings.

  3. A Friend in the Messiah says:

    It is important to read the entire book of Malachi before just locking onto one quote of it. The book is speaking to the Priests stealing from the tithes and offerings that were being brought into the temple in the Kingdom of Israel. It was the Priests that were stealing, not the people.

    I bring this up because I have seen prosperity preachers use this to scam people for decades now. Give if you want, but Malachi has nothing to do with it unless you are a Priest in the Kingdom of Israel. It is always amusing to watch these scamming pastors beat the sheep over the heads with it when the only logical person it could remotely apply to is them.

    But they count on us not ever actually reading the book they beat us over the head with

  4. Reblogged this on The Practical Conservative and commented:
    Another Christian falling prey to the idea that lifestyle-identity is great when it’s also idolatry. Going to a gym is not the only possible healthy lifestyle and the entire concept of healthy lifestyle is consumerist, not Christian. Living a life where physical activity is just part of life is the historical human norm and wealth means most people now have to spend money to live that way. But sneering at them for not adopting that particular mode of consumption (which in the case of this blogger happens to be self-serving “I work in the fitness industry”) is not exactly Christian or loving.

    Instead of “working in the fitness industry” helping people near him do more physical activity in their daily lives without going to a gym would be another option. Mostly people have real obstacles to getting more physical activity, like working very long hours and/or care of others and living where it’s very difficult to do much physical stuff outside or inside. This is particularly the case with Christians, who are more likely to be caring for little kids or old people, including the men.

    Anyway I reblogged this because it’s an increasingly common knife jabbed in the ribcage of Christians by (usually single, childless, responsibility-free) men. I hope to do a bit more of a post later, we’ll see.

  5. @ A Friend in the Messiah

    It is important to read the entire book of Malachi before just locking onto one quote of it. The book is speaking to the Priests stealing from the tithes and offerings that were being brought into the temple in the Kingdom of Israel. It was the Priests that were stealing, not the people.

    1. The priests cover Malachi 1 to the middle of chapter 2.
    2. Family is to the end of the chapter 2.
    3. First part of chapter 3 is about the Messiah.
    4. The middle of chapter 3 where the verse is generally about the whole populace robbing God. Not simply the priests.

    I bring this up because I have seen prosperity preachers use this to scam people for decades now. Give if you want, but Malachi has nothing to do with it unless you are a Priest in the Kingdom of Israel. It is always amusing to watch these scamming pastors beat the sheep over the heads with it when the only logical person it could remotely apply to is them.
    But they count on us not ever actually reading the book they beat us over the head with

    Believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of prosperity gospel preachers. Avoid them if possible.

    But Paul makes the case that all Christians are grafted into Israel in Romans 11.

    Giving your tithes and offerings to the Church is still your gift to God and God honors that even if others are being poor stewards. Offerings can be given to many different organizations that help the poor, send out Bibles, or even directly to missionaries too.

  6. And as usual, TPC proves my point by making random assumptions that aren’t true.

    Another Christian falling prey to the idea that lifestyle-identity is great when it’s also idolatry.

    Healthy living is now an idol. You heard it here first.

    Going to a gym is not the only possible healthy lifestyle and the entire concept of healthy lifestyle is consumerist, not Christian. Living a life where physical activity is just part of life is the historical human norm and wealth means most people now have to spend money to live that way. But sneering at them for not adopting that particular mode of consumption (which in the case of this blogger happens to be self-serving “I work in the fitness industry”) is not exactly Christian or loving.

    What consumption?

    Gym membership? It’s certainly easy to work out at home. I’ve done it for years before.

    Nutrition? It’s easy to buy cheap healthy foods if you look for sales, use your local co-op, and buy cheap starches like rice and potatoes. Eating junk food may be slightly more expensive at best, and is definitely more expensive in the long run when you run into health problems.

    Ah, yes, working in the fitness industry is now “self serving.” I see where this is going.

    Instead of “working in the fitness industry” helping people near him do more physical activity in their daily lives without going to a gym would be another option.

    Already give free nutrition and training advice to those in the Church that ask for it.

    Mostly people have real obstacles to getting more physical activity, like working very long hours and/or care of others and living where it’s very difficult to do much physical stuff outside or inside.

    Already give work-around advice, such as meal planning (mentioned above), brief workouts, bodyweight training, and motivation.

    This is particularly the case with Christians, who are more likely to be caring for little kids or old people, including the men.

    Being “busy” is not mutually exclusive from being a good steward of your body. Another false dichotomy.

    Anyway I reblogged this because it’s an increasingly common knife jabbed in the ribcage of Christians by (usually single, childless, responsibility-free) men. I hope to do a bit more of a post later, we’ll see.

    You know what responsibilities I do and don’t have… Interesting.

    This is your only warning for being deliberately antagonistic and assuming evil of others. The next offense is a ban.

  7. Looking Glass says:

    @DS:

    The fascinating part is that our own “good health” isn’t “good” for others because it shames their Vanity. That’s really what it’s all about. Though the writer of the original piece was obviously a Woman from the first lines. “Fitness”, to her, is wholly about the social validation, and she simply wants to stop the rat-race. Which is exactly what it becomes when you’re doing it all for your own validation.

    What stuff like this normally shows is that Vanity is the god of most “Christians”. They cannot celebrate the accomplishments of others or have joy for them. No, it has to be about “them”. It also shows they don’t understand when it can become a problem. All they understand is “something can be an idol!”, yup. And all of the people pointing it out still don’t have Wisdom either.

  8. SnapperTrx says:

    Bam. Its another case of pulling everyone down to the lowest common denominator, since someone can’t reach up for the top.

  9. hearthie says:

    I agree with everything you wrote, but guilt rears its ugly emotional head regardless. So, thanks for the rant.

    (Not that the guilt stops me from getting up to go to CF, from which I just returned).

  10. @ LG

    Hit the nail on the head. It’s interesting how Vanity is casually distorted into something good.

    Also, I have never received any apology, mainly from women, who continue to mischaracterize me. I doubt I will receive one here.

  11. Elspeth says:

    I saw this post and the rebuttal posts which sprung from it in my reader, and wasn’t sure whether I wanted to comment even though I have strong feelings which encompass both arguments being presented. In the end I decided that since my good friend (Hearth) commented on this one first, I’ll say my piece here.

    My take is that most Christians are far too lax about stewardship of our bodies on the whole. In fact this story is making the rounds of today’s news cycle. It is a serious problem and there is certainly a middle ground to be struck between being a gym bunny and a couch potato.

    That said, as one who struggles mightily with the vanity part of the deal, there is a real issue here to be addressed with respect to body worship and we ignore that at our peril. Detaching my diligence with regard to exercise/eating from a foolish and impossible quest to obtain the hips and waist I had before giving birth to five children is a constant battle and I doubt that I am the only Christian woman with this issue. My desire has everything to do with wanting to look better and nothing to do with better health. I can run 3 miles and I can lift 50 pounds so I’m pretty healthy. It’s pure vanity and it’s pretty ingrained in Westerners whether they are fat or not.

    Having recently gone through a life season(2008-2012) where the demands of child birth/rearing was a genuine deterrent from being able to exercise regularly, I have relate to women who carry extra weight and husbands whose work schedules/commutes get in the way of being able to do anything else after work/family/church stuff is done. People gotta sleep sometimes.

    But even having said all of that, there is no excuse for being obese or fat long term. Even if it’s just through eating habits, it’s worth it to stay in the fight for good health although it may take longer to get there. I really enjoyed this message from Gary Thomas on the subject:

  12. Pedat Ebediyah says:

    I’m 50, fit and fabulous, and sexy as all get out. All to the glory of gawd, of course.

    (That was for Elspeth). Hee hee hee…

    Good post, DS.

    My take is that a lifestyle of good and conscious stewardship in every area of your being simply shows.

    A life mired in lack is typically a byproduct of a lifestyle that promotes lack.
    A life mired in infirmity is typically a byproduct of a lifestyle that encourages it.
    A life mired in excess….
    A life mired in malevolence…

    Vanity is outward facing, right? Is not the motive of vanity to draw attention to self, as opposed to be inspiring.

    My neighbor with the crazy dope landscaping and impeccably manicured lawn; is he deliberately trying to shame me and make me a hater, or is it because he’s the master of his own yard and subduing that yard is how he gets down…regardless of what the rest of us think?

    So it is with the body. It’s yours. Subdue it. And if you are unable to do it to your own personal satisfaction, that’s cool too. No shame, no hate. Just know that it can be done. Get it in when you can fit it in.

    But don’t lie and say it can’t be done…because then you’d be wrong. 🙂

    Even Jesse Jackson thought he could win! Cause he, like we, is somebody! LOL

  13. @ Elspeth

    I get ya.

    The main problem with mainly women who want to workout is ignorance. Okay, so you don’t have time to go to the gym. But you can do things here you are. For example, moms working out with the kids:


    As you mentioned, eating habits… well you gotta eat food. There’s just no excuse there in the long run.

    Vanity is a big thing, but the main thing to ward of vanity is just refusing to post to social media about it or make a big deal about it in your life. To make it an idol you have to set your heart on it, and it has to be something that consumes your time and desire. You don’t have to go around bragging or posting about how fit, strong, or beautiful you are.

    Of course, I’m preaching to the choir, but it seems like it’s still a difficult thing.

  14. Out of Nod says:

    Saw that article on facebook from a friend who is a missionary in Thailand. Her husband runs a ministry based on fitness – makes me wonder if she feels guilty over the whole thing.

    I whole heartedly agree with you that this is just Churchian “fit-shaming”. I have had a few co-workers who have seen the fit lifestyle I uphold, and they find it motivating and look well upon it, which is something that I think Peter and Paul both encourage for the believer (1 Pet 2:12, 1 Tim. 4:8)

  15. Stephanie says:

    Deepstrength, those videos of the moms working out with babies also have been accused of shaming the women who carrying extra weight… because it shows them that where there is a will, there is a way. :/ It can be a difficult thing … walking the line of desiring to motivate people through your own example of success, and not flaunting it to make them feel bad.

    I actually gained a lot of weight recently (30 pounds), due to metabolism issues after stopping breastfeeding this time – it was very strange and I kind of was thankful for it, because finally I actually know what it feels like to have an extremely hard time getting the weight off, and not be able to blame it on a pregnancy weight gain (I had lost all of that weight… this came on due to sheer lack of dilligence and eating way too many calories because I’d gotten used to burning them easily). It’s been a blessing in so many weird ways… like shopping for a swim suit that was much bigger, and having a hard time. I overheard some other women in the section also shopping for suits, and one of them actually said in a defeated voice,”This is depressing…” It made me so much more compassionate to actually have experienced that myself and hear and feel what they’re feeling.

    But… I myself have always been inspired by women posting their fit bodies to social media. Maybe it is a vanity thing that they’re doing… but I never thought of it that way – I have always seen them as a “Wow!!! What has she done to achieve that kind of success??” or to admire her hard work and dedication when they take workout pics of themselves really crushing a workout with their trainers… it just makes me respect them. I know an interesting Pastor’s wife that runs her own fitness ministry… so of course she posts lots of pics of her own success and that means: pics of her own body. I have never seen her as being vain, but only inspiring and encouraging. Maybe I’m naiive, and maybe she struggles with personal issues of vanity, but from the outside, she is just doing it as a ministry, and helps LOTS of women get their confidence back and feel beautiful and strong again.

  16. Looking Glass says:

    The “shaming” stuff comes about because, if a Woman has an emotional attachment to an issue, she will view the issue as reflecting on her. (This is one of those things that tends to drive Men up walls, over time, when dealing with Women.) These days it’s called “triggering”, but it’s the same thing: assuming someone’s statement is directed right at you, when it’s clearly not.

    Though, since we’re talking Fitness & Vanity, one point I like to also bring up. What does most Women in (after being undercut by their “friends”; funny, that one) is still Vanity, but in a different form. Most Women want to be seen “dieting” and gain the recognition for the “suffering” that goes along with it. This is why Women instinctively go for the “starvation” dieting approach. Whatever part of them wants to be thin doesn’t get around the part that wants the recognition for wanting to be thin. It’s also why drives trendy diets.

    It was something I noticed long before I got to this neck of the Internet, I just now understand why. Fascinating, that.

    As for dealing with losing weight, for the most part I’m in the “lift a lot of heavy things” camp. It’s always easier to deal with a lot of metabolism manipulation when the body is working well. Though the main problem for most people is they don’t want to deal with getting the eating/exercise in alignment & under control first, then losing the weight. It’s a lot easier to lose weight when you’re a lot healthier.

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