“God declares overeating to be a sin: ‘For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty’ (Proverbs 23:21). There are several definitions of sin in the Bible: ‘the devising of folly is sin’ (Proverbs 24:9). ‘Whatever is not from faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23), ‘therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin’ (James 4:17), ‘all unrighteousness is sin’ (1 John 5:17). ‘Sin is lawlessness’ (1 John 3:4). These descriptions view sin as the act of the will. Sin is choosing to act in opposition to God’s Word.”
So begins the second chapter of biblical counselor Shannon McCoy’s very helpful mini-book HELP! I’m a Slave to Food. She continues:
Perhaps you don’t believe that overeating is a sin. Many of us have been brainwashed by magazine articles, television talk shows, and reality shows that tell us that food is the problem: you are simply eating the wrong things in the wrong way. Often even the Christian perspective views overeating as a diet problem rather than a sin problem. On the other hand, you may know that overeating is a sin, but it does not seem serious because it is often treated as one of those ‘little sins’ that are acceptable in the church. You don’t hear sermons or read books on the sin of overeating. Your focus is more on getting treatment for your problem of overeating than facing up to your personal responsibility of repentance and obedience. According to the above descriptions of sin, overeating is of folly, not of faith. It is failing to do the right thing. It is unrighteousness and lawlessness. The following is a testimony from someone who struggled with overeating: “My eating was out of control. I ate solely to satisfy whatever craving I was having at the time. As a result, my health was suffering and I was not honoring God with my life and body He had given me. I was for the first time confronted with the fact that the way that I was eating was sinful. I knew that my eating was ‘not good,’ but I never considered that my eating was sin.”
In her mini-book, Shannon transparently identifies with her readers by acknowledging that overeating once dominated her life. She then shares the life-changing counsel from the Scriptures, which changed her life, beginning with admitting the seriousness of her sin problem.
Overeating Dominates Your Life When…
“Overeating is a life-dominating sin, and it has a strong influence over your life. It affects your mind, your body, your spirit, your heart, your emotions, your relationships, and even your finances. The sin of overeating is practiced repeatedly so that it becomes a habitual lifestyle and almost second nature, a continuous action that controls your life…let’s look at a few characteristics of the life-dominating sin of overeating.
- You Have Repeatedly Tried to Stop. “You’ve tried every diet known to man, but failed to stop habitually overeating. The root of your problem is that you are not taking this sin seriously.”
- You Blame Others or Circumstances for Your Failure. “The world may teach you to blame your mother for your sinful eating habits because, when you were a child, she forced you to ‘clean your plate’ at every meal. You may blame it on your genetic makeup…you may blame your diet plan. You say, ‘It did not work for me. It is too strict.’ You may even blame your sin on God because he will not change your circumstances, your cravings, and so on. You completely disregard what the apostle Paul says in Romans 14:12: ‘So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.’”
- You Deny that Overeating Is a Sin. “You believe what the world tells you about your overeating problem. You believe that your problem is really low self-esteem, or that you actually have a disease. You refuse to accept that your actions are sinful and do not glorify God. You call it a weakness instead of a sin.”
- You Convince Yourself that You are not Enslaved to Overeating and ‘Can Stop at Any Time.’ “You must admit that you are in bondage to the sin of overeating. Jesus teaches, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin (John 8:34). You believe that you are in control of your eating habits every time you start a new diet plan or workout program. You are deceived into believing that this plan will deliver you. a life-dominating sin requires the work of the Holy Spirit in order for it to be put to death in the believer.”
- Any Pleasure from Overeating Is Short-lived, while the Harm Is Considerable and Long-Term. “You feel as though you have no control over your cravings. You give in to the temptation to eat repeatedly. You see your body weight increasing and feel your clothes tightening. You get depressed because you don’t like the way you look. Your blood pressure is getting dangerously high, and your knees hurt when you try to climb the stairs to your apartment. Nevertheless, you find yourself stuffing your face again with massive amounts of food and not receiving the relief you are seeking.”
- You Overeat when No One Is Watching. “When overeating controls you, you will seek to hide your outward behavior by doing it in secret….Hiding your sin will only lead you into deeper bondage. You must realize that there is power in confession. James 5:16 states, ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.’”
- You Know that Overeating Obscures the Testimony of Jesus Christ in Your Life and Is a Stumbling Block to Others. “To commit sin and know that it is damaging the testimony of Jesus Christ can lead you more deeply into slavery. You must know that your sinful actions are affecting everyone around you: your husband, children, coworkers, unsaved relatives, and friends. You cannot admonish and encourage others in their walk with Christ when you are purposefully committing sin in their presence. They see your helpless struggle with overeating and may deny the power of Christ in their own lives.”
- You Know that God’s Word Tells You to Stop Sinning, and that God Can Release You from this Bondage. “Pride and rebellion are at the heart of your problem. Perhaps you have been a Christian for a long time and you know that God is not pleased with your gluttonous behavior. But you continue to ignore God’s command to glorify him when you eat (1 Corinthians 10:31). You refuse to trust in God’s faithfulness and accept his way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).”
- You Realize that Your Deeds (thoughts, words, actions) do not Conform to the Character of Christ. “Your conscience accuses you of your sin. Your behavior doesn’t conform to the character of Christ. Without telling a bold-faced lie, you cannot say that your gluttonous behavior is Christlike. You know in your heart that your behavior is not pleasing to the Lord. You know that your desire is to please yourself.”
Overeating Is Not an Addiction
Some overeaters label themselves “food addicts,” believing they are addicted to food. However, addiction is not a biblical term. The world uses this terminology to describe the behavior of someone who is controlled by a substance. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines addiction in this way: “To devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively.” But the danger in labeling overeating as “addiction” is that it undermines the personal conviction of sin. If the problem is not sin, then you will look for solutions in a system of theories, not in the person of Jesus Christ.
Overeating Is Idolatry
The biblical term for “addiction” is “idolatry.” The sin of overeating is idolatry. Idolatry is worship and devotion to creation rather than worship and devotion to the Creator God. You worship your stomach and appetites by indulging in food. You desire the created food more than your Creator. The problem is not necessarily the food you consume; it is the worship of your heart. Before you can be set free [from the sin of gluttony], you must acknowledge your idol, denounce it, repent, and give your heart and devotion to him. Your greatest hope is in turning from your false gods and surrendering your life to Jesus, who is able to forgive your sins and free you from the sin of overeating.
God’s Grace Empowers Us to Change
Romans 6:12-14 both exhorts us to repent of the sin of overeating and gives us hope on God’s power to change us. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
In the remainder of her mini-book, McCoy teaches us how to conquer the sin of overeating by God's gracious empowerment for disciplined living.
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