I’m a fan of resolutions, task lists, and plans. I like orderliness and find it relaxing to accomplish things and check them off of my to-do lists. Goals are good, and endeavoring to make positive changes in one’s life is commendable. It being the third day of January, social media is abuzz with New Year’s resolutions. Like anything else in life that is positive or even neutral in the moral sense, New Year’s resolutions can become idols if we aren’t careful, because humans are involved. And humans are sinful.
The standard New Year’s resolution usually has something to do with dieting, fitness, or both. We live in a health-obsessed, image-obsessed culture. There is tremendous pressure to be as young and beautiful as possible, because as a society that is what we have decided is valuable. But what does the Bible have to say about outward beauty? 1 Samuel 16:7 says “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Before I start receiving an onslaught of messages from folks thinking that I am saying we shouldn’t take care of our bodies, lets examine the issue from the other side. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul writes “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” Certainly, we are to take good care of the bodies the Lord has given us. He has designed our bodies for hard work with a built-in reward system called endorphins. God values life, therefore we should value life, and part of valuing life is taking care of our health so that we can live a long and productive life. Taking care of our bodies through diet and exercise is a good thing, as long as it is subservient to this: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Let me share a personal example with you. About 9 years ago, I really got into fitness, specifically running. I was averaging around 27-30 miles per week. I looked great and I felt invincible. But my discipline turned into anxious obsession, and I was putting far too many miles on my legs without enough rest. Because I didn’t mix things up a little and cross train, I ended up with several concurrent exercise-related injuries, and within a few years, my running days were over. For good. Looking back, I can see that God in His mercy and unique wisdom, allowed for some injuries, essentially prohibiting me to continue, because He was delivering me from the idol I had created and enslaved myself to. I was deriving my self-worth and purpose from fitness. I was worshiping an idol, an idol of self. Exercise good; idol worship bad. Not everyone who loves fitness is worshiping an idol, obviously. But for me, what started out as a good and commendable thing, became something sick with sin.
Proverbs 31:30 says “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”
1 Peter 3:3-5 tells us “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
Resolutions are good, and self-improvement is commendable. Fitness and diet are not the only morally good or neutral things that we sinners can turn into idols, either. The same can be said for just about anything: academic achievement, career success, being frugal, taking care of the earth. The issue isn’t the specific endeavour, but the heart attitude that is the driving force behind it. As the Bible verses previously stated tell us, it is the inward disposition that is pleasing to the Lord. Striving to be healthy and worship God through honoring our bodies is a good thing. But even better is the cultivation of the fruits of the Spirit; the disposition of the inward man toward God. Go out and conquer those goals, doing all to the glory of God, making sure that you do not dethrone the King of Kings and put in His place an idol of your own making. I encourage you all, myself included, to strive after holiness and the inward attitudes that are pleasing to the Lord: a gentle and quiet spirit, fear (reverence) of the Lord, and obedience to His commands.
Happy New Year!
Soli Deo Gloria!