What is sin? Murder, adultery and stealing come to mind. But is it possible that you can sin by what you eat? Could your food be breaking God’s law?
Fuel in the Tank
In a 1979 World Tomorrow broadcast, Herbert W. Armstrong called the human body and mind “the most marvelous machine, the most marvelous mechanism that exists on the face of this Earth that has ever been designed and planned and put together.” He referenced King David saying he was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Notice his next statement: “God made our bodies so that they would never be sick if we would observe the laws, the physical laws of health—the laws that regulate and manipulate those bodies.”
Physical laws of health? Most people are familiar with laws of physics, laws regulating traffic and taxes. But they don’t know about laws of health. They do, however, exist! God made laws by which our bodies function properly. Mr. Armstrong identified seven laws of health: 1) proper diet; 2) cleanliness and hygiene; 3) fresh air; 4) exercise; 5) sleep and rest; 6) avoiding bodily injury; and 7) positive mental attitude. When we follow these laws, we enjoy strong, vigorous health. When we break them, we commit physical sin! And when we commit physical sin, we experience sickness, disease and debility.
This is an exact type of spiritual sin. When we keep God’s spiritual laws, life is abundant, full, dynamic, healthy. Love God with your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself, and you will be spiritually strong and healthy. When you break these laws, you suffer spiritual sickness.
In that television broadcast, Mr. Armstrong described how physical laws determine how your car will function. It requires, for example, that you fill it with certain types of gasoline, oil and other fluids. The wrong kind of fluid will destroy your car. “Now, that’s exactly what you and all of our people almost are doing with your human bodies,” Mr. Armstrong said. “You don’t take the care of your human body that you do of your automobile. You poke any old kind of fuel in your fuel tank—that is, down in your stomach—that’s the gas tank or the fuel tank of the human body.”
So what type of fuel is in your tank? Do you eat the things God created to be your fuel? This is a tough question. Frankly, most of us don’t want to face it squarely. Food is very personal. We often have deep-seated emotions attached to what we eat. Deprivation can quickly make us cranky. Dieting can be torture.
But you need to answer honestly: Are you breaking God’s physical laws by putting bad fuel into your tank?
The Forbidden Fruit
In the Garden of Eden, the very first temptation involved food. Satan came after Adam and Eve with food! (Genesis 3:1-3). God had given them instructions about what was good for food and what to avoid—in other words, law. Spiritually, the tree of life and tree of death represented two ways of life. God revealed His way and the way that leads to death, and instructed Adam and Eve to choose life. Satan convinced Eve to ignore that revelation and eat what pleased the senses.
“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (verse 6). The tree of death looked good for food. It was desirable, pleasant to the eyes.
Almost every single choice at the grocery store is pleasant to the eyes, the nose, the touch. In a sense, modern food production in Satan’s world brings the forbidden fruit to us every day in multiple forms! It looks good and it pleases the palate. Yet it leads to death!
“[T]he average American meal is in fact a dietetic horror,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in his autobiography, “consisting of an overwhelming preponderance of the starches, sugars and greases—the carbohydrate acid-reacting elements which cause numerous ailments and diseases.” He learned that truth in 1930! How much worse are Western diets more than eight decades later?
He wrote in the June-July 1982 Plain Truth that of the seven laws of radiant health, diet is most frequently broken. He said 85 to 95 percent of all sickness and disease comes as a direct result of what we eat.
“Most degenerative diseases are modern diseases—penalties for eating foods that have been demineralized in food factories—usually an excess of starch, sugar (the carbohydrates) and fats [referring to bad fats—there are good fats],” he wrote in The Seven Laws of Success. “[T]he medical profession has made great strides toward eliminating communicable diseases, yet is having little success coping with the increase of the non-communicable diseases—such as cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, kidney diseases. These latter are affected by faulty diet” (emphasis added throughout).
As with a car, the fuel we put into this marvelous machine—our body—is really important. Modern food producers, however, don’t think of it that way. They are concerned primarily with pleasing our palates and making a profit, not fueling robust physical well-being. The entire food industry relies on two things that are inherently detrimental to nutrition: transporting food over long distances and storing food for long periods.
As a result, we are paying a tremendously high price in our health.
Many places in Scripture compare modern society with ancient Sodom and Gomorrah. Ezekiel 16 lists some of the sins of that prosperous ancient culture, including “pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness” (verse 49). The people lived as they pleased. Everywhere was pleasure-seeking and decadence. The people were lazy; their god was their own senses.
The English Standard Version translates “fulness of bread” as “excess of food.” It is easy to see this problem in modern Israel. We have so much! Just look at the portion sizes in restaurants, and you see that excess of food is a big problem. People have no sense of what is a reasonable amount of food. Added to that, so much of that food is bad for us. It’s wrecking our health! You can see similar prophecies in Isaiah 22:13-14 and Amos 6:3-4, 6. God foresaw that this would be a problem in modern Israel.
People in God’s Church, who follow God’s laws, should be different.
The Apostle John said that above all things, he wanted God’s people to prosper and be in health (3 John 2). That requires us taking responsibility for our health! We cannot enjoy the health God desires for us if we break His health laws. God gave us our bodies to take care of. We must be wise stewards.
Maintaining physical health is not on the same level as maintaining spiritual health, but neither is it entirely separate. The lessons from one apply to the other. Good habits in one build character that help with the other. Your first priority obviously must be your spiritual health, but that does not mean you can be careless about the physical. In fact, your physical health will have an effect on your spiritual health! If you are in good health physically, you have more energy to apply yourself spiritually. If you are sick, lacking in energy, unable to focus, or in pain, you will find it much harder to sustain a vigorous prayer and study life, let alone serve God’s Work and God’s people!
Mr. Armstrong and Gerald Flurry set tremendous examples of taking care of themselves physically. If Mr. Armstrong hadn’t been so particular about obeying physical health laws, he would not have lived to age 93!
“God has given each of us a marvelous human body—to use as He has directed in His instruction book,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in The Missing Dimension in Sex. “The possession of such a body imposes on each individual a sacred responsibility! It is something you may use to God’s honor and glory—and to your own great happiness; or you may misuse and abuse it to dishonor the Creator, and bring degradation, shame and curses on yourself.”
It is easy to underestimate the importance of this subject. The penalty for physical sin is not eternal death—it is sickness and debility. But that does not mean we can ignore those physical health laws! If we are following Christ’s example and striving to think like Him, then we will strive to follow all of God’s laws—both spiritual and physical.
In his Royal Vision series “We Are What We Eat” (March-April 2005 to July-August 2006), Stephen Flurry wrote about how Christ’s physical sacrifice pays for our physical sins. He makes the point that Christ’s faith in us is made perfect by our works; faith and obedience must work together. One of the conditions for healing is obedience! “Faith that God will heal does not void the physical laws of health,” he wrote, paraphrasing Romans 3:31. “It rather establishes the laws of health!”
If we are suffering from physical health problems, God wants us to change! “[U]nless we are suffering because of someone else’s sin, God says we had better do something different! Isn’t that what repentance is all about? It requires change! … More than just wanting to do better when we are sick, we must work to obey God’s health laws as away of life” (ibid).
Apply the Principle
In and of itself, eating poorly is a physical sin. But it can easily bleed over into spiritual sin.
Mr. Armstrong often talked about the principle of sin. God’s love is always outflowing. Obedience to God’s law means putting God first and loving your neighbor as yourself. Sin is incoming. Sin prioritizes the self—pleasing the self.
In a Nov. 7, 1981, sermon, Mr. Armstrong used the example of smoking. How do you know if smoking tobacco is sin, since the Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not smoke”? “I was smoking a little,” Mr. Armstrong said of his early years of conversion. “But I asked myself ‘Why do I smoke?’ I wanted to know the attitude and the purpose. Did I do it to please God? Answer: No. Did I do it because other men in Satan’s world do it? Answer: Yes. To please the five senses? Answer: Yes.” To recognize sin, we must look at the principle!
“Does it express love to God?” he continued. “No. Does it express love to neighbor? No. To some, it was offensive. Did I do it for my health? No. I knew that it was harmful to whatever extent. I didn’t know it would have anything to do with lung cancer. I don’t think anybody did at that time. But I knew the purpose of the lungs, and breathing air in and out; and I knew that it would be harmful to the purpose of eliminating toxins and poisons through the lungs. I knew it was harmful to whatever extent. It was a worldly habit.”
This is exactly the godly reasoning we need to apply to what we eat.
Do you eat what you do to please God? Does it express love to God? Does it make you more effective in doing God’s Work? Does it make you a better tool for God? Does it express love to your neighbor? Does it give you the energy you need in order to love and to serve others? Does it build your health? We all need to bring that godly perspective into our choices that determine the quality and the quantity of our food intake. Those questions are about the principle of spiritual sin!
God gave us physical bodies that need to be sustained. We must take care of ourselves to be good stewards with this tool for doing the Father’s will. Every day we need to feed ourselves, clean ourselves, dress ourselves and care for our physical needs. Yet we are very susceptible to vanity. The very act of making ourselves presentable to do God’s will and Work can turn into self-aggrandizement and vanity. The work of fueling ourselves can easily become gluttony. God gave us an appetite—we need that—but that appetite can easily become lust. Hunger can turn into greed. Those aren’t just physical sins: They violate God’s spiritual law!
It has been said that we should eat to live, not live to eat. That is an important and godly perspective. We need food in order to have the energy for life, for work, for doing God’s will. Yet how easy it is for that to devolve into simply satisfying our lusts! Our diets can easily become extremely selfish, putting our own desires ahead of God’s and hurting our ability to do the Father’s will.
Again, Christ set the perfect example. His meat—His very food in life—was “to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (John 4:34). During His lifetime, He never once lost the correct focus. He never once ate with selfish purpose, indulging the senses in a sinful way.
We need to build the perspective Christ had and keep our focus on what this physical life is for. God tells us to exercise our senses to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14). “God created us so that we must eat food to live,” Mr. Armstrong explained. “He equipped us with the sense of taste. God gave us this sense so that we might enjoy the necessity of eating. We should, therefore, exercise our senses to distinguish true, natural, health-building food from those false foods which destroy health—and then give God thanks, and really enjoy the eating!” (The Missing Dimension in Sex).
A Lesson in Temperance
When God brought His people out of Egypt, what did He feed them?
The Bible describes manna as “the corn of heaven” and “angels’ food” (Psalm 78:24-25). It was pleasant food, sweet like honey. It provided all the nourishment they needed.
Still, it was only one food. After having such a comparably rich diet in Egypt, the Israelites were reduced to eating a single, simple food.
God also provided a specific amount for each person, each day (Exodus 16:16-18). Everyone had the same amount, and no one could gorge themselves.
The Israelites were forced to overcome the lust of the belly. How would we do in that situation?
“By this spare and plain diet we are all taught a lesson of temperance, and forbidden to desire dainties and varieties” (Matthew Henry’s commentary). What might that teach about what we should and should not be putting into our stomach, and how much? Most of us are much closer to the Egyptian style of diet than to the manna diet.
Remember: We are not to live by bread alone, but by every word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). God offers us bread by which we can live forever—Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life! (John 6:48).
John 6 records Jesus’s miracle of feeding 5,000 people. People loved getting a meal, and they followed Christ—for that reason (verses 25-26). He instructed them, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you …” (verse 27). It’s easy to lose our perspective. We put a lot of effort into getting our physical meals. Christ tells us not to work so hard for physical food; labor instead for spiritual food.
The people asked Christ to show them a miracle (verses 30-33). They brought up the miracle of God feeding the Israelites with manna. Christ criticized them for being more impressed with God sending physical bread than with Him sending His Son—the true bread that gives eternal life!
This is the tendency of the carnal mind: to focus more on physical food—the pleasure, the taste, that is so immediately satisfying. It takes a godly mind to hunger and thirst for righteousness and living water!
That physical manna was a type of Jesus Christ! The bread that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness was a picture of the bread of life. It foreshadowed God sending His Son! It is a picture of us taking Christ into ourselves through our Bible study and through the Holy Spirit.
“The human body functions according to definite laws,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “It needs fresh air in the lungs—not tobacco smoke. It needs pure water, and plenty of it—not soda pop, stimulants and man-perverted drinks. It needs a proper amount of joyous, exhilarating exercise and walking—not riding everywhere in the car, nor taking one’s exercise sitting down in the paid admission stands of a baseball park or a football or basketball game. It needs sufficient sunshine, not the dark, dank congestion of crowded man-built cities. It needs cleanliness and proper elimination—not the almost universal constipation caused by neglect and foodless foods contaminated in man-made ‘food’ factories. It needs relaxation, ample rest and sleep —not the nerve-shattering, excitable pleasure-seeking life—and night life—of today’s modern whirl.
“And last, but far from least, it needs wholesome, properly prepared natural food—not the starchy, sugary, greasy mess of contaminated stuff we ignorantly suppose to be food today” (“Fasting for Health,” Good News, October 1954).
He wrote that over 60 years ago—before there was a fast-food restaurant and convenience store on every corner. Poor health and bad diets are far more common today than during the 1950s.
That doesn’t mean these problems are natural and normal. It means we have to work that much harder to reach our normal physical condition—that of robust, invigorating, radiant, good health!