by Timothy Perenich DC, MA
Linking diet to salvation is controversial. For some it is an affront to the gospel for others it is an extension of grace. However, in publications like the Review some have made it a point to stress the importance of belief over the restraint of appetite in regard to Christian living.
Popular slogans have been offered of promote a “believe, but not obey the health message” gospel. One example from a published minister reads: “The entire process of salvation has never, and will never be, a matter of eating or drinking (Rom. 14:17).” Another comes from the medical leadership of Adventist Health Ministries reading: “There is no salvation by works of any kind: no salvation by Sabbath; by diet; by exercise; or even by CELEBRATIONS, CREATION, NEWSTART, or whatever acronym used to describe health principles.” To be fair neither of these sources is saying that eating right is not a good idea or important to overall health, they are denouncing the idea that what one puts in their mouth has anything to do with one’s eternal destiny. While these statements may feel good and affirm what many believe to be true, the question is do they square with the evidence from the Bible.
In the beginning, at Eden, it is hard to separate the issue of diet and salvation, if not salvation at least judgment. The first test for mankind was not a another woman in the garden to tempt Adam or another man for Eve, it was over food and trust. For God Himself told them “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it youshall surely die,” (Genesis 2:16-17 NKJV). Sadly our first parents discarded paradise for a few morsels of food. A great divide between God and mankind did not start over making idols, murder, or stealing, but over the consumption of food. So serious was this rift that it required the death of the Son of Man repair it. If this were the only case in the word of God to illustrate the dangerous nature of appetite and man’s destiny it should suffice, but the Bible does not stop here.
The next major disaster to befall mankind in Genesis was the flood and this too is related to appetite. Commenting, our Lord stated “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark…” (Matthew 24:38 NKJV). Jesus makes this statement alluding to the end of time. Jesus forewarned that just as mankind was given up to unrestrained appetite and unprincipled marriage before the the destruction of the world by water so will it be before the destruction of the world by fire. Appetite is an eschatological problem just as it was an antediluvian one.
The fact is today the world is suffering greatly under the curse of profligate eating. As we near the end of time the results of this vice are staggering. Modern medicine has often taken credit for the increasing rates of longevity seen in the western world, now warns of a disturbing trend. A 2005 New England Journal Medicine article suggested that the increasing rates of obesity in the United States threatens to diminish all the life expectancy gains touted by medicine. In short the up and coming generation of Americans will not live as long as their parents or grandparents.
But this is not just an American phenomenon, in 2008 the Royal Society published a brief article trying to devise a strategy to attack “globesity.” The article points out that the majority of people in the world die from diseases of lifestyle and diet rather than infections and pandemics. The authors also warned that the problem of “globesity” may “undo much of the progress seen in reducing the incidence of myocardial infarctions, strokes and some cancers…” While one may be hesitant to call this a fulfillment of prophecy, it should certainly be a mission call, especially for those who have been given a message of health reform.
As the global flood was judgment upon a world given over to appetite and immorality, so too the exclusion of Esau from his birthright. Esau’s trading of his spiritual birthright for food demonstrates how one can be so blinded by their rudimentary desires so as to part with things of inestimable value. Paul strictly warns believers not to be like Esau who exchanged the promises of God for the fleeting enjoyment of food (Hebrews 12:16). This warning is prefaced by an appeal to holiness where He says “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 KJV).
One of my colleagues, a surgeon, informed me of a patient he had who was suffering from an infection deep inside his shoulder joint. These infections are rare, usually one has to have had a previous surgery and/or a compromised immune system. Turned out this patient was an uncontrolled type 2 diabetic. When my colleague approached his patient post operation he found the man sitting in bed chewing on a cheeseburger and sucking down a milk shake. Annoyed the surgeon asked the patient why he was eating such food after his surgery. The patient shrugged and said because “he likes that food.” The surgeon then explained that if this patient kept his current course the surgeon would have to see him again to remove his foot. The man shrugged again and said he would not stop eating that way because eating such foods “made him happy.”
How could a man who trades his foot for fast food be considered anything less than delusional. Clearly his “god is his belly” and not the Lord of all creation. At a minimum to sacrifice ones limb for cheeseburgers is horrendous trade. Morally it is a violation of the first and second commandment. Yet, church brethren make similar trades but argue that by grace they are saved. While it is true we are all saved by grace, it is also true we can all be lost by making appetite our idol.
For it was not Esau alone who forfeited his inheritance for the joy of food, it was also his brother’s children. Jude succinctly describes the outcome of those who refused to believe and obey God: “But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5 NKJV). The Bible is clear that believing for these former slaves was not some mystical affirmation of a sanctimonious platitude, but a trust in God signified by obedience. Regarding appetite, they were to trust in God for their sustenance and not complain.
However, we find the multitudes rebelliously, murmured against God and the manna He provided (Numbers 11:6). Instead of being satisfied with the food of angels (Psalm 78:25) they craved the flesh pots of Egypt and the accompanying slavery which God had miraculously delivered them (Numbers 11:4-6,18-20). Amazingly, God gave these people the desires of their hearts, providing them a feast of quail and also the accompanying penalty which came with it.
The daily manna was to teach His people temperance and self-control. No matter how much they tried they could only gather according to their need and not to their wants (Exodus 16:17-18). Except on Friday in preparation for the Sabbath, the people would gather a double portion of manna roughly around two omers because they were allotted an omer for each day (16:22-23). In contrast when the people gathered quail in the book of Numbers, we are told “he who gathered least gathered ten homers” (Numbers 11:32 NKJV). This shows the ravenous nature of the people in regard to meat. If one omer of mana was to sustain a person for a day what was one going to do with ten omers of quail? Even the place where many were struck dead as a result of this indulgent consumption is called Kibroth Hattaavah or “Grave of Craving.”
Highlighting God’s signal displeasure the Bible says “while the meat was between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of God was aroused against the people and Lord struck the people with a very great plague” (Numbers 11:33 NKJV). Taking nothing away from this text or the notion that God initiated the plague which the people endured, it is noteworthy that quail is known for its toxicity when taken in large amounts. Quail, during Spring, consume hemlock herbs, which are harmless to the quail, but the effects of those herbs remain in their flesh and can be deadly to the humans who consume large amounts. Humans who receive hemlock poisoning via quail suffer a terrible muscle destroying disease called rhabdomyolysis. This disease destroys striated muscle throughout the body often causing pain, kidney failure, electrolyte imbalances which can lead to heart arrhythmias and death. While not everyone died who voraciously consumed quail that day in the wilderness, many felt the harmful effects of such feasting.
Perhaps for some this seems as an unjust sentence on people who just wanted to eat meat. Bear in mind those who desired this food, slighted Moses and found fault with God over the fact that were not supplied with the rich meats they enjoyed as slaves. In short they preferred slavery over freedom because the price of freedom, among other things, required a more abstemious diet. Such people failed to enter the promise land and most likely a good proportion lost out on their eternal inheritance as well.
Even the dietary mandate given by God to His people was given in the context of holiness: “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45 ESV). While it is clear such dietary mandates did much to maintain the health of the nation and prevent disease one does not find such reasoning in Leviticus 11. Instead the dietary commands God’s people to eat in such a manner as consecrated men and women who worship the Lord (Leviticus 11:44). Today equating holiness to what one may stick in his mouth is considered an anachronistic cliche of legalism. Yet, there is no apology for Leviticus 11 in the Old or New Testament.
Although Jesus does castigate the pretentious religious leaders of His day who violated commandments of God while applauding themselves upon their strictures to ritual purity (Mark 7:1-13), He did not reject the notion that eating and drinking are important in the sight of God. What Jesus emphasized among Jews—who fasted twice a week, who were meticulous about washing, how their food was prepared, where they bought it, and its quality—was that such practices could never make one clean because it never addressed the dark corruption from within (Mark 7:14-23). In other words, eat as healthy and as clean as you want, but if you do not confront the wickedness of the human heart you will remain unclean in the sight of God.
This is why we are not saved by vegetarianism, veganism, or Loma Linda veggie link-isms. We desperately need the cleansing blood of Jesus to purify us from every bit of unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Yet, such grace and mercy does not give us license to indulge the unsanctified appetite. Paul warns such men who make god “their belly” are enemies of the “cross of Christ” and their “end is destruction” (Philippians 3:18-19 KJV). Similarly, when instructing Titus, Paul admonished him to rebuke the Cretans sharply because they were known as liars, ill tempered, and “lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV). It is not popular to rebuke anyone “sharply” over the sin of gluttony particularly when it so popular in our own ranks, but maybe this is why it is needed now more than ever. There are plenty more examples to be cited from scripture to make this case suffice to say if we are to love the Lord “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30) doesn’t that include what we put in our mouths?
Timothy Perenich lives and writes from Clearwater, Florida and can be reached here: firstname.lastname@example.org