Overweight? Lifestyle Disease? Sin is the Problem

Yes, I know it’s a provocative title that may bring up strong emotions. Take a deep breath and stick with me for the whole post. Sin is the problem; however, your personal sin may or may not be the cause of your problem. Let’s think through the problem of lifestyle illnesses using our common Christian worldview as the base from which to begin.

God made the world and it was very good. Then came the fall. Sin was introduced into humanity and into all of creation. As Christians, we hold that this introduction of sin into creation has corrupted God’s order of things and is the underlying issue that explains our worldly problems and suffering. It follows that all illness, including the so-called lifestyle diseases, is ultimately derived from this corruption.

Now “lifestyle disease” is a broad term. What are we talking about? Most common chronic diseases or conditions in Americans are related to our lifestyles, some more and some less. The majority of our (very high and growing) U.S. healthcare expenditures are for the treatment of these lifestyle-induced conditions. Obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, degenerative arthritis, heart disease, high cholesterol, and even the majority of cancers are all related to our typical American lifestyle.

Of course, there are always exceptions. Sometimes, for example, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels occur in individuals that are “doing everything right.” Certain genetic mutations affect cholesterol metabolism and result in very high blood cholesterol causing affected individuals to experience heart attacks at a young age (in their 20’s and 30’s). No matter how much these patients improve their health habits they are not able to compensate for their “bad” genetics. Similarly high blood pressure may run in families and lifestyle modification may not be that helpful.

This is not too surprising. In this world, bad things do happen to us regardless of our behavior. That’s a major theme of the Book of Job, and as you recall, Job had some pretty severe medical problems through no fault of his own. Jesus also corrects our notion that our personal sin is the cause of all of our medical problems in the story of the man blind since birth (John 9:1-3).

However more often, in my experience, we do cause our own problems. We live lifestyles that do cause our diseases, and we know it. The vast majority of people who are overweight with lifestyle diseases do not have an underlying uncorrectable genetic problem. They simply have harmful habits. They (and me too) are chronically engaged in behaviors that are harmful to us. Why would we do that? Sin.

Consider Paul’s statement:

The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.     Romans 7:14-22

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Haven’t you asked yourself something like that when trying to live differently? Questions like “Why can’t I stop eating junk food?” “Why can’t I stick to an exercise program?” “Why can’t I lay off the beer?” are a few examples. I believe most of us have had this experience. I know I have.

Now this sounds like bad news. My personal sinfulness is causing or contributing to my problems? Yep. Bummer. But wait; there is some good news here. Think about it. You’ve likely had these problems or struggles for a long time and haven’t been able to overcome them or to “cure” yourself. This is why. Man cannot overcome sin by himself. The good news is we are not by ourselves.

Jesus is with us. Jesus provides the salvation from sin that we can’t achieve on our own. He frees us from the power of sin, and we are no longer to be enslaved by it. But we still have to do the work of resisting. As Paul describes, our sinful nature is still present within us, and we must be willing to turn from this old nature to Jesus and our new nature in the Holy Spirit. As we turn to Jesus over and over again, and the Holy Spirit works in us, gradually we do get better. Sin loses its grip. That’s discipleship and sanctification in action, and it applies to your health too.

Unfortunately, we don’t always do the work of discipleship. A Christian counselor once told me that a (presumably Christian) client was not willing to give up an unhealthy food addiction because in her words, “it’s the only emotional support I have.” My first thought was “how sad.” Despite her faith, this person has an ongoing spiritual problem. Jesus did not come and die for us so that we could get our emotional support from chocolate ice cream.

Too many of us have this problem. Myself included. I am not immune to comfort foods and the siren song of modern lifestyles. I also sometimes struggle to live in the manner that I know is good for me. More and more, I am able to call on God to help me. I’m following Jesus the best I can. I’m not catching up to him but I am changing for the better. You can too.

Comments

  1. William says:

    Well, the human condition is simply something you can ignore, put your blinders on and press on… Or you can consider this life, one of challenge and with all the odds stacked against you… I believe until you are ready to accept your condition, you’ll never discover the cure. Once you know that survival is a daily battle and you can never let your guard down. Jesus is the only connection that fills all the gaps of my human condition. Sin is everything that God is not… I say fill your with Christ every morning, throughout the day, talk to him often, thank you for every situation (good or bad) and remember that all good things come from above. Just give Him a chance, you’ll see many blessings, even a few that you prayed for too…

    So, lifestyle issues are Satan’s great disguise of sin in many cases – it’s such a personal attack on us physically, emotionally, mentally and of course (and finally) spiritually.

    Take care of yourselves, or at least accept the challenge and stay on the lighted path… you may never arrive, but Jesus will be with you every step of the day…

    • Peter Weiss says:

      Thank you William. I am realizing more and more each day that the Christian worldview should underpin my understanding of everything that happens in life. Jesus has come that we might be free and that freedom starts with accepting your sinfulness.

  2. William says:

    What I like even more is that God loves everyone, even a sinner like me -The age-old issue, “Can man save himself, or does he need God?” is still raging across the world as furiously as ever. As long as the world goes on, people will build towers of Babel, fashion their graven images, and invent their own ideologies. Now, as in every period of history, people think they can manage without God.

    Economically, they may manage; intellectually, they may manage; socially, they may get by. But down underneath the surface of rational man is a vacuum—a void that can be met only through Jesus Christ. The most astounding fact of all history is that the great and almighty God of heaven can live in your heart. It makes no difference who you are.

    Bill