Enjoy the Gift of Grace

I had lunch with two of my pastors and a church elder last week to seek guidance with this Health Discipleship project. It’s still not clear to me exactly how I should be responding to the call I feel to help people to physical, emotional and spiritual health in Christ. I’m sure God will reveal more to me along the way, but it seemed appropriate to meet with them, share what I’m feeling and doing and get their reactions.

The food was good and the conversation stimulating. Nothing was decided, but one of the main areas of discussion was of grace and faith as opposed to works and legalism. Our church leadership, appropriately, stresses the saving nature of God’s grace in and of itself. Nothing we can do is necessary or sufficient for salvation. We can add nothing to the finished work of Jesus. I agree with that.

Paraphrasing, their question for me was, “Can you connect health, wellness and lifestyle change to Jesus without being legalistic or judgmental?” Hmm… Good question. The right answer is by myself, “Probably not.” But, under the influence of the Holy Spirit and subjecting myself to feedback and criticism from the church, “Yes.” So here’s how I see this grace/works issue and my particular health calling.

Jesus calls us not to just intellectually assent to his Lordship, but to become his disciples. Exercising our faith as disciples, we should find our character being transformed by the Holy Spirit, and it’s this new character that guides us in our new actions or “works.” That is, the works flow from the grace of God applied to our inner nature.   They are a sign of God working in us rather than something we do to find favor with God. See this passage from James:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.   James 2:14-26 NIV

However, discipleship is not easy and we can certainly go wrong in many ways. One is to misunderstand this whole concept and throw ourselves into works with either a sense of obligation (God requires this of me) or a sense of self-righteousness (This makes me better than everyone else). Also we may get comfortable and ignore the Holy Spirit’s prompting to go further with our discipleship, or we may compartmentalize our lives so that Jesus is Lord of some aspects but not everything. I think it’s these latter issues that often prevent us from living healthier lifestyles.

I don’t think it’s my job to tell anyone that they need to change their habits, but with so many suffering from illness and debility related to their lifestyles, it seems like someone should invite them to consider the matter (and consider what God would have them do). To be clear – fit or couch potato, thin or fat, healthy or sick – God loves you the same. Christians are not obligated to be fit or to eat a certain diet, but that’s not the same as saying that God doesn’t want you to be well.

[If you’re new to this blog these four posts may be helpful background in how I am seeing lifestyle and health connected with discipleship: 1, 2, 3, 4. Hover for titles.]

Judgementalism is also a problem. None of us should be judging the others. We will all have the same judge in due time, and we’re all in different places in our lives and in our walks with Jesus. Only you and God can know just what lifestyle is best for you right now, but truly, many Christians are living in a manner that produces illness – diabetes, obesity and the like. Unfortunately, we often feel judged when confronted with uncomfortable truths, even when no judgment is being made. It’s my job to avoid being judgmental. It’s everyone else’s job to avoid feeling judged by what I say or write

Furthermore, I know that I am frequently wrong, and that when one claims to speak theological truth, one is held to a higher standard. The very next verse from the one above in James is:  Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways.  (James 3:1-2 NIV)  That’s a little disconcerting, and reinforces my commitment to subject these writings to those with greater training, which many of my readers possess. Please comment if you think I’ve got something wrong.

Given all of that, here are some questions I offer up for your consideration:

– Are you following Jesus? Do you want to?
– Have you allowed Jesus to be Lord of all aspects of your life, including your health-related behaviors? Do you want to?
– Have you been under the burden of “lifestyle legalism” feeling guilty about bad choices but unable to change?
– Have you felt the grace that says God loves you as you are? How has this grace changed you and your lifestyle?
– Are you physically, emotionally and spiritually well? Why or why not? What holds you back?
– Do you want to change your lifestyle to be healthier in mind, body or spirit? Do you want help with that?
– What is God calling you to do regarding your health?

Hopefully these questions can help you gain clarity about your own situation. If you’d like help, I am at your service through this blog. If I can be of help to you some other way, please let me know.

In closing, Christmas is just two days away. It’s a time that many feel guilty over their unhealthy habits and lifestyles – too many Christmas cookies at the party, too many beers watching the Bowl Championship Series, and way too little physical exertion.  Perhaps you are one.   Fueled by that guilt and sense of obligation, in two weeks many will make New Year’s resolutions only to feel guiltier still when their plans later fail.

Jesus, God’s Christmas present of himself to mankind, didn’t come to make you feel guilty or ashamed. Quite the opposite. Grace is the ultimate gift. Enjoy it. So don’t go all legalistic on yourself over the cookies or the beer, but in the New Year let’s all ask ourselves what changes God is calling us to make. If we pray, and make our plans out of grace and the Holy Spirit, he will surely see us through to our goals.

Merry Christmas,

Pete

Comments

  1. Heidi Fleming says:

    Great blog!
    I too have a passion to help people with their lifestyle choices and finding the path to healthy living.

    Just as we share Jesus with others (not everyone is ready for the message) I approach healthy living the same way. I drop seeds and when the timing is right with the person to make a decsion the seeds grow.

    For the kingdom of God and the work required on earth for the kingdom I believe the bible is clear in helping us understand the importance of taking care of ourselves so that we have the energy and the focus, for the work needed to honor Him.

    Paul tells followers of Jesus Christ that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit
    (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and as such we are to take care of our bodies and keep them as healthy as we can.

    Gluttony, overeating or drinking to excess, is mentioned in the Bible as being something to avoid (Proverbs 23:20-21). Gluttony can lead to health risks and become a drain on our finances and our relationships and the love of food and drink can all too easily become an idol in our lives.

    I believe (within the church) we should begin with the church leaders. Helping them understand the importance of taking care of their bodies so they can do for God ALL that they are called to do.

    Your spirit, your intention is to help others live a dynamic, healthy, God filled life. Your writings project sincere thought and passion. So, can you connect health, wellness and lifestyle change to Jesus without being legalistic or judgmental? Does God’s word? (The Bible).

    You are a difference Maker, Dr. Weiss!
    Peace and Merry Christmas!

    • Peter Weiss says:

      Thank you Heidi. I appreciate your encouragement and I know we think alike in this area. Keep up the good work.
      Merry Christmas!
      Pete

  2. Merry Christmas, Pete.

    • Peter Weiss says:

      Hi Bill,
      Merry Christmas back to you and your family. Stay warm up there. It’s 80 degrees in Orlando this morning and I’ve been out planting trees.
      Pete

  3. Merry Christmas and happy New year Pete. I enjoy your post, they are thought provoking and inspiring.