The turn of the calendar brings along a host of New Year’s resolutions, and none are as prevalent as the ones related to what we put in our mouths. Scroll through your social media feed and you’ll find dozens of posts encouraging a diet overhaul in the New Year. They might urge you towards Keto, Paleo, or the catch-all buzzword of “clean eating.”
Whether we’re hoping to shed pounds, sidestep cancer, or beat Alzheimer’s, the food we put in our mouths promises to be the ticket to wellness. Studies pop up every day with the latest superfood we should add to our plates. A fitness instructor tells us to increase our fruit intake, while another nutritionist warns against too much. These constant and chaotic messages overwhelm us.
In a world obsessed with food rules, how should a Christian eat? Ironically, we can find some guiding principles by revisiting the original food rules of the Old Testament.
The Morality of Food
As we approach our plates, we must first remember that food isn’t sinful or holy in itself. It may sound obvious, but the temptation to use this language is everywhere. We describe certain foods as bad, sinful, junk, clean, or guilt-free. Staying on a certain regimen is deemed “being good,” and any detours get the label of “cheating.” We’re used to these phrases because they fill our world—yet they whisper a lie. Food doesn’t hold morality on its own.
Even the original clean and unclean laws of the Old Testament testify to this fact. While the Israelites had many regulations on the foods they could consume, the point wasn’t to demonize the food itself, but instead to teach. “Clean” and “unclean” distinctions taught the people Yahweh was holy and separate from a creation marred by sin and death. In a commentary on Leviticus, Michael Morales suggests that many of the forbidden animals had some association with death or disorder—whether they preyed on dead flesh, or were connected to underworld deities in pagan worship. Furthermore, the food laws reminded the Israelites who they were. God had chosen them to be set apart as his people. “Every meal served as a reminder of God’s election of Israel out of the nations,” Morales writes.
The food laws were far removed from defining moral and immoral nutrition; instead, they pointed to the life found in Christ. We see this more clearly when God reveals to Peter that the separation between clean and unclean food is no longer necessary, just as the separations between Jew and gentile were abolished at the coming of Christ (Acts 10:9–22; Eph. 2:11–22).
Likewise, we don’t need to assign morality to our food. We can choose various diets for a host of reasons, but we must be careful not to believe a carrot is more virtuous than a bag of processed chips. This kind of thinking paralyzes us in fear the Lord never requires. He tells us we can receive everything from his hand with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4). A piece of food can’t advance us closer to God whether it’s kosher or an organic vegetable (1 Cor. 8:8). Our status as sons and daughters is sealed by the work of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), and the food itself that passes our lips should lead to neither guilt nor self-righteousness (Rom. 8:1). Christ has made us clean, and “[w]hat God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15).
Food is Never a Guarantee
Just as we can’t place morality on food, we also need to remember that our food choices won’t guarantee our future. Health coaches and supplement manufacturers promise you’ll gain energy, avert disease, and live longer. While it’s honorable to care for and desire the best for our bodies, these kinds of messages could turn our trust away from the Lord onto the micronutrients on our plates.
Again, we can be reminded that even the food laws of the Old Testament were never created as a formula for health and wealth. While some scholars believe there were natural benefits from abstaining from certain items (such as consuming blood), the main purpose of these rules was not personal fulfillment, but a sobering humility. Food laws reminded the people of their need for cleansing before an altogether holy God. The denial of pork never guaranteed salvation, but it pointed their eyes up to the one who would through Jesus.
We can approach our food in the same humble manner. We can receive each piece with gratitude, whether it’s a homemade granola bar or a donut in plastic packaging. Every kind of food ultimately comes from the hand of our loving Father, who is gracious enough to provide for his creation (James 1:17, Gen. 9:3). We can chew those bites with humility and acknowledge that our future health is ultimately held in the hands of our sovereign God, not our carefully orchestrated menus.
Resting in God’s Peace
This doesn’t mean we must throw off every nutritional suggestion that comes our way. Our bodies undoubtedly need and benefit from certain nutrients. At times, we may require restrictions for our bodies to function due to disease, allergies, or intolerances. These diet modifications can be helpful.
But no matter what we’re eating, may we remember the food on our plate won’t bring us one bit closer or farther from our Father. As you make your food-related New Year’s resolutions, throw off the language of sinful and guilt-free. We are secured in the Lord by the work of Jesus Christ, not the work of our mouths. We don’t have to remain fearful of consuming the wrong item.
Instead, as God’s beloved children, we can freely enjoy all the gifts he’s given us—not because they will lead us to a life of physical ease, but because they give us the opportunity to humbly receive the sweet gifts of our Father. So, whether we eat or drink, may we, like the Israelites, do so remembering the great God to whom we belong.