Deliver Me From This Body: A Christian approach to diet and exercise (Part 1)
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)
All the dieters and exercisers out there, can you relate to the struggle depicted in this passage from Paul? I know I can. I’ve fought this battle many times; whether I’m trying to avoid eating the donuts someone brought to work or trying to get out of bed for an early morning exercise session. Can we be real for a moment? Why are so many of us losing this health and wellness battle? When it’s the battle of donuts vs. better health, why do donuts usually win? When a lazy night in our favorite chair is pitted against a nice, refreshing walk outside, why does the favorite chair usually win?
I’ve been a fitness trainer for over 15 years, worked in and owned gyms, produced exercise videos, earned a Master’s degree in Exercise Science, and now work as a health coach. Despite all that experience and education, I haven’t figured out why the donuts and lazy nights win so many of those battles. Sure, I’ve been able to help people drop pounds and achieve amazing fitness goals, but there’s been many more I’ve been unable to help. Sometimes, I can’t even help myself! Are you as frustrated as I am?
The Apostle Paul, who desired to do right, was frustrated with the struggle, too, crying out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) For me, that nails it. After eating something I know will spike my triglycerides and weight, but drain my energy, I feel like my body wants to drag my best intentions for health straight to the grave. My response? “I’ll do better tomorrow; I’ll try harder tomorrow; I’ll plan better tomorrow.” Maybe that’s where we’re all going wrong. This mortal body, this flesh, which Paul is calling “dead,” isn’t going to submit to my willpower or yours. Can you make a dead person do anything, let alone exercise and eat right? In fact, Paul remarks, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8)
According to Scripture, to be healthier in this body, we need something that brings dead things to life – only One is qualified to do that. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11) All along, we’ve been trying to muster more willpower, but how many of us can say that works well? It rarely works for me. Paul is clearly saying that if we’re looking to ourselves to make these changes, it’s not going to happen. Later in Romans 8, he says, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (v. 26)
You may believe, as I used to, “God helps those who help themselves,” but that’s not Scriptural. Actually, the opposite is true. “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed in the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come.” (Jeremiah 17:5-6) God doesn’t want us to dig deeper and pull ourselves up by our boot straps! “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water…” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
The desperate question Paul presents, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” is answered in the next verse, Romans 7:25. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Who else could take on death and emerge victorious but Jesus? Do we honestly think we can continue to wage war with a dead, uncooperative body? Sure, we can get a few pounds off here and there, go to the gym a few times, but can we say we’ve ever gotten victory over this body?
As someone who has made a living trying to inspire people to better health, this all makes perfect sense. I’ve battled these self-destructive lifestyles, comfort food addictions, and lazy habits in myself and thousands of clients and I give up. I’m convinced that the apostle Paul is correct and this is a fight for our Savior, not us. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18) If this is true, which it is, it means that Jesus reigns over this daily struggle to be healthier. He has authority over your decisions, habits, and lifestyle. Let Jesus, who saved you when you were lost in sin, save you from poor health also.