Why do you want to be healthier? Or slimmer? Or stronger? As a fitness trainer and health coach for 17 years, I dare say that most of our fitness and health goals are tied to fear. I know that sounds odd but hear me out. We want to be a certain size or weight because we’re afraid of what we see in the mirror or what others will see or think. We even try to get in better shape because we fear getting sick with diabetes, high cholesterol, or maybe even dying prematurely. At first mention, some of those fears sound like good motives for getting more exercise and eating a better diet, and these fears can drive us into better habits…sometimes…for a while.
Will you humor me as I dive into the Bible and reason why fear is actually not a great motivator? I propose we’re meant to be motivated by love, specifically, love for Jesus Christ. And why is this important? Well, if our prime motivators for getting in shape and losing weight are faulty, that may explain why we’re not achieving our goals.
In Scripture, fear and love do not walk hand in hand. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul says,“…God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” In 1 John 4:18, John tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” As a footnote, anywhere in Scripture that does speak of fearing God, like Proverbs 9:10, is referring to a fatherly fear, not the fear of a slave – and that’s what I’m speaking against here.
How well would you serve your spouse if fear was the prime motivator? When you were a kid, did you do more for the teacher you feared or the teacher you loved? Granted, fear can get us moving, but for how long and how well? When fear of getting fat sends us to the gym, we inevitably grow to hate the gym. When fear of what others think of us drives us to eating healthy, we start to hate salads and fruits. Somehow, when we behave according to our fear, as 1 John 4:18 says, we perceive it as a type of punishment. And who sticks with a plan of punishment?
When love is the prime motivation, and not fear, what does that look like? Look no further than John 3:16 as it states, “For God so loved the world…” God made the greatest sacrifice in human history because of overwhelming love. Likewise, we begin and continue the Christian life in response to Christ’s love for us as described in 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” Do you see it? If you want to do anything great in this life, let it be out of love for Christ, not fear of this world.
Now, getting down to the practical, what does it look like to exercise or eat healthy out of love and not fear? Instead of viewing fruits and vegetables as something we eat when we’re afraid of the reflection in the mirror, enjoy those healthy foods because God has graciously provided foods that taste well, provide all the nutrition we need, and keep our weight healthy. Isn’t that remarkable? God didn’t have to create perfect, clean foods, but He did; Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Don’t you want to love the God that provides not just His only begotten Son but perfect food, too? It’s a privilege to eat those foods, even an act of worship!
Let’s begin to view exercise the same way; exercise is a privilege, not a twisted punishment for eating unhealthy or being overweight. I know it may sound trite, but not everyone can walk, run, bend, lift, reach, or twist. God gave us those physical abilities as part of equipping us “with everything good that you may do his will…” (Hebrews 13:21) Exercise doesn’t have to be done out of fear, but we can develop our fitness out of love for a God that has decided to appoint His broken, frail children as His hands and feet in this world – and we need our physical bodies to accomplish all that. We don’t have to exercise, but we have the privilege to do so.
We all want to find more motivation but consider that motivation flows from whatever you fear or love. Brothers and sisters, can we agree that fear tries to wreck everything? Peter, out of fear, wasn’t even willing to admit he knew Jesus the night before the crucifixion, but later in life, according to church tradition and what seems to be prophecy by Jesus in John 21:18, Peter was crucified upside down. What changed for Peter? What gave him the motivation to endure such a horrible death? Just moments after that prophecy, still in John 21, Jesus asked Peter 3 times, “Peter, do you love me?” and Peter confirmed his love each time. When Peter began to live from a place of love for Christ, there was nothing he couldn’t accomplish. He built the church and died to the glory of God.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) When our motivation flows from the cross, the greatest display of love we’ll ever see, fear no longer drives us. With Christ’s love influencing our every move, we can say goodbye to the fear-driven habits – including shame-induced gym trips and guilt-ridden salads – and embrace the joy of being healthier to please and honor our Lord and Savior.