Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is it a sin to be overweight?

Recently, a friend asked in a forum, "Is being overweight as much a sin as smoking, drinking or sexual immorality?" He received 105 replies, most respondents writing that being fat is morally reprehensible because our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Few people questioned the assumption that those behaviors are actually sins. Many replied along the lines that excess body fat is evidence of sin: “Yes, it falls into the same category of abusing the body God gave you” or “anything that decreases our health or harms us (‘the temple of God’) is sin.” Out of context, they cited 1 Corinthians 6:19, where Paul calls the body the temple of the Holy Spirit, as the basis for healthful living.

But if the body God gave you has genetic disorders, or subsequent accidents, illnesses, or medications that cause weight gain even with hardcore diet and exercise, then are you a sinner? If one has been sexually violated (one in three women and one in six men), or has crazy-making job stress that releases cortisol into their system, are they to blame? Not every overweight or obese person has gotten that way by sloth and gluttony. It's no secret that the diet industry makes billions of dollars every year as people try and fail to lose weight.

There are many passages in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible that say that the sexually immoral (those who have sex outside of marriage) will not be in heaven unless they’ve confessed their sin and turned away from it. On the other hand, there are no passages about the overweight or obese not being able to fit through the pearly gates.

Gluttony was considered bad behavior, but Jesus hung out with gluttons and wine-drinkers! Gluttony is just as much a problem for slim people on whom it does not show, as it is for those who have excess weight. But gluttony is not a cause of most weight problems (ask any bariatric doctor). When I did a whole-Bible search for gluttony as a sin, the only reference I could find was for the people of Sodom: "Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door." Ezekiel 16:49. 

As for alcohol, the Bible is full of instances of alcohol and its good points (gladness, celebration, medicine, ritual, sacrifice), as well as the adverse effects of alcoholic intoxication. There’s no good thing to be gained from smoking tobacco, and it harms not only the smoker, but many others in the immediate environment—but it’s not a biblical issue unless you take it to the extreme of “thou shalt not murder.”

Everyone would agree, I think, that the body should be in the best condition that you have the power to make it—but it’s not a matter of religion! Good health and good looks are desirable, but again—not what God looks for. He looks at the heart or the spirit, rather than outward appearance. He looks for the qualities of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, love, and humility. If you do a search for “body” in an online Bible concordance, most of the passages say or imply that the body is temporary and imperfect housing for the awesome thing that God created in his image: the spirit! God formed the body from soil or clay, and it wasn’t a living being until he breathed into it. The word is pneuma (like pneumonia), which means breath, spirit, wind.

Some people are very smug about their own righteousness in the area of food and self-control. I know a few of them who have made idols of extreme nutrition and exercise. But physical condition is not a yardstick for your spiritual or moral superiority. 

Well, that’s my opinion. Here’s the opinion of a 19th-century writer and church leader:

If they will gratify a gross appetite, and by so doing blunt their sensibilities, and becloud their perceptive faculties so that they can not appreciate the exalted character of God, or delight in the study of His word, they may be assured that God will not accept their unworthy offering any sooner than that of Cain. God requires them to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord. After man has done all in his power to insure health, by the denying of appetite and gross passions, that he may possess a healthy mind, and a sanctified imagination, that he may render to God an offering in righteousness, then he is saved alone by a miracle of God's mercy..." (Testimony Studies on Diets and Foods, a 1926 compilation from books and articles by Ellen G. White)  Emphases by author of this blog.

The above statement is just one of many similar quotations that have hammered church members since the 1850s. The concept there is wrong, particularly the belief that man must be working, working, working, and perfecting his own salvation, and his appetite or asceticism is the key to his acceptance by God. When he is finally sanctified by his own efforts, he slides under the pearly gates in an anorexic puddle. When he’s worked hard enough to attract God’s attention, he finds pity in a last-minute miracle of mercy.

I saw this statement recently: “Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid.” ~John Wayne. Someone replied, “So can we measure how stupid we are by how hard our life is?” I’d add, “Can we measure my spirituality or Christian witness by the tape measure around my butt?” A Christian musician who was a guest in my home left a thank-you note for me to find, which said that my witness for Christ was compromised by my weighty appearance and I ought to try harder to lose weight. She was so skinny that you could count her ribs, front and back. And now, when I hear her name mentioned, I think of the not-so-Christian impression she made on me.

But back to the question of sinning by being overweight. There were a lot of words from the Fat Police on that forum thread, but very little in the way of what God has said about foods or salvation. Here are just a few of the Bible's statements about how God sees food as a spiritual or moral issue:  

"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." Eph. 2:8-10
"But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do." 1 Corinthians 8:8  
"Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense." Romans 14:20
"These people are hypocrites and liars, and their consciences are dead. They will say it is wrong to be married and wrong to eat certain foods. But God created those foods to be eaten with thanks by faithful people who know the truth. Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks. For we know it is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer." 1 Timothy 4:2-5

Every human body is different from every other one. Just like one “cure” is not possible for the countless viruses that cause the common cold, I believe there's no ONE perfect way to cure overweight and obesity for all humanity--not even “diet and exercise.” Psalm 139:13-16 says that God formed us and knew us from conception. I have to conclude that the Creator made some people with the socially-desirable trait of leanness, and some with the genetic, accidental, or medical condition of fatness. Eph. 2:8-10 says that we are God's poema, his work of fine art. Red and yellow, black and white (and fat or lean), we are precious in his sight.

In our society, fatness is a curse in terms of career and romantic discrimination, bullying, the lifelong (unsuccessful) struggle to lose weight, and the damage it causes to the body. People today think that overweight people are ignorant or stupid for being fat--because if they were "smarter" about nutrition and had some personal gumption, they'd exercise and the fat would just melt off. It's so obvious, right?  Fatness was a good thing in the Old Testament. It was seen, along with wealth, as a manifestation of God's blessings for the person's righteous behavior in keeping the Sinai covenant.

Now we are members of the new covenant of the Holy Spirit living in our hearts and speaking to us personally. The verse the Fat Police quote about the body being the temple of the Holy Spirit is NOT talking about food, fitness, or health. It's talking about the pollution and desecration that sexual immorality causes to the housing of the Holy Spirit, and the spirit he put in you by his holy breath. Here’s the body-temple reference, so you can see for yourself:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.  1 Cor. 6:18-20

If your temple has been desecrated and polluted by sexual immorality, it can be sanctified and cleansed, but not by trying with all your might to behave, or by fasting, dieting, obsessing. Only God can forgive and heal, and when he does this as a gift, there is no condemnation for you. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2  

You know what? That “no condemnation” clause covers overweight people, too. No, it's NOT a sin to be overweight. Be the healthiest person it's in your power to be (keep at it), and remember who made you. Be a loving, merciful, tender, compassionate, forgiving person, and you'll be beautiful in others' eyes, and the Lord's eyes,  no matter how much you weigh. 

And you know, go ahead and enjoy a serving of mashed potatoes at the church potluck. You deserve it!

Pay no attention to the vicious hate-speech that says if you're flat-chested or chubbier than a supermodel, you're worthless. That person is a weapon of the Adversary. Listen to what God says about you: he loved you so much that he gave his only-begotten son so you could have eternal life with him.


  1. i love it!
    "When he is finally sanctified by his own efforts, he slides under the pearly gates in an anorexic puddle."
    i laughed out loud at that line!

  2. liked this! so true that wether or not a person is large or small does not deter them from the love of God. if it did, there would be no potlucks and certainly no helpful church ladies bringing food over when someone is indisposed.Food is as much a part of any given church as communion or confession or baptism.yes our bodies are to be for God, but the Body is imperfect and houses what should be perfect, our spirit for God. "to love with all thine heart and soul." Sometimes its easier to pick on the obviousness of others who may have an extra pound or 10 then it is too see our own faults.

  3. Wonderful Blog! You've laid this out beautifully and make a wonderful presentation. Thank you for showing what a true compassionate and loving person should be.....Roxy

  4. There is something as SELF CONTROL, which must be practiced and NOT allow overindulging.
    If one is overweight, due to habitually overindulging on food, IT IS SIN to the body.
    Your body is NOT your own, but God's.

    1 Cor 6:15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Verse 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

    1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
    Romans 13:14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

    The "no condemnation" is no excuse to indulge (be is sex, food, clothes etc) and allow to satisfy the "flesh", while followers of Christ should practice self-denial, and self-control.

    "go ahead and enjoy a serving of mashed potatoes"
    is not what God's word teaches. These Scriptures are not only for sexual immorality, but polluting the body in general.

  5. @"Servant": The article above states several times that overweight people should be the healthiest that it's in their power to be. I didn't suggest eating a pan of brownies, did I? I said to enjoy something that is a normal part of most menus. Food doesn't pollute the body, said Jesus (in Mark 7). It's what comes OUT of a man that makes him unclean.

    Many times, excess weight (10 pounds or 100) is out of the control of the "fat" person. It's not a matter of self-control or starving oneself, or even of denying oneself a serving of healthful food at a church potluck. There are gluttonous skinny people, and hungry-but-trying-to-lose-weight fat people. There are distance joggers who never lose their gut, and slim people who drive to the mailbox because it's too much trouble to walk. A lot of "fat" people eat less quantity and better quality than others who are blessed with a faster metabolism or the money to spend on surgery and spas. So how can anyone look at man's outward appearance and make assumptions about his relationship with God or sinfulness? Human beings just don't get to call the shots for the worthiness or unworthiness of others.

    The problem is that people like you CALL a physical condition "sin," when God does not. Remember when the people asked Jesus, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (See my March 12, 2011 article on the blind beggar in this site -- .) Jesus' answer was that the condition was not caused by sin. The man had his defect so that God's work could be displayed. And then the man went through further trauma when Jesus healed him, because he was beaten and excommunicated for giving his personal testimony when asked.

    People who criticize others, and call a medical or physical condition "sin" are just too righteous for this world! I prefer to associate with those who are uplifting and encouraging, and who, amazingly, NEVER EVEN NOTICE OR CARE who's fat or thin, married or single, conservative or liberal, wealthy or needy, or who belongs to the "I'm right and you're going to hell" crowd. They're people who look at others through Jesus' eyes of love.

  6. I just want to thank you, Christy, for writing this blog entry! I recently encountered a Christian friend who was saying that it was a sin to be overweight and that anything else was lies from the pit of hell. She was actually referring to herself, but I definitely felt as if she were talking about me as well since we both are struggling with being overweight. It sounded very condemning to me. And even though she was so certain in her accusations about the matter, I kept reminding myself that Jesus is not condemning, but convicting. She said the Lord was convicting her of her being overweight, but it definitely sounded condemning to me. Perhaps the enemy can hide behind a mask of "conviction" where really he is condemning, particularly by pretending to use God's word to prove his lies; thus attempting to confuse and discourage overweight believers to think that God is someone who detests overweight the way satan and a majority of the secular world do. But just a reminder to thin people, satan doesn't like you either, he hates everyone and will use whatever he can to get you to hate others, even if it's your own self-righteousness about being fit and having "self-control".

    1. I'm glad that you found encouragement here about your standing with God, because this article is not intended to glorify obesity or an unhealthy state, but to remind people *what the Bible says* about trusting God for his grace and wisdom (everything) and being overweight (nothing).

      We don't know why some of us are lean and others fat, beyond the obvious diet and exercise cliches. There are plenty of scientists studying the brain, genetics, hunger hormones, metabolism, behavior, and psychology, but there are as many answers as there are human beings. And we even look to our pets, to find they eat the same food, the same portions, get the same exercise and sleep--and one is lean and its sibling has a Buddha belly. I don't judge my pets on their appearance, and according to the Bible, God doesn't judge me on mine.

      I first posted this article in 2011, and it has received both positive and negative comments since. I've declined to publish two negative comments because they ignored the points in the article; they were outright vicious and didn't represent a loving, godly viewpoint (that's the part God judges, by the way); and lastly, because this is MY blog, and though I worked diligently to present the article biblically, I'm under no journalistic obligation to present a balance of other peoples' opinions.

      Thank you for your honesty and your reasonable comments.

  7. Thank you for this post. I really like how you analyzed and laid out everything. Although, I am still doubting and greatly discouraged. When I even google "what Jesus thinks of overweight or obese people", you wouldn't believe how much hate talk I get. It is terrible. I am 90 lbs overweight, and I feel like the ugliest person in the world. I have to modify almost every outfit I get to make it fit, and no one respects me. Even though part of my massive weight gain is a medical condition, I still have a hard time trying to eat healthier, because I feel like there is no hope for me to lose the weight anyway. So why try? I am not a glutton. I don't snack all day, nor eat too much at meals. I deliberately try to not stuff myself. I just happen to enjoy fattening foods. I try to eat healthy, but it's the fried foods and things like butter that pull me under. I want to exercise, as I feel better after walking a mile at the track. But I have so much fatigue and muscle weakness, that I can barely get out of bed every day (one of the many symptoms of my condition. I'm not trying to excuse myself. I beat myself up almost every minute of every day, over this, and over anything wrong thought or action I may do. It's a bad existence. And lately, I have been learning about Jesus's physicality, and the strength and muscle He had from His profession as a carpenter. It really increases my respect for Him, as He is one who was big and strong and could protect and defend. He wasn't wimpy. I really like that a lot, but at the same time, I feel more hopeless about my situation. If I could go back in time and see Jesus in person and sit among all the 1st century people, I realized I would be the only obese person there. I'm afraid of what Jesus would think of me in person. I know that God looks at the heart, but I can't imagine Him (as a human) not noticing my obesity and thinking just a little bit less of me because of it. Will you pray for me?

    1. Hi, Rachel,
      Thanks for your honest and painful comments. I'm sure countless millions of people have felt similar emotions. Remember that "before the foundation of the world," you were loved, and God planned your redemption. Does God think less of a person with melanoma because they tanned too much as a teenager? Whether you're underweight or overweight, you are missing a finger or a leg, you are hairy or bald, or what color your skin is, God loved you before you were born, and he loves you now. Go back up to the article and play the video I'm going to insert, The Fingerprints of God, by Steven Curtis Chapman. If you'd rather watch it in a different tab, the URL is
      God bless you, Rachel.

    2. Hi Christy,
      Thank you for replying. You are the first Christian on the web who hasn't ignored me when I have asked questions and voiced my feelings. Thank you for listening and for caring.


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