Are You a Fitness Gnostic?
The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Strong For Your Tasks.
One of the major heresies arising in the early church was Gnosticism. Gnosticism, from the Greek, gnōsis, meaning “having knowledge” or “to know”, put special emphasis on the mind and obtaining special knowledge. Gnostics believed that they could obtain salvation through having mystical revelations that were made known to them rather than to common people. Gnostics were not simply high-level Bible scholars, but viewed their revelations as extra-biblical. As a result of them elevating knowledge and the mind, they viewed the physical body as evil and believed it was holding the mind captive. This line of thinking led some to asceticism, abstaining from any physical pleasure, or to antinomianism, the idea that because the body is less valuable than the mind you can do anything you want to it (including gluttony, promiscuity, and abuse) without consequence.
It’s interesting how, even after thousands of years, we can still find ourselves as functional gnostics. On one hand, we can believe that in order to be healthy we must deny ourselves all physical pleasure. We set ourselves up with diets that vilify certain foods while simultaneously performing workouts designed to punish our body. Maybe you’re part of, or wanting to be in, the “fit” crowd and meticulously weigh, count, and obsess over everything that goes into your body. While there are certain foods we may choose to abstain from, we shouldn’t reject foods out of a self-inflicted form of punishment, man-made morality, or an attitude of superiority.
How many times have you heard a family member, co-worker, or yourself complaining about your new diet? “I would love to have a donut but can’t;” “All I can think about is how tasty carbs would be;” or “I can barely walk after leg day.”? People borderline abuse their bodies through workouts their bodies are ill prepared for in order to reach their goals quicker than ever. They restrict their diet so much that it starts to consume their thoughts.
One of the biggest reasons we can fall into antinomianism is because our experience with the aestheticism side has been so brutal. As a physical education teacher, I have lots of people telling me it must be easy because I can just make the kids do push-ups if they aren’t listening. However, I would never make kids do push-ups as a form of punishment. Exercise is not a punishment. I try to instill in all of my students that idea. I tell them if their body is able to do exercise that they shouldn’t waste it. Countless people have associated exercise with punishment. They believe that their lack of discipline has made them a bad person that must be punished by doing exercises that they don’t like and eating foods that they don’t enjoy. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
We can also find ourselves in functional antinomianism when we have found comfort in food and inactive pastimes, and have allowed the physical effects of such choices to add up. The sins of gluttony and laziness (which we often keep as pet-sins) may have taken up residence in our hearts. Then, we may decide that changing our relationship with food and exercise is too hard, if not impossible, and accept that this is the way things are going to be.
Maybe the health of your body is near the very bottom of your priorities. You may not feel that you are indulging in the sins of gluttony and laziness, but apathy towards your health has become your way of life and the effects of this thinking are starting to have negative consequences.
You might be doing good things that are still causing you to neglect stewarding your body. There are countless pastors who are faithfully studying the word of God and teaching it to their congregations who have allowed years of potlucks, coffees, and Bible study snacks to equal lots of extra pounds that have led to poor health. Sometimes good, godly pursuits will result in poor stewardship. We can often think that the choice is either/or, instead of realizing that our spiritual and physical health are not mutually exclusive. You can and should continue to pursue your other God-honoring priorities, while also looking to steward your body better.
Our bodies are not bad. Remember, when God gave people a body, not only did He call it good, He called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Jesus had a human body while He was on earth and He also maintained a human body when He was resurrected and ascended to Heaven. We also know that there will be a day when our bodies are resurrected and we will spend eternity in our resurrected body.
The final way we can function as gnostics is in our constant pursuit of special knowledge. How many people jump from workout to workout, diet to diet, or supplement to supplement thinking they have finally found the secret to a better body. To follow a simple, moderate plan is fine for an average person, but they need something more advanced, complicated and confusing. Sound familiar? It hurts my heart every time I hear someone spouting off misinformation about their new extreme diet, intense workout or detox tea, treating it as if it is somehow better than practicing moderation.
Stewardship stands in the gap between aestheticism and antinomianism by saying, “your body is a good gift from God, therefore take care of it!” while at the same time saying, “God has given us the good gift of delicious food.
Stewardship stands in the gap between aestheticism and antinomianism by saying, “your body is a good gift from God, therefore take care of it!” while at the same time saying, “God has given us the good gift of delicious food. Enjoy it in a way that brings glory to Him.” Stewardship is about enjoying food and exercise in such a way that we are not turning to it for satisfaction; rather we are enjoying it because we have found satisfaction in the One who truly satisfies. Stewardship is a balancing act of caring without idolizing and enjoyment without hedonism.