I’m on a diet.
I know, I know, I’m in the industry and I’m not supposed to use that word. I’m supposed to make “lifestyle changes” and tell people I’m just trying to eat healthier… But, that’s not the truth. The truth is, I’m on a diet. I’m not eating certain foods, right now, for a set period of time until I lose the 7 pounds of baby weight that will, hopefully, allow me to once again wear some of my clothes.
They say, “Diets don’t work.” (Who am I kidding with they? I’ve said, “Diets don’t work!” many times before.) And in a lot of ways that is true. You can’t stay on a diet forever so the diet only lasts as long as your willpower. For some this is a matter of days, weeks, months or…(sometimes in my case) a few hours!
You know how it goes. You wake up one day and say, “Hey, today I’m going to start trying to lose some weight…I think I’ll stop eating (insert favorite food of indulgence here).” Then, by 10am you have been offered that food 3x, seen it in 5 television commercials and had it fall out of your fridge onto your foot while you were trying to put away the milk. You decide it’s obvious that today is not the best day to start your diet and you resolve to try again tomorrow–when you can better plan to live your life in seclusion away from the temptation!
But, about 6 days ago, I did it. I made it through the first morning…the first lunchtime…and eventually the whole first day without cheating. And, thus, decided maybe I could make it this time. Today ends my first week.
So, what’s going to happen next week? Hmmm…I don’t know. I’d like to think I’ll soar through week two. But, will an invitation to an event featuring all my favorite baked treats throw me for a curve? Will my willpower last? I guess I won’t know until it’s tested.
Then I was thinking (forgive me if this is too far a stretch for some of you), but the difference between religion and the Gospel is a little bit like the difference between going “on a diet” and making a “lifestyle change” to healthy eating. Allow me to explain…
Religion says, “Don’t do this!” so that you can be accepted by God. Merit favor with the Almighty through do’s and don’ts. Never get drunk? Never get jealous? Never scream at your kids? – Religion says, “Oooh, God loves that. Points for you!” It’s kind of like a diet. You can stay happy on it until you mess up.
If you’ve ever been on a diet you know what I mean. When you are doing well, not-cheating and dropping some pounds, what happens? Well, you feel good. You feel self-confident. You are proud and maybe look at others with a few extra pounds wondering why they can’t have your willpower?
But, then what happens when you fall? What happens when you give in to the cookie binge? You feel bad. You feel insecure. You feel inadequate. You feel like a failure.
Religion is the same.
So, what about when someone decides to “eat healthier” and doesn’t go the dieting route? Well, here’s why I think that’s more like the Gospel. The healthy eater can have a cookie and not feel guilty, because they aren’t breaking any vow to themselves or any code they swore to adhere too. The person who resolves just to “eat healthier” does not have to yo-yo back and forth between good days and bad days or the inevitable failures and successes that come with diets. The healthy eater decides not to live on ice cream because they know it’s not good for them. The dieter chooses to avoid ice cream because it’s not on their meal plan.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ takes away the yo-yo effect for a true believer, too. The Gospel says that my self-worth is not based on my moral achievements. It is based on understanding that I am so bad Christ had to die for me and yet, he loves me so much he was glad to pay that price. The Gospel says that I don’t have to base my identity on my performance, that even when I struggle I’m still loved. The Gospel says that I obey God’s laws not because I’m trying to earn points in order to find acceptance. Instead, it says that because I am already accepted I gladly obey.
Going on a diet, like religion, requires subscription to a set of rules. Eating healthy or making a lifestyle change, like the Gospel, requires subscription to something greater, something bigger than a calorie count or eat this, not that list. The Gospel says you need to believe, truly believe, that Jesus loves me. He accepts me. He can’t love me more. He can’t love me less. (Learn more about the difference between the Gospel and the diet of Religion on this awesome Tim Keller breakdown from the Resurgence.)
Truth is, it’s been a hard week. Not so much on the food front, I’ve just been swamped with challenges and obstacles and, honestly, fears, every single day. It’s been a challenging few days faith wise, too. My default question is always, “Why God, Why?” Did I do something to cause this struggle? Should I have done something different? Honestly, I’m always looking for the rules and trying to measure my performance.
In some ways, it’s because I’m more comfortable with rules, just like diets. Why? Because then I’m in control. Then, I (delude myself into thinking that I) control my own destiny. If I screw up, I deserved it. I ate the Oreos, I gained a pound. I avoid the Twinkies, I lose one. It’s an economy that I can understand and manipulate. That is, until something happens that is out of my control…
The Gospel is teaching me that I need to surrender that control and fully accept God’s grace and his love. If I could truly understand and fathom how much God loved me and internalize how big God is…why would I want to have the control? Why would I not trust? How could I not believe? Why would I ever question his ways?
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16