The Gospel is our Guide to Guilt-Free Eating

This is a guest post by Abby Hummel

It started less than an hour after she was born. Still exhausted and overjoyed after delivery, when the long-awaited newborn daughter I cradled began rooting for her first meal, I fed her. Three years (and a baby brother) later, feeding these children remains my primary task in life.

Oatmeal in the pantry, almond milk in the fridge. Have they had too much pasta lately? Applesauce and peanut butter sandwiches with our friends. Cheese sticks for the trip home from the zoo. Will they eat those pork chops tonight?

When so much of my brain space is occupied with thoughts of my children’s meals, it’s no surprise that it comes up in conversation with fellow moms. A new friend at a playground exclaimed that watching my toddler son devour a hardboiled egg made her feel guilty about her kids’ chips. Another friend said she peels her kids’ apples because it appeases her conscience about not buying organic produce. I’ll put more effort into bringing healthier snacks when I meet someone new, and I don’t usually mention how frequently we eat processed foods when my husband is out of town. I guess even I feel some guilt about feeding my family sometimes.

We might be missing the boat when we talk about food and guilt, though. It’s not that food has no part in the gospel story, because it’s there, from start to finish. Creation was a perfect garden full of food. The Fall came with the bite of forbidden fruit. Redemption is Christ’s body broken for us on the cross, which we remember in the Lord’s Supper at church. Restoration, or Consummation, holds the promise of an eternal feast with Jesus’ return. The prophet Isaiah paints a picture of the open air mountainside wedding supper offering the most exotic delicacies and exquisite morsels to be enjoyed in freedom for all eternity.

mikael-cho-344275.jpg

So if you can’t shake your longing for guilt-free eating, the gospel reminds us we are in good company. We’re all groaning for the redemption of our bodies at that marvelous feast, but we miss the mark when we assume food choices can provide us a bit of moral superiority on the way.  It’s not that caring about food or farming is bad, or that God doesn’t care about it himself. It’s that dividing food into categories that signal our success as a parent, maybe thinking that a “clean” or “natural” menu is a way to uphold our virtue or that feeding our kids more vegetables than crackers can ease our guilt, can go too far.  

The fruit that makes us guilty before God was actually a fresh, local, pesticide-free, hand-picked, heirloom variety grown in the family owned and operated Garden of Eden. The gospel tells us only Jesus will bring restoration for that sin; we can’t escape our guilt or our physical limits of our own will. It doesn’t stop us from trying, though, and one of the ways we do this sounds a lot like what the apostle Paul warned early Christians about: adding food rules to the gospel.  

Quickly glancing through the New Testament, we can tell food was a hot topic even in the church’s first days. The Hebrew people lived with strict rules about food, explained throughout the Law. The new Christians still debated food rules sharply: Should we abstain from some foods? Is it acceptable to eat food processed in ways that dishonor God? How does eating impact our relationship with God? Through Jesus’ work, Paul tells us, we have new freedom in food. It’s a false teaching to condemn foods God wants us to be thankful for -- food fuels our bodies, which he says is of some value, but it will not sustain us into eternity (1 Timothy 4:1-8).

It’s unlikely that any of us today are actually judging our final standing before God by the way we eat. But still, sin is creepy, always crouching at our door, and with something we’re thinking about as much as feeding our kids, it’s a comfort to know God’s word provides all we need for godly living, including guilt-free eating. So when we’re thinking about food and feeding our families, let’s start with reading our Bibles before responding to messages from people around us, whether in person or online.

God hasn’t given us an unwavering thumbs-down (or -up) on any food production practices, and we don’t have a Biblically-sanctioned food pyramid or macro-nutrient tracking system, but scripture equips us to think with discernment. Genesis 3 says that nature and farming are broken, and that mankind is to steward and cultivate the earth even though these efforts will never restore things perfectly. 1 Timothy 4:3-5 says that all foods are made holy when we receive them with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:16-23 says not to let ourselves come under judgement about what we eat. We can shop and cook and eat with the freedom of following Jesus, not enslaved with shame by what we see in grocery store labels or hear about on social media.

When we discuss food choices with friends or model them for our kids, let’s do it with humble thankfulness.

Let’s teach our kids that eating makes us strong to serve God.

Let’s celebrate the fellowship and provision that comes from a meal more than the ingredients that went into it.

Let’s confess when our meals become a source of pride or control, a way we measure our success.  

Let’s set aside shame or fearing what others will think about our food.

Let’s graciously share our lives and tables with people who make radically different choices.

Let’s direct more attention to our kids’ eternal destination than their foods’ origin.

And let’s remember how Jesus said that men, women, and children do not live by bread alone - whether WonderBread from the convenience store or stone-ground loaves kneaded in your kitchen - but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). The Christian life is not about what we’re putting in our mouths, but what has come out of God’s. Our food choices are of some value, but not eternal value; God’s word stands firm forever. Scripture tells us plainly that we are fallen and “food does not commend us to God” (1 Corinthians 8:8). Praise God that Jesus’ finished work does!


Hummel-34.jpg

Abby Hummel writes about theology and culture during her kids’ naptimes from her home in Missouri. She also serves her church family at Crossroads Presbyterian Fellowship in St. Louis through music and women’s ministry, runs with her chocolate Lab, and reads as much theology as she can fit in between everything else. You can find other work from her at Christ and Pop Culture and Morning By Morning, and on her blog abbyhummel.com.