The Spiritual Side of Food (Not in a Creepy, Mystic Way)

Rachel Chimits

As people move farther and farther away from the sources of their food, we’ve started questioning more and more what we should eat.

The news practically swirls with updates about the newest religious diet, debates about whether it’s more spiritual to be vegetarian or vegan and what it means to have ethically sourced food.

A few Christians cite Mark 7:18-23, where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees with a lesson about inner purity, to dismiss the modern Christian’s need to worry about what we can and cannot eat. However, even the New Testament pays a fair amount of attention to how and why food is used.

So what should a good believer think about what we eat?

Why Still Read the Old Testament Restrictions?

Between dietary limitations or important moments happening over meals, the Bible discusses food a lot. It’s a major thread of discussion all the way from Genesis where the world’s first forbidden item was a piece of fruit all the way to the wedding feast of the Lamb in Revelations 19.

The New Testament writers like Paul, however, make it clear that Israel’s food constraints no longer bind new believers.

“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” (1 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT).

One of the biggest questions left, then, is why do we still have all of the Old Testament instructions about animal products and produce in our Bible? If it no longer applies, shouldn’t it be left out?

Torah law, especially food laws, gave Israelites ethnic, religious, and political distinction from the rest of the world.

When Jesus and the Apostles began inviting outsiders to become insiders and the law was written on people’s hearts with the Holy Spirit, God made other ways for his children to be set apart from the world.

The laws in the Old Testament remain, though, as a strong reminder that God made us to stand out. The way we behave and the choices we make should be different from secular individuals. As Gary Wilkerson discusses in his podcast, we are called to have a holistic—whole-life—view of Christ’s impact in the world, and this includes how we approach food, even if we don’t follow kosher rules.  

Does Food Affect Us Spiritually?

While Christ followers in ancient times often worried about the spiritual effects of their meals, today’s believers have probably swung too far the opposite way and view food as a purely physiological necessity.

"Food is not a product," writes gardener and author Fred Bahnson in Making Peace with the Land. "It is not 'fuel for the machine.' It is not a commodity or a reflection of our technological ingenuity. It is before everything else an unearned gift from God, manna from heaven, a blessing."

The new movement in Western culture is calling for people view food as a vehicle for social rectitude or self-care, so should believers do the same?

How do we distinguish between secular social pressure and honest conviction?

In his piece on the “food movement,” Brandon J. O’Brien notes, “the current food issues do relate to several important biblical themes that most Christians consider central to the Christian life, and about which the Bible has quite a lot to say: stewardship, care of creation, and justice.”

Stewardship includes the care of our bodies, one of God’s gifts to us that we presumably will be called to account for along with our talents and life opportunities.

“If we don’t have good food,” Gary Wilkerson points out in his 86 Seconds devotionals, “we don’t fuel the body to be fit to do things we’re called to in faith. All of these things are interconnected.”

The food we consume can have enormous impact on our bodies’ health which, in turn, can deeply affect our mental and emotional health.

The Dark Side of Food

Like every good thing that God made in this world, food and the consumption of food has also been affected by sin.

“When stress and life overwhelm you, you will either choose to respond to it in a healthy way (self-care) or an unhealthy way (self-medication),” Carey Nieuwhof, an inspirational speaker for Christian leaders, explains. “Being overweight or even obese is almost normal in some Christian circles. Food is the drug of choice for many Christian leaders.”

Now, this is not an invitation for believers to start judging one another’s personal holiness by the number of inches around each other’s waists.

It’s entirely possible to struggle with weight issues for medical reasons that have nothing to do with overeating. Simultaneously, it’s all too easy to remain a “normal” weight while hiding an eating disorder, secretly wrestling with alcoholism or simply having an idol of comfort food.

Worse yet, unlike with any kind of drug addiction, we require food to live.

It is quite literally everywhere, and we may be invited to partake multiple times a day by good, godly people.

Is it any surprise that one of the most nefarious effects of sin and areas of spiritual attack is with what we eat? The daily, sometimes hourly, battle for someone with a food addiction is relentless and terrible.

Living in Our Food Freedom

Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross frees believers from being helplessly bound to sins, even—especially—those surrounding food.

Concerning our food freedom in God, though, Paul wrote in Romans 14:14-15, “I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it.

“Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died.”

Our freedom in Christ allows us to better love others with flexibility over what, how and when we eat.

So the next time someone comments about their dietary limitations or a food struggle, take that as an opportunity to encourage them or plan a healthy dinner hang-out together.