I have listed 12 questions you can ask yourself in order to determine whether your eating is sinful or not. To help you remember these points, I’ve developed the acrostic “D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E-D Eating.” You’ll want to memorize this acrostic so that you can get in the habit of thinking about it regularly.
As you consider the following, some of the answers will be obvious. Others will take some time and careful thought. Stop now and prayerfully ask God to help you as you think about how to make your eating habits more pleasing to Him.
1. Doubt: Do I doubt (for whatever reason) that I can eat this food without sinning? Once again, it may not be sinful for you to eat a brownie per se, but if you believe that it is sin for you to do so, you must not do it. Now, you can seek to grow in your understanding of Scripture and strengthen your conscience, but until you can sincerely say, “This isn’t sinful for me any longer,” you had better abstain. The apostle Paul affirms this in Romans 14:23, where he said, “He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.”
2. Idolatry: Does eating this particular food demonstrate a heart either of independence—“I can do whatever I want”—or a heart longing for pleasure—“I know that I don’t need this for my sustenance, but I love the feeling of the sweet coldness”? It is important to ask yourself whether you are eating because you’re hungry and you need nourishment or if you are eating for reasons that, ultimately, are idolatrous. Let me remind you that an idol is anything (inherently good or evil) that draws your affections away from God. You can judge whether you’re worshiping an idol if you are willing to sin (in any way) to serve it. You can also judge whether you are worshiping an idol by observing the streams that flow from your life when you are pursuing your desire. For instance, if you are damaging your health or acting in ungodly ways (such as spending too much money, being irritable or unkind, seeking your own will), then you are probably serving another god. Remember that the first and foremost command of all is, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
3. Stumble: If I eat this, will it cause a weaker Christian to stumble? For instance, if I know that my friend will go on a binge or compromise her beliefs if I give her a piece of candy, or even eat one in front of her, then I should not do so. It’s not that you should have an oversensitive conscience, saying that a piece of candy is sinful for you. No, the sin would come from the fact that you don’t love your sister enough to forgo what, for you, is legitimate so that she won’t sin. “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (Romans 14:21).
4. Coveting: Am I eating this just because I saw someone else with it and I’m coveting it? This is one place where TV commercials—especially those for fast food—cause many people to sin. These commercials are written expressly to cause you to covet what you see someone eating. Don’t forget—your eyes are a powerful channel for temptation. Observe the way that Eve was tempted in the Garden of Eden: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6, emphasis added). She saw the fruit; she thought it looked good; she ate it. Satan is still operating in the same way today. The media is a convenient tool for stirring up discontent with our own circumstances. Discontent springs out of a heart that is coveting what someone else has. Scripture, however, says, “You shall not covet … anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).
5. Inroad: If I eat this, will it create an inroad for sin? For instance, I know that whenever I eat chocolate it opens a door for me to desire more and more and I end up eating a lot of candy over a number of days—much more than I should for good health. Chocolate also contains caffeine, which I’ve eliminated from my diet. So, because of my weakness in this area, and for the sake of better health, it is best if I abstain from chocolate altogether. Since there is no command to eat chocolate, and I don’t have to have it to maintain health or to demonstrate thankfulness for God’s provision, I can abstain in good conscience.
Here are some additional scenarios: Is there any particular restaurant that you frequent where you spend more money than is prudent, eat too much food, or where you are usually very demanding with the staff? If you make that bowl of popcorn, will you then sit down in front of the television and waste time? If you eat one chip, will it create a desire in you to overindulge in chips or other salty, oily foods? Even if it isn’t sinful for you to eat a particular food, or even if that food is not prohibited by your diet, you shouldn’t eat it if it is a door to other sins. Rather, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).
6. Praise: Can I eat this food with thanks and gratitude? Is my heart overflowing with songs of praise to Him? Can I eat this with a truly thankful heart, or will I be eating in the face of God, with an attitude that says, “I’m going to eat this even though I know that it’s wrong! I don’t care about You and Your commands! You aren’t giving me what I want, so I’ll just eat this (or starve myself).” If you are unable to sincerely thank God for what you are about to eat, then you shouldn’t eat it.
On the other hand, we must not exercise such scruples that we turn our noses up at what God has called “good”—the food that He has created. God’s creation is to be used and enjoyed by His children, and when we receive it with thankful prayer and with minds that are informed by Scripture, He blesses it to us and nourishes us by it. Consider how the psalmist describes the Lord’s delight in giving you food to eat: “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14-15). This is a particularly important point for those who look at food as being bad or evil. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude” (1 Timothy 4:4).
7. Life: Would eating this food harm my health in any way? For instance, eating prime rib when I have high cholesterol; eating too much sugar if I have blood sugar problems (i.e., hypoglycemia or diabetes); eating high-calorie food or too much low-calorie food even though I am obese; and starving myself, abusing laxatives, or over-exercising are all practices that will lessen my strength to do God’s work and will decrease the quality of my life.
God holds your life’s span in His hand, but you must not be presumptuous with Him and say, “Oh well, God will take care of me.” It is true that God cares for His children, but He also gives you intelligence that you must use as well. Each person must eat what, for him or her, is a healthy diet. For some, this might mean frequenting the health food store and taking herbs and eating all-natural food. For others, this might mean being more careful about avoiding foods high in fat or calories, or adhering to eating nutritionally balanced diets. The decision is yours, and you just want to make sure that you’re not compromising your personal belief system or conscience. Remember, God has given you a grave responsibility to care for your body; for you to do otherwise is sinful. “Thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20:13 KJV).
8. Illustrate: Am I modeling good eating habits for others and encouraging them to be self-disciplined, or do I encourage others to self-indulge? Am I illustrating what it means to be a temperate, joyful, free believer? What kinds of behaviors am I teaching my fellow family members? Do I tell them to serve God with all their heart and then show them that I serve food instead? People are watching, and although it’s wrong to impress others so that they will think you’re great, it’s not wrong to be careful about maintaining a godly lifestyle for the sake of our witness to others; “…show yourself an illustration of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:12).
9. No: Am I able to say no to this even if I know that I can eat it without sin? From time to time it’s beneficial just to say no to your desires even if you are physically hungry for some particular food. This is one place where proper fasting comes in. I must keep reminding myself that satisfying every whim of my body is self-serving, even if I do have Christian liberty. I relish my liberty in Christ, but I must keep my bodily desires in submission to my heart’s desire to please God. “I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
10. Emotions: Does the desire to eat this flow out of a heart of anger, fear, frustration, or depression? Anger says, “I’ll show you … I’ll eat this candy bar and you’ll be sorry!” Fear says, “I may never have the opportunity to eat this again!” or “I might not be strong enough to do everything I have to do.” Frustration says, “I worked hard today and I deserve this!” And depression says, “I’m so bummed out, I’m just going to eat this—who cares anyway?” If you give in to the desire to eat because you are sinfully angry, fearful, worried, frustrated, or depressed, that sin will end up taking mastery of you. “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).
11. Distract: Will preparing or eating this food distract me from something better that God has for me to do? For instance, would I do better by ministering to the Lord or my guests rather than spending excessive amounts of time cooking some elaborate meal and being frustrated that others aren’t as impressed about my cooking as I am? (Does it really matter if the gravy is lumpy? Will anyone remember that you spent hours cooking, or will they remember that you loved them and spent time ministering to them in conversation, prayer, and fellowship?) Will I sin by going out to lunch and being more concerned that the waiter gets my order right and then so relishing the eating of the food that I ignore the fact that there is someone across the table to whom I could minister?
I’m sure you know about Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha had a problem with distraction. She was busy preparing a meal for Jesus, who was their guest, and she was frustrated that Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet rather than helping her. She complained to the Lord and He put the whole thing in perspective: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so may things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
12. Enslaved: Does it bring me under any kind of bondage? For instance, caffeine has a powerfully enslaving effect and you may need to question whether it is right for you to bring yourself under its bondage. What would happen to your Christian witness if you didn’t get your shot in the morning? Would you continue to be filled with thanksgiving and praise? There are other things that can enslave us, such as donuts every morning or popcorn every night. In fact, almost anything can enslave us. If we find that we just have to have such-and-such every day, that would be a good time to practice abstinence until you know that you have mastered this desire. If you practice habits of bulimia, you must ask yourself whether this food is something that has habitually led to a binge. If you battle anorexia, you will need to ask whether eating this will entice you to starve yourself or over-exercise tomorrow. You may have the Christian liberty to eat this food, but is it profitable? Will you be mastered by it? “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
You may be thinking there’s no way that you’ll be able to remember all these words. But if you ask for God’s help and start right now, you can do it. Start now by writing out the letters D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E-D Eating and see how many you can guess correctly.
With consistent effort, in little time I’m sure you’ll be able to remember the words. Once you remember the words, you could also memorize the Scripture verses that accompany each one. Then, when you are tempted to eat sinfully, you can fight the temptation with Scripture, just as Jesus did.
Taken from Love to Eat, Hate to Eat ©1999 by Elyse Fitzpatrick, pages 120-127. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.