On Nutrition and Faith
Romans 2:4 God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.
At a recent discussion at our gym on nutrition, the dialogue turned to the question of whether poor nutrition was a knowledge problem or a behavioral problem. Some said it was a knowledge issue. We do not eat well because we do not know what we should be eating. If we learn and educate, we will do better. My response was, I know I what I am not supposed to eat. I just eat it anyway. I plan to eat right but then I get hungry and everything falls apart.
I know this pattern well, as it is a defective life-pattern of mine. I usually know what right is, I just want wrong more. Mine is not a knowledge problem, it is a behavioral problem. I have difficulty translating my intellectual belief into action.
This is the issue that Paul seemed to be addressing in today’s verse. Paul taught that we are saved by faith, not by works (Eph. 2:8). God’s grace is a free gift that we cannot earn by our good behavior. This teaching must have tempted early Christians to a shallow intellectual knowledge of God that never led to repentance.
If I can come to know God by simply accepting a thought in my mind, then I really do not have to change anything. I can have all the benefits of knowing God and continue to follow self, right? If God’s kindness means He forgives everything I do, then I can do whatever I want.
This is a brain-deep faith, consisting only of an intellectual knowledge of a thing. It is not life-deep. This, as it turns out, is not actually faith. It is a mirage. To this mirage, Paul says, God’s kindness is meant to lead you to very real change. It is not the change that saves you but if faith is real, it will necessarily lead to change. If your life never changes after you come to faith, then that faith is not real. James, brother of Jesus, said the same, Faith, without works, is dead (James 2:17).
The temptation then, is to measure ourselves (or others) by quantifying our change or deeds. In my addiction and worst behavior, those around me looked at my life and justifiably asked how I could be a Christian. Though the question was valid, this kind of thinking leads to legalism, the idea that my behavior must meet certain standards to qualify for salvation. In legalism, I am saved by my behavior, not by my faith. This is the opposite of what Paul taught.
So, which is it? Is knowledge of a thing (belief) or changed behavior more important? In my gym, is nutrition a knowledge problem or a behavioral problem? Yes. It is of course both. Knowing what I should eat is a necessary step in proper nutrition, but that knowledge alone does not make me healthy. My knowledge must translate into changed behavior.
Likewise, faith must always start with the first step of right knowledge of God. We cannot come to know God if we do not know the truth about him. Step two though, is necessary to complete faith. Repentance and authentic change must stem from our knowledge, or that knowledge is not faith.