Image Management and the Gospel

Over-eating is an embarrassing sin.  There may be a few others that rival the obvious and detectable nature of its presence in a person’s life, but I don’t think so.  Those extra calories are there for all the world to see, filling up waist bands, bulging behind buttons, and squishing out over a starched collar.  I hate it.

But — do I hate this “galling, disquieting, and perplexing” sin because I see that food has become an idol, a replacement for God?  Do I hate that my first response to any negative emotion is the comfort of food rather than the sufficiency of the Comforter?  Am I at all concerned with more “burdensome” sins of slothfulness, lack of self-discipline and immature conflict management that might contribute to the more obvious sin of over-eating?   Chapter 8 of John Owen’s Mortification of Sin forces me to ask probing questions about whether I hate “sin as sin,” meaning anything that “grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God,” or if I am chiefly interested in image management, expressed in the all-important question, “Does this make me look bad . . . or weak . . . or fat?”

Granted, being overweight has become one of the “safe sins” in the Christian world.  Elisabeth Elliot used to quip, “No one has the right to talk about weight.  If you don’t struggle with it, you don’t know what you’re talking about; if you do struggle with it, you haven’t got any room to talk.”  (I guess that puts her in the former category and me in the latter.)  At any rate, I can’t help but think of Screwtape’s instruction to his tempter-in-training, recommending the gentle slope into sin.  While God would desire to use dismay and alarm over sin “to awaken thee to the consideration of thy ways, that thou mayst make a thorough work and change in thy course of walking with him,”  Screwtape would prefer that we choose to live with it, peaceably co-existing with root causes, while fruitlessly battling symptoms with every weight-loss fad on the market.

Owen’s premise is that “a sense of the love of Christ in the cross” is our only hope in arriving at true mortification of any sin — in contrast to mere image management which is only concerned with the sin’s effect on my own peace of mind, reputation, or comfort-level within my own skin.  He reiterates the primary principle in compelling language:

“Without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification of any one perplexing lust to be obtained.

“It is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.

“He then that would really, thoroughly, and acceptably mortify any disquieting lust, let him take care to be equally diligent in all points of obedience.”

While it is true that we need only to look within our own hearts to observe the life cycle of a besetting sin, Owen graciously draws a road map, tracing the “eruption” of sin from the heart to the mind, and into sinful behavior, but the Holy Spirit will not cease to persevere in His relentless pursuit of our wayward hearts:

“Here is one, if he could be rid of the lust, I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this or he is lost.”

Here’s a question to wrestle with:

If you could over-eat [or fill in the blank here with your own idol of choice], and never have to experience negative consequences here on Earth in this body, would you still seek to mortify that sin?  I intend to think carefully about this one, because the answer reveals whether I am more concerned with “the trouble of sin” or with “the filth and guilt of it.”

Resurrecting this post today for the #livefree Thursday community!

6 thoughts on “Image Management and the Gospel”

  1. I love the way you take these lessons and bring them down to practical life lessons, as in ‘look in the mirror, what do you see’. I find I’m able to juggle all this talk of ‘holiness’ on an intellectual level which does not address my day to day life. This is a great reminder to keep it real! Thank-you.


  2. Thank you for your affirmation, because I truly winced as I pushed the “publish” button this morning. Not sorry I thought about the topic in that way, but definitely wondering if there was a degree of “over-sharing” to it. Like you, I have a tendency to love all kinds of holiness talk, but my life is so “rubber meets the road” that I can’t stay in the abstract for very long.


  3. It is interesting and amazing how God uses the same material to impress different lessons in our hearts. This chapter made me reflect specifically about worldliness and addictions (I hope to share it within the day.)

    Your post also ministered to me. It reminded me how subtle and cunning sin really is – whereas you may be motivated to fight against the sin of overeating because of its obvious signs, I may totally ignore it because I don’t have the problem of being overweight. And yet, I can easily fall into the same sin (and the associated sins of slothfulness and lack of self-control) and not bother to fight against it, precisely because others can’t tell that I am struggling with it. May God help us to see and grieve over our sins the way He sees and grieves over it.


  4. You mentioned the book by John Owen, The Mortification of Sin; where did you get a copy? I’ve heard this is an old time classic hard to find but would love to read it.


    1. I have it on my Kindle, so I must have gotten it from Amazon. And I’m sure that I didn’t pay much for it. When I read the book, I was reading it in community with a group that was being led by Tim Challies. Here’s a link to one of the posts, and I think at some point he even gives a number of options for acquiring the book:
      I find myself coming back to John Owen time and time again, so it was a profitable read for me. Thanks for your input!


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