“You are what you eat.” Evidently this saying was coined by the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, who was intending to make the point that humans are material beings and no more. We are composed of the equivalent stuff with which we stuff ourselves.

Then there is the “foodie” spin on this phrase, “You are what you eat.” What you eat (and also where and how) proves one’s sophistication and refined tastes. One food critic quips, “The unexamined meal is not worth eating.” The preparation and eating of meals have transformative potential, both psychologically and socially. According to an article in New York Magazine, “Food is now viewed as a legitimate option for a hobby, a topic of endless discussion, a playground for one-upmanship, and a measuring stick of cool. ‘It’s a badge of honor,’ says one young person: ‘Bragging rights’ ” (March 25, 2012).

Christians may enjoy food of all sorts as God’s gift (Gen. 9:3; 1 Tim. 4:4). Such is the commendation of the sage preacher: “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, that it was from the hand of God” (Eccl. 2:24). Yet at the same time, believers are reminded that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).

What is the difference between the godly appreciation of food and “foodie-ism,” or gluttony? As a form of idolatry, gluttony assigns a transformative value to good that it inherently lacks. Do you expect what’s on the table in front of you to change and renew your inner nature? In connection with this, what is consumed can end up being one’s all-consuming focus. Are you serving your tastebuds and seeking to satisfy your stomach at all costs? Peter writes, “Whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19). Augustine observes, “It is possible that a wise man may use the daintiest food without any sin of epicurism or gluttony, while a fool will crave for the vilest food with a most disgusting eagerness of appetite.”

As we read the Gospel accounts, we find rather uncanny resemblances between foodie-ism and Pharisaism. The Pharisees were consistently critical of Jesus and His disciples regarding food and related matters—suspiciously observing what the Lord and His followers ate, how they ate it, and with whom they ate. The shared supposition of foodies and Pharisees is that “filling ourselves with ‘clean’ food will translate into making us ‘clean’ people.” If we take into ourselves what is good and pure, then we will produce what is good and pure. It’s that easy and simple.

Our Lord Jesus addresses this tacit ideology in Mark 7. He states, “There is nothing that by going into a man can defile him, but the things that come out of a man” (Mark 7:15). The reason? “Since [food] enters not his heart but his stomach and is expelled.” There is a play on words in the Greek here: what you eat doesn’t go to your heart (kardia) but into your stomach (koilia). Food (whether “clean” or “unclean”) does not go to the center and seat of your being, but to your digestive system. Most English translations seek to be more “civilized” than what Jesus actually said, which is that what you eat ends up in your stomach and is eventually expelled.

Jesus locates the source of impurity not in what is external to us, but in the fountainhead of our hearts.

Jesus then locates the source of impurity not in what is external to us (including meats and drinks), but in the fountainhead of our hearts: “From within, from the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder. . . . All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21, 23). What defiles and corrupts us is not in certain victuals but in our vital regions! Our Lord then zeroes in on what is truly full of toxins and poison: our fleshly frame and inner nature, conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5).

The Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn insightfully wrote, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

As we minister the gospel in the context of the rise of foodie-ism, where “celebrity chefs are the gurus of this age” and many are devoting an overly obsessive attention to what is eaten, what can we take from the Lord’s teaching in this text?

First, there is now liberty to eat all manner of foods, because included in this instruction is Mark’s inspired observation that Jesus “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19). Christians should beware of assigning spiritual significance to one kind of food over another, and to avoid embracing any silly suggestions that the Bible prescribes a particular diet for individual believers. We need not be too persnickety about what we choose to eat or in how we assess the dietary choices of our fellow brothers and sisters (Rom. 14).

Second, if guilt is not to be found in foods that are consumed, neither is cleansing from guilt to be sought in such either. “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do” (1 Cor. 8:8). All food has an expiration date, and our Lord commands us “not to work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). What is that enduring food but the Word of God? It is through this Word that we experience the true inner catharsis, definitive purification: “Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). The author of Hebrews exhorts the church: “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them” (Heb. 13:9). Here is milk to drink and meat to eat that “does the church body good.”

Third, as the church gathers regularly to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we rejoice in partaking of a meal given to signify and seal our union with our Savior and with one another as brothers and sisters in God’s redeemed family. In other words, here is one antidote against the elitism and one-upmanship of foodie-ism and Pharisaism, for at this table all have the same status as saints in Christ, and there is no distinction (1 Cor. 12:13). In eating this bread and drinking this cup, all communicants together are engaged in gospel proclamation (1 Cor. 11:26), thereby nullifying all bragging rights in ourselves and “pouring contempt on all [our] pride.”

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