I’m reading a book in which a woman writes about how she tried for years to “repent of her gluttony.” She finally came to the conclusion that it was God’s will that she have this “thorn in the flesh” so she could experience His grace in accepting her even though she had this besetting sin.
How frustrated I felt as I read this. She had seen repentance as “turning from her sin.” In other words, repentance to her meant “just quit it,” “stop doing that,” or “don’t do it.” That is not repentance. According to Vine’s, and many other dictionaries and commentaries, repentance means “to change one’s mind or purpose.”1 Turning from sin always has to do with a change in one’s mind, in one’s beliefs.
“…be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Rom. 12:2b (NIV)
The Apostle Paul clearly recognized that behavior does not change until beliefs change.
“…be made new in the attitudes of your minds…” Eph. 4:23 (NIV)
When addressing people engaging in even the grossest sins, he appealed to their beliefs.
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!” 1 Cor. 6:15 (NIV), emphasis added
When we understand that turning to the “deeds of the flesh,” such as overeating, is actually motivated by our beliefs, we can turn to the only source of truth, Jesus, who is the Truth, and receive from Him and His Word the perspective that enables us to change our minds, which in turn changes our behavior.
For example, when I was willing to ask myself, What do I think my eating and overweight is doing for me that God won’t do for me?, then the Spirit enabled me to see that I did not believe God would empower me to flee sexual temptation. My “fat” was my protection from exposure to situations where temptation might present itself. (In other words, I considered myself too fat to be dating material.) I “repented”; i.e., I changed my mind about whether I should rely on God’s presence and guidance to lead me out of temptation or rely on my being overweight to avoid temptation. I changed my mind about what or who I would rely upon. The eating lessened without directly addressing it. My belief changed, so my behavior changed.
If you think that you should “just quit it” when it comes to your overeating, consider asking God what you are trying to do for yourself that He has always intended to do for you. Then you can repent – change your mind – about investing more trust in Him than in your own ways of taking care of yourself.
1Vine, W.E., Unger, Merrill F., & White, Jr., William, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), p. 525.