There’s a new cult in town and you probably don’t even know about it. Even worse, you might even be a member of it.
Unlike most cults, this one doesn’t really have a charismatic leader with a funny name who preaches about the end of the world.
And while you can pay a small fortune as a devotee to this cult, you don’t necessarily have to.
Knocking on doors early on Saturday mornings and handing out promotional materials isn’t necessary either. In fact, that would be frowned upon. But you do have to talk about this new cult. Well, you don’t really have to. It’s not like you’ll get kicked out if you don’t. It’s just that people who belong to this cult usually do talk about it. A lot. Social media is the primary tool. You have friends on Facebook who are members of this cult. Hardcore members. And, like I said, you may even be a member too.
There isn’t one god at the center of this cult. There are many. But each member worships his own god. That god is your own body.
The required sacrifices have nothing to do with animal killing, feasts or fasts. All that is required is several hours a day appeasing your body in a gym or on a track, trail or road. These are the places where regular worship services are held.
Worship is a big part of this cult. But it doesn’t require music, standing, sitting, standing again and then sitting with heads bowed and eyes closed while someone with a guitar sings. The primary act of worship in this cult is the selfie. That isn’t to say that everyone who takes selfies is a member of The Body Cult. However, if you can’t workout without taking a few pictures or videos of yourself for all of the world to see, you just might be a member.
You might say that I’m being too harsh. After all, it’s just working out. And working out is just taking care of your body. And God only gives you one body. What’s so bad about that?
Working out is good.
Taking care of yourself is smart.
But only when those things are done as acts of worship to the Creator who gives and takes away as he pleases. Working out and taking care of yourself, just like a host of other good things, become dangerous when they become our life’s ultimate things. And for many people, nice abs and a 600 pound deadlift have become ultimate things.
I know. I know. You’re a Christian. You’re no cult member.
But here’s a question.
When was the last time that you missed two solid weeks of working out because you were, “too busy?”
When was the last time that you went two weeks without reading your Bible or going to church for the same reason?
The answer can be telling.
Not because reading your Bible regularly and going to church make you right with God. They don’t. The answer is telling because worship and commitment go hand in hand. They always do. You will always be committed to what you worship. And you are committed to what you love.
The Body Cult promises a nice, healthy body just in time for the all important beach selfie. Again, the nice healthy body isn’t the problem. A nice, healthy body is a good thing. It’s the heart that puts the one true God on the shelf while the false god of the body is appeased that is the real problem.
The promises of The Body Cult come with a higher price than a tweaked shoulder from last night’s bench press or sore knees from last weekend’s ultra marathon. When your body becomes your god, your body becomes your burden. And the body is a burden that is too heavy for even the fittest athlete to carry. You could always be stronger. There will always seem to be a little bit of fat around your obliques that you would love to get rid of. There is always someone at the gym who is stronger or at the beach who looks better. The false god of the body is never appeased.
Jesus came to free us from burdens like this one.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)
Jesus spoke those words to a culture of people who were weighed down by the overbearing rules of religion. But his words apply just as much to a culture of people who are weighed down by the burdens of performance, perfection and appearance.
If you really care about taking care of yourself, don’t neglect the eternal importance of a heart that is right with God for the temporary pleasure of a body that wins the approval of people.
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)
Run in that race this weekend and try your hardest to win it. Work hard to reach your weightlifting goals. But do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). His love for you and approval of you is unlike anything else in the world. He doesn’t love you because you can still fit in to the jeans you wore in high school. He doesn’t approve of you because you’re so athletic for someone your age. His love and approval are based solely on his grace and the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
It’s not too late to renounce your membership in The Body Cult. Come to grips with the fact that you will never win this way. Open your eyes to the fact that the burdens of The Body Cult are more than you can carry.
For once, let someone else do the heavy lifting for you.
And go to sleep tonight with a body that is tired from a lot of lifting but a soul that is well rested from trusting in Jesus for your ultimate satisfaction, identity and approval.