Several years ago, I sat with my sister at my father’s bed-side. After having experienced a wonderfully productive 96 years of life as an ordained minister and physician, he had suffered a serious stroke a few days before. The doctors did not expect him to live for but a few days more. A longtime family friend kindly called and shared some very encourag-ing scriptures and thoughts. Just as the conversation was ending, however, the individual suggested that the stroke had occurred because my father had very moderately included in his diet certain items this person did not agree with!
The incident reflects a serious flaw in the thinking and attitude some have toward others who make choices they might consider unwise. Many entertain the belief that if we could live a near perfect lifestyle, we would never die. Yet, the results of the Adventist Health Study clearly demonstrate that even the best lifestyles still result in death from the usual causes (heart disease, stroke, and cancer)—it just occurs on average 10 years later (a huge blessing for which we all can be very grateful).1
Scientific evidence points to the fact that the choices we make in our lifestyle make a big difference in both the quality and quantity of our years—but they do not guarantee life forever on this earth.
Here are three qualities that should characterize all Christians who desire to exemplify balanced, healthful living:
1. Recognize that healing comes only through Christ. Health, like salvation, isa gift from our loving Creator. Too often we assume that we can make healthy choices on our own. Our healthful living must be centered in the grace of Jesus Christ: He gives the desire, He empow-ers our choices, He makes us loving health reformers, and He grants us the specific longevity that He sees we need. Any other approach makes us legalists!
The psalmist had the right perspec-tive when he wrote: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases” (Ps. 103:2, 3, NKJV). People in the apostle Peter’s day also forgot this. They believed even his shadow could bring healing. Although God used His apostle as a channel of healing, Christ was still the real Healer.
Sometimes we become confused on this point, forgetting that the most important health habits in the world are incapable of saving us. We cannot earn our way to heaven even by making all the best health choices. Instead, we must always rely on His mercy and grace for salvation and the power to make those healthful choices.
2. Practice and teach only evidence-based principles. Pseudoscience causesus to lose our grip on the anchor of evidence, often resulting in a dangerous drift toward anti-science and conspiracy theories. It puts far more than our own choices on the line. The US Department of Health and Human Services states that “evidence-based public health draws on principles of good practice, integrating sound professional judgments with a body of appropriate, systematic research.”2
Evidence-based principles work in the home, the church, and in the public square. Oakwood University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution, became the first entity in the US state of Alabama to join Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), a progressive movement to eradicate childhood obesity. Nancy Roman, President and CEO of PHA stated, “Oakwood University has demonstrated leadership in creating a culture shift toward wellness through the successful implementation of PHA’s evidence-based health and wellness guidelines.”3
While we should encourage a vegetarian diet wherever possible, we should understand that food avail-ability, knowledge, and economics all influence the choices many can make. “The diet God ordained in the Garden of Eden—the vegetarian diet—is the ideal, but sometimes we cannot have the ideal. In those circumstances, in any given situation or locale, those who wish to stay in optimum health will eat the best food that they can obtain.”4
3. Love the people more than the principles. When Christ is central in our lives, He gives us empathy and understanding for those walking along the same pathway. Possessing, with His help, a nonjudgmental attitude, we will recognize that we also need to grow each day through His strength. When we have internalized this, it should prevent us from being critical of others who choose to live differently than we do.
Recently, a member of a church I have worshiped in a number of times related a tragic story. Having invited her neighbor to come to church on many occasions, she had been praying earnestly that the woman would attend. One day, across the back fence, her neighbor said she planned to visit the next week. Overjoyed, the church member invited her to the fellowship meal following worship and assured her that she did not need to bring any food. The following week, the neighbor was at church. However, knowing her neighbor was a vegetarian, she brought a dish she had prepared without meat, left it on the counter in the church kitchen, and then went to the sanctuary and sat with her friend.
Following the service, they both went to the fellowship hall. While going through the line, the neighbor noticed her dish had not been set out. Quietly going to the kitchen, she inquired whether she had left it in the wrong place. Gesturing toward the garbage can, the woman in the kitchen replied, “It was in the right place, but I threw it out because it had cheese in it.” In tears, the neighbor went home, never telling her friend and perhaps never intending to visit that church again.
The love of Christ should compel us to do all we can to help others in a loving, understanding, and compassionate way to make better choices. “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14, NKJV).
When we gratefully accept the gift of health that God has given us, focus our lifestyle choices on what is whole-some, and cheerfully yield our desires and appetites to Christ, we can rejoice in the blessings of a balanced, joy-filled life that will reflect a lovable and loving relationship with all. "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the great-est of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13, NIV).
1. Gary E. Fraser, Diet, Life Expectancy, and Chronic Disease: Studies of Seventh-day Adventists and Other Vegetarians (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).
2. “Evidence-Based Clinical and Public Health: Generating and Applying the Evidence,” HealthyPeople.gov, accessed Octber 24, 2018, https://www.healthypeople.gov/sites/default/files /EvidenceBasedClinicalPH2010.pdf
3. “Oakwood University Receives the Crystal Apple Award for Campus Wellness Initiatives,” inside Oakwood, May 12, 2018, https://www2.oakwood.edu/apple-crystal-award-wellness-initiative/.
4. General Conference Ministerial Department, Seventh-day Adventists Believe: An Exposition of the Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 3rd ed. (Silver Spring, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2018), 323.