The Centrality of the Gospel in the Battles of Eating Disorders

The gospel must be central in every battle of the Christian life. It must be central because it is our only hope. We can hope in many things. But there is a hope that leads to death and there is a hope that leads to life. Who or what we hope in is the difference between life and death. And in my battle against a ravenous eating disorder, I turned inward for my hope. In fear and shame, I left the joy of the gospel, and looked to my obedience, to my ability to “just stop it”, to save me. But, the problem was, I couldn’t obey. In fact, none of us can.

If sin is failing to do what God commands, and the consequences of sin is death, then our only hope is the gospel. Our only hope is in the one who was holy and without sin, Jesus. Our hope lies nowhere else. The hope of the gospel is not that we first get a grip on ourselves and our specific battle, but rather, that in the midst of the battle, we are gripped by the gospel.

But this is what I missed.

Up to my Senior year at Wheaton College, I had only known of two Christians with eating disorders. One had a miraculous overnight recovery (praise be to Jesus!!!), and the other had been a ballerina all throughout life, and when she shared a very small piece of her story with me, I didn’t really know enough about eating disorders at the time to ask her more questions to understand her more (how sorry I am, sweet friend!). Little did I know that only months later I would be familiarizing myself with all the ins and outs of purging, with no idea of what horrors awaited in silence for me. And once I was deep within its grasp, I was ill-equipped to see what the gospel had to do with it. I had to get out of it if I hoped to ever open the Bible again. I was slowly turning from the gospel of grace to the works of the law, and I did not even notice.

What I did not have a category for was for a bulimic Christian. I did not have a category for someone who claimed they were a believer and yet continued with the same ongoing struggle. So, in fear, I ran away from the grace of the gospel, to fix myself, in order to come back when I was certain I was on a progressive road to recovery. So I ran from grace. I was chasing down the eating disorder, in order to kill it with the law. And there is nothing sweeter to the ears of Satan than this. It is a chase that never ends, the dog chasing his ever-beguiling tail. An eating disorder longs to feast on your faith. Through its empty eyes, it laughed at me, quaking there in my armor of God. Was my armor even real? The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit…were they real? And slowly I found myself looking more and more to my eating disorder to answer this question for me. If I conquered it, then I was real. My armor was real. I was an authentic believer. But if my eating disorder continued to live with me, then I was a fake, and so was my armor.

Thus, I unknowingly began to abandon the very means of grace that my God has provided to keep me in the battle. I thought that to prove that I was worthy to take up the armor of God, that I must first deliver myself. What a scheme of the devil. What a flaming dart. Today, if we find ourselves facing an eating disorder, let us run! Let us run to Jesus, bringing the disorders of our hearts with us.

I recently came upon my three-year-old, crouched down in the bathroom, swishing a single wet wipe through a puddle of pee.

Startled at the door opening, he swished harder saying, “Sorry, mom! I’m cleaning it up, mom! Sorry, mom!”

Of course, I said I forgave him and knelt down, providing the right materials to clean up the mess he had made. And together, we cleaned it up. I did not forgive him under the stipulation that he would promise to never do this again. In fact, I know he will. Watching his attempts to do what he could not and observing his jumpy behavior at my appearance made me wish that he knew my heart. How I long, not just to help him, but to be in a sweet relationship with him, a relationship where he squeals with delight at my presence, knowing I rejoice over him. God is not waiting for us to recover, to clean up our mess. Jesus took care of that on the cross.

This analogy quickly breaks down, but the point here is this…

The gospel must be central in the battle of eating disorders because it is the only hope that stands, and we do not have to wait for recovery or a certain amount of progress to declare victory. Our victory is won. And it is in this victory, the victory of Jesus, we find ourselves fighting our battles. We enter our battles, more than conquerors. We must wield His word, our sword, in the battle. And even if the eating disorder seems to get the best of us, we must not put down our sword. We must take up that sword, every day. We must take up that sword, after every binge. We must take up that sword, after every purge. We must take up that sword when the eating disorder seems to crowd out every other thought from our mind. This Word of God, this Sword of the Spirit, this shield of faith is for you, O Battling Believer.

We want freedom from our eating disorders. We long for freedom from the disorders of our hearts. And these desires are good! But let us never lay these desires at the grave of the law. Let us bring our desires to the foot of the empty grave of our crucified and resurrected Savior. Only when we are here are we able to truly enter into the serious battle of killing sin, lest it be killing us (John Owen).

There is a hope that the world gives. They have a program, a mantra, an academy, a formula for anything your heart desires. They offer hope.

The world will tell you, “You are enough.”

His Word tells you, “He is enough.”

The world will tell you, “Love yourself more.”

His Word tells you, “Nothing shall separate you from the love of Christ.” or “Even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

The world will tell you, “Hold on to hope!”

His Word tells you, “Hold on to Jesus, your only hope.”

And when you fail, the world will tell you, “Forgive yourself.”

And when you fail, His word will tell you, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

We live not for another day in which we will shout our own mantras to our own selves in our own bathroom mirrors, “I am enough. I am capable,” as if we were our own god of Genesis.

But rather, if we live another day, it may be only to whisper, “Your grace is sufficient for me.” “I believe! Help my unbelief!”


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