Why get all worked up about food? Does it really matter what people eat or what people think they can or can’t eat? Isn’t this just a harmless difference of opinion amongst brothers and sisters in Christ? It might be if it is a disagreement between conscientious Christians who are wrestling with the commandments of God (see Rom. 14). On the other hand, it might be dead serious.
The apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 4:1-5, prophesied that in later times, teachers would arise who would command abstinence from foods that God has created for us to receive with gratitude. Paul calls their teaching a doctrine of demons. That doesn't sound harmless. Furthermore, he says that those who heed such teaching fall away from the faith. We should not downplay this or minimize the seriousness of it. It is sinister and evil. This is a subject that deserves our careful examination. Why does Paul call this a doctrine of demons? The answer is simply that such a teaching is a denial of the gospel.
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” —1 Tim. 4:1-5
False teachers, under the inspiration of demons, usually deny the gospel in one of two ways. They either grant people the liberty to do what Christ never granted (such as sin), or they deny people liberties that Christ has granted (such as eating all foods). The prophets of Nutritianity have chosen the latter. Christ has freed Christians from the ceremonial food laws of the Old Testament, but false teachers try to enslave Christians by placing upon them the yoke of Old Testament dietary regulations, or various other man-made dietary laws.
This is not new. The Pharisees were constantly teaching or implying that a person could be justified by the works of the law. They were often angry with Jesus because He did not follow their rules. In Mark 7, the Pharisees were angry with Jesus and his disciples for not ceremonially washing their hands before a meal. But where was this written? This was not God’s Law. It was one of many rules invented by the Pharisees to make them feel good about themselves. It was an easy way to measure righteousness—externally. If they observed certain ceremonies and adhered to a certain external code of behavior, they felt justified. Jesus condemned them sharply for their mere outward righteousness in Matthew 23:24-28:
“You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
In verse 27, we see the word hypocrisy, the same word Paul used in 1 Timothy 4:2 above. The Pharisees were hypocrites and so are those who advocate abstaining from foods on biblical grounds.
Today, we hear teachers advocating that we should observe the food laws in Leviticus. Of course, it is never explicitly stated that the reason to observe such food laws is to establish one's own righteousness and rely upon oneself for justification. Satan is too smart and cagey to train his servants so sloppily. His teachers must wear sheep's clothing. They must look good and sound good. They must parrot the language of Scripture. They must continually suggest that the real reason to observe the food laws is for the “glory of God,” for the honoring of “God's temple” or for “usefulness in God's kingdom.” This is the sheep's clothing, the veneer of reverence for Scripture and for God.
We see the same teaching poisoning the church at Colossae (see Col. 2:8-23). At the end of that passage, wherein he had been advocating the sufficiency of Jesus Christ for salvation, Paul said,
"Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind…"—Col. 2:16-18
Since Christ has fulfilled the Law by His perfect obedience to it, imputing that perfect obedience to every believer, Christians do not need to sew on the fig leaves of self-made righteousness. Since the blood of Christ permanently washes away every sin of every believer, Christians do not need to try to cleanse themselves by eating “clean” foods. Since the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile has been demolished by Christ, the “unclean” designation of animals (and foods) that symbolized the uncleanness of Gentiles is no longer in force. Therefore, no Christian should let someone else act as their judge in regard to food or drink. No Christian should allow some false teacher to defraud them of their prize by encouraging self abasement.
In Colossians 2:20-23, Paul concluded by asking the Colossians why they submitted to various man-made decrees.
"If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)--in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence."
These verses provide a fitting question to Christians today who have imbibed the legalistic teaching of Nutritianity. If you have died with Christ to man-made rules and to justifying yourself by external rule-keeping, then why do you submit to decrees such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!?” Food is destined to perish with the use of it.
As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:8, “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.” Food does not commend you to God. You cannot make God love you by eating the “right foods” or by abstaining from other foods you have deemed “unclean.”
Hebrews 13:9 puts it this way: “Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited.” What strange teaching were they to resist being carried away with? The doctrine that the heart would be established by foods. Isn’t this the doctrine of Nutritianity today? Eat this and live! Isn’t this just what many want us to believe today? Namely, that we should follow the Levitical diet and eat like the Jews did, who were the “healthiest people on the planet.” The book of Hebrews was written to Hebrews, obviously. If they were to reject a doctrine that encouraged them to trust in food observance, rather than grace, for strength, then shouldn’t we?
This article is an excerpt from a book I recently published entitled, "To Eat or Not To Eat? Examining Modern Nutrition Wisdom in the Light of Scripture." It can be found in the sermon audio bookstore.