Many moons ago I was into dieting and supplements and lifting-weights. I still am today, although to a much lesser degree. I try to eat healthy most days of the week. I take fewer supplements. And I lift weights and run, say, three or four days a week (when we’re not living in a coronavirus age). I feel much better when I take care of my body.
These days, though, I’m working on my pastor and dad bod which is notoriously not much to look at. My physique now isn’t what it was back in my early twenties and that’s okay. But back when I was a Certified Personal Trainer and Sports Nutrition Specialist, I learned many lessons that are transferrable to the Christian life. One of those lessons is this: achieving a fitness goal and killing sin both happens through the exchange of pleasures.
I learned this lesson most prominently when I competed in a fitness competition at work. The first-place prize was $10,000. For four months I ate chicken and broccoli, exercised around six days a week, and got into the best physical shape of my life. I even worked with a top-notch fitness coach. The experience was brutal but rewarding. The winner was announced at the annual company banquet in December. As I arrived at the banquet center some people talked to me about the competition which only heightened the anticipation and nervousness that I was already feeling. Still, I was glad just to be done with the competition and was ready to eat as much unhealthy food as I could find at the banquet.
The first-place winner was announced . . . and I didn’t win. There was no prize for second place, or third or fourth and so on. It stung. I wanted to win. But I was sort of relieved that it was all over with and was ready to move on. I sat there with the best body I could muster and learned a lifelong lesson that will always be with me. And that lesson is about the exchange of pleasures.
Let me put it this way. The essence of dieting is the delay of instant-gratification now for long-term satisfaction later. That’s the pleasure exchange thing I’m talking about. Take fast food and sweets, for example. No one would doubt that it’s pleasurable to eat a greasy cheeseburger followed by ice cream. The reason why you eat fast food and sweets is because it gives you pleasure.
Now take getting to 6% body fat, looking good in a swimsuit, or dead-lifting 600 pounds. That’s another pleasure. In order to experience the pleasure of a fit body, you have to give up the pleasure of eating fatty food. So in order to achieve your goal, you don’t ask “Do I want pleasure?” That’s a bad question. Every human being who ever lived wants pleasure. Instead, the question you should ask is: “Which pleasure do I want more?”
The same concept applies to killing sin. Consider the sin of pornography. Nobody who is addicted to porn says, “I get no pleasure from looking at porn.” Of course you do. That’s what you look at it — because it gives you pleasure. But there are other pleasures that can be yours if you give up porn, pleasures like: the pleasure of pleasing God, the pleasure of a clean conscience, and the pleasure of increased levels of personal holiness, among others. The porn addict need not ask if he wants to experience pleasure, but which pleasure he wants most.
C. S. Lewis puts it this way: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
The pleasure of obeying God is far greater than any pleasure that sin affords.
When we help other Christians in preaching or counseling or whatever, we shouldn’t be surprised when they find themselves desiring pleasure. The human heart is a pleasure factory. We were created with deep desires and longings. Instead of pretending that sins like lust and gossip and gluttony do not bring some kind of pleasure, we should acknowledge the desire for pleasure is a good thing. Then we must point people to God for God and God alone is the only One who can satisfy the soul’s deepest longings. As F. F. Bruce says, “The soul’s deepest thirst is for God himself, who has made us so that we can never be satisfied without him.”