Some Seventh-day Adventists ask: Does our diet have anything to do with our salvation? Yes and no. Or, perhaps, no and yes.
More About No and Yes
No first, because the greatest heresy about our salvation is giving or claiming human credit for it. Neither food, nor lifestyle, nor intellect, nor sweat till exhaustion helps anyone develop a pathway to salvation, or advance on some existing redemption road: salvation results from a positive response to the gift of Jesus and His redeeming grace. But even the capacity to believe we’re saved is from outside of ourselves, a gift of God that precludes any creaturely boast (Eph. 2:8).
Yet Scripture’s own explanation of our absolute dependence on God for salvation explicitly connects human behavior with salvation: God’s salvation re-creates us in Christ Jesus for good works He programmed beforehand, “that we should walk in them” (verse 10, KJV).
We are not saved by fork and knife; neither are we perfected by our pedometers. But better behavior is part of God’s salvation program. Good works are part of God’s expression, through saved persons, of His miracle of salvation. So while we are not saved by our diet, once saved, our eating, drinking, and living all reflect on God’s name and character (1 Cor. 10:31). He works in us the willing and doing of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13); our choices for our bodies are enlightened and will not dishonor or disrespect Him, our Savior and Master (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).
Redeemed individuals ask naturally, “How can I live a better life?” They want to know what they can do and say now that will further God’s kingdom; that will show their participation in the good works He ordained for them long ago. “What should I read or watch now? How should I engage my time now?” They feel the need to live more in harmony with how Jesus would live. Individuals who have accepted Jesus are new persons; old habits change (2 Cor. 5:17), including nutrition habits.
Better nutrition is more than just eating wisely to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The principal reason for Adventism’s unique health message is not reducing health bills and living longer. It’s to be more effective and productive in honoring God: the efficiency of our work for God depends largely upon our physical condition.1 Eating right—quality, quantity, time[s]—often makes the difference between living to life’s full potential or not.
An unhealthy lifestyle can prevent us from enjoying the most meaningful relationships, especially our partnership with Christ. Sleep deprivation, unmanaged stress, and the use of unhealthy substances can affect our memory and depreciate the quality of both our service to God and our relationships with others. Inactivity encourages the advancement of disease processes and alters the quality and length of our ministry.
In the same way, unhealthy food choices may impact our physical and mental health and limit our useful service to God. Moreover, our bodies are God’s temple/sanctuary (1 Cor. 3:16). They deserve the best care.
So as we prepare for the coming of Jesus, diet does matter. Whatever promotes physical health (healthy diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, etc.) promotes the development of a strong mind and a well-balanced character. Therefore, we are encouraged to preserve all our powers in a condition that will enable us to give the best possible service, the most glory, to God (1 Cor. 6:19, 20).
And who doesn’t want the best for their bodies? If certain foods are known to undermine good health and increase the risk of disease and death, it would only make good sense to avoid them, thus possibly lengthening and increasing the quality of our productive lives.
For example, scientific data shows an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, some cancers, obesity, and diabetes from the consumption of meat. Hundreds of research papers show the value of a regular use of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, to significantly lower the incidence of those chronic diseases. No wonder that among those who are waiting for Jesus’ return meat eating will cease to form a part of the diet.2
Furthermore, God has assigned us the stewardship of earth’s resources (Gen. 1:26-30; 2:8-15). Science recognizes that a diet with a rich focus on plant products is more sustainable of life on earth with a low environmental impact. A plant-based diet consumes less of the earth’s resources and produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. The health of the planet, as well as our own health, depends upon the food choices we make.
A diet based mainly upon whole plant foods with the use of some minimally processed and fortified foods has strong scientific support. Heavily processed and refined foods, especially those containing large amounts of fat, salt, and/or sugar are not the healthiest choices.
God chose a plant-based diet for our parents in the Garden of Eden. Ellen White saw that discarding the use of all animal products, dairy included, is in our future, because of increasing disease in animals.3 Where fortified plant foods are yet unavailable, or poverty limits food choices, discretion should dictate the pace of dietary reform.4
Whatever dietary preferences we choose (omnivore, pescatarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegetarian, etc.), diet should not be used as a standard for measuring others. Paul admonishes clearly enough: “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat,” and vice versa. For “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking” (Rom. 14:3, 13, 17).
For the early church, eating provided a venue for fellowship (Acts 2:42; Rev. 3:20) that did much to promote unity. While God’s kingdom is not defined by eating patterns, we should make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification, and not allow food choices to create chaos in the church (Rom. 14:19, 20), at potlucks or elsewhere.
A good diet is not the only ingredient of a healthy lifestyle. Along with good food choices, one must get regular and adequate sleep, engage in regular physical activity, drink plenty of clean water (colas won’t work), properly manage stress, have meaningful relationships with God, friends, and family, and much more. When our total lifestyle honors God, it backs up every argument in favor of His kingdom and soon return.
Winston J. Craig is professor emeritus of nutrition and wellness at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.