What is your view of the body? That’s right, your physical body. This question may be one of the most essential life-questions you’ve never thought of. Your answer makes a difference in every area of your life. How you eat, sleep, work, worship, relate, recreate, maintain, die, and deal with your dead body, are all affected by your understanding of the body.
Views of the Body
Do one of these ideas describe your view of the body?
- It’s a necessary evil.
- It’s simply a bunch of cells.
- It’s a hindrance to a true spiritual life.
- It’s a reminder of my undisciplined habits.
- It’s fearfully and wonderfully made.
- It’s vital to a meaningful relationship with God.
- It ultimately exists forever.
- It’s important to care for but not as important as the soul.
Does it surprise you that many Christians fight for the unborn not to be destroyed yet live their 80 years on this earth destroying their own body in small, incremental ways then, casually, trying to destroy it by cremation after death? The inconsistencies are staggering.
Listen to Jesus and Paul
You’re familiar with what Jesus and St. Paul teach us about the body, right?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength [body] and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10.27)
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6.19-20)
I appeal to you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [rational] service. (Romans 12.1)
I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. (1 Corinthians 9.27)
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. (1 Corinthians 4.10-11)
- Your body is an ally in your relationship with God.
- Your body is not intrinsically evil. Redemption and glorification are available for the body. (Some Christians are gnostics, knowingly or unknowingly. They believe all matter is evil and that God is only concerned with the “spiritual.” God becoming matter in the incarnation exposes their erroneous notions.)
- Your body is a good thing to be used as your servant not your master.
- The incarnation (God becoming a human, taking on a human body) transforms our understanding of the body.
- Your body is God’s; not yours. You are not your own property.
- Your body is to be sacrificially consecrated to God in acts of worship and as a way of worship. Your body is to be trained to become a lean, mean worshiping machine. “Make your body a showplace for God’s greatness” is how Dallas Willard puts it ( p. 159, Renovation Of The Heart)
- You are to love God with your whole being, including your body [strength].
- When you feel weak or are sick or sore, be reminded that real strength and healing come from God Almighty.
- The way Christ is revealed to others is through your body. Is your body showing Jesus Christ to others?
Again, St. Paul teaches us: For if you live after the flesh, you must die, but if by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8.13)
Dallas Willard paraphrases this verse with ideas from Romans 12.1:
No longer present the parts of your body to sin as weapons of wickedness, but present yourselves to God like people who, coming out of death, have eternal life, and present your bodily parts to him as weapons of righteousness.
What noble aspirations! Give yourself continuously to God, who instills you with real life, so that your bodily parts can become weapons of right, beauty, and good.
But, what do we actually do with our bodies? Look at the bodies around you. Look at your own body. Let’s be honest. Most often, we abuse it or, at the least, ignore caring for it.
Abuses of the body
Abuses of the body usually take the form of extremes. Look at the list below to see what I mean.
- Inactivity – Overactivity
- Sleep depravation – Oversleeping
- Passivity/Laziness – Workaholism
- Obsessive Dieting – Gluttony
- Addictions (of something negative) – Obsessions (of something good)
Habitually abusing our bodies is a problem. Ending the abuse must become a priority if we are ever to be directed towards Christlikeness. But how?
Some might say the answer is “moderation.” However, it seems the notion of “everything in moderation” is taking a hit these days. The criticism is that it gives room for harmful practices even if done “in moderation.” That room is too large for the critics. They may be right.
Answers to our propensity for extremes
I suggest the spiritual/physical ideas of “self-control,” “sober-mindedness,” and “training” fit well here.
Self-control is the restraining/disciplining aspect needed, sober-mindedness the attitude/character component, while training is the positive development of a sensible, prudent, and stable lifestyle.
The journey towards a body shaped as a “showcase for God’s greatness” begins with training towards godliness, self-control, and sober-mindedness.
1 Timothy 4.8
Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. Prudent effort is needed when pursuing something worthwhile. Godliness is no exception. It demands intentional and sensible action focused on Jesus Christ. This includes “bodily training” which is of some value.
1 Corinthians 9.25
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Athletes – and we are spiritual athletes – know that self-control is to be exercised over and over in everything until it becomes the normal way to live. For Christians in particular, the Holy Spirit enables self-control to be the norm (Galatians 5.23). The reward for self-control lasts forever. It has a never-ending quality about it. Learn to control yourself and the accolades never end.
1 Peter 5.8
Be sober-minded; be watchful. For your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Note: “sober-minded” and “watchful” are what we are to “be.” This is more than thinking about sobriety and watchfulness when you need it. This kind of vigilant awareness comes through diligently training the heart and mind through communion with the Trinity. We’re not talking “mindfulness” here but learning to “seek the things that are above where Christ is seated…set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3.1-2).
What does this have to do with the body? Dallas Willard sheds light on the question:
Most of what is called “character” (good or bad) in normal human life consists in what our bodies are or are not “at the ready” to do in the specific situations where we find ourselves. Those “readinesses” enter our consciousness primarily, if at all, through how we feel about things, how we are directly “moved” by things and events around us.
Finally, those readinesses and feelings that run our life, whether we are aware of them or not, reside in fairly specific parts of our body, and they reveal themselves to others through our body language — how we “carry” our bodily parts. They not only govern our immediate responses in [bodily] action, but also are read with great accuracy by observant people around us and then determine how they react to us. We wear our souls “on our sleeve,” even when we ourselves are oblivious to them, and that governs the quality of our relations to others.
In other words, we are such integrated beings – heart, mind, soul, body – that what moves in one element of our being affects the other elements. Thinking about a Burger King Whopper due to watching a TV commercial can make us hungry while helping us remember their taste and motivating us to drive to Burger King and pay good money for something that may not be that healthy for us. However, that same commercial may not have any affect on us depending on the condition of our heart (committed to vegetarianism), mind (thinking about finances), and body (it’s warm inside, too cold to go outside).
Our “readiness” to physically act depends primarily on who we are as an integrated being. Integration implies unity and wholeness. All our “systems” are operating as one – body and soul, mind and heart, divine and human, emotions and spirit. These elements are shaped by training ourselves to “be” a certain kind of person.
And here’s the point: Training always includes a physical element.
I say all that to say this: your body plays an essential role in your quest to be like Christ.
What practical means are effective in making all this happen? It will be no surprise that I advocate the following time-tested means. These are all physical activities that help train every element of your being towards Christlikeness.
Prayer – communion with God in solitude and silence, physically standing or sitting in a worship environment (engaging the senses) in a ritual-oriented, Trinity-focused attentiveness to God and one’s self.
Fasting – orienting your heart and body toward God by limiting your intake of food, electronics, entertainment, and information while limiting useless chatter and harmful words.
Generosity – freely giving yourself and your resources for the good of others.
Repentance – constant turning of your heart, mind, and body from your preoccupations to God.
It’s amazing what scripture writers say about the body and how to deal with it. I’ll examine some more ideas in my next post.
In the meantime, take a serious look at your view of the body. Does your understanding of the body match up with scripture?
Also, take an honest look at your own body. Are you overweight? Fatigued? Controlled by appetites? Careless about sleep, information input, or habits?
Is it time to discover for yourself how to train, exercise, and be watchful related to your body?
Your body is important to God. It needs to be just as important to you.
Got questions or comments? Let me know below.