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Embodied Faith

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 14 May 2020

Ros Clarke explains how the Bible encourages us to care about our bodies, in this article from the summer 2018 edition of Crossway

Are you beach-body ready?
It’s summer, so I guess that means we’re all obsessed with getting beach-body ready? No?

Maybe we shouldn’t care about how we look at all. That sounds like it would be more godly. Except… God seems to care a lot about how things look. He cared enough to make a beautiful creation. He cared enough to give incredibly detailed instructions about how the tabernacle and temple should look. Why would we think he doesn’t care about how we look?

I think we need to look again at what the Bible actually teaches us regarding our bodies and our beauty. We’ve too easily assumed that what the world tells us is right. Or we’ve rejected that completely and embraced a body/soul dualism that has more to do with Gnosticism than Christianity.

Don’t glorify the body
Self-idolatry is rife in contemporary society. Body-worshippers can be found at the gym, in the beauty salons, and strutting the streets in their designer clothes. It need not be taken to the extremes of the body-builders or those who undergo cosmetic surgery, and it is certainly not the exclusive preserve of the tall, rich, skinny girls. Indeed, teenage boys and grown men are just as likely to obsess about their appearance as anyone else, these days.

We must not allow ourselves to fall into this kind of idolatry. Nor should we unthinkingly adopt the false morality of the world which tells us that thinner is ‘better’ or that high-calorie foods are ‘naughty’. You are not more loved or more worthy of love because you are running faster, lifting heavier, or wearing skinnier.

Don’t despise the body
Perhaps a bigger danger in the church is not the temptation to glorify the body, but the temptation to despise it. We think we can treat our bodies however we want, because the flesh is mortal: “For dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19). It’s our souls that matter, surely, not our bodies?

I disagree. Here’s three reasons why I think God cares about our bodies, and why we should care too:

God made us to have bodies and our bodies are essential to our being. Adam was not a disembodied soul whom God later clothed in flesh. Rather, fashioned from the dust of the earth, our bodies are a constant reminder that we are part of this whole created universe.

God made the man and the woman, with their bodies, and he looked and saw that it was very good. Our bodies are not inherently sinful. Our bodies are very good, entirely fit for purpose. And they are! Have you ever stopped to think about all the things your body accomplishes every day? The oxygen it inhales, the blood it pumps, the synapses it forms, the data it processes, and so much more.

Your body is extraordinary.

And your body is beautiful. God has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and that includes you. You do not have to be beautiful according to some arbitrary standard of modern society. You are beautiful because God has created you for this time and this purpose. Do not despise the work of the Creator in you.

Who are we to despise our bodies when Jesus did not? The eternal Son of God took on flesh. If there is anything which ought to teach us the value of our bodies, it is the incarnation. Without a body, Jesus would not have been fully human. Without our bodies, therefore, we would not be fully human. Bodies are essential to humanity.

Why was it so necessary for Jesus to take on a body? Because if he had not, our bodies would not have been redeemed.  Back in the 4th century, Gregory of Nazianzus famous explained that, “For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.” He was arguing against those who claimed that only Jesus’ body was human, while his mind was divine. For Gregory, that was clearly wrong, since if Jesus’ mind was not human, then human minds were not saved by Jesus’ substitutionary atonement.

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Because we have bodies, the writer to the Hebrews says, we needed Jesus to have a human body so that our human bodies will be saved. Death is the enemy and death is a physical state for our bodies, as much as it is a spiritual state for our souls. And so salvation is not limited to our souls. It has a physical dimension in us, as in the rest of creation.

And finally, your body is not in its final form. We wait with our mortal bodies, riddled with sickness and pain, incompetence and inadequacy, longing for the day when these seeds will bloom into our immortal bodies: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).

Amazing! Your body – and yes, it will be yours – will be imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual! And make no mistake, though it will be spiritual it will nonetheless be physical. Paul goes on to explain that Jesus’ resurrection body, which ate fish and had fingers poked into its wounds, is the model for ours: “And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man [Adam], so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man [Christ]” (1 Corinthians 15:49).

God does not cut us off from our bodies at death, throwing them on the garbage heap. He buries them carefully, like seeds, so that they will spring to new life, brighter and better than ever before.
If your body doesn’t work perfectly now, you have a glorious future to look forward to of pain-free, full-mobility, medication-free life. The blind will see, the mute will sing and the lame will leap for joy! We will all get to enjoy our bodies beyond anything we could imagine in this life. It will be an adrenaline-filled ride of pure delight. There will be feasting on rich meats and fine wines. There will be light and warmth and gardens and all the wonders of the new creation to enjoy.

Your body is extraordinary and beautiful because God created it.

Your body is infinitely valuable because Christ gave his own body to save it.

Your body is the precious seed that will burst forth when God raises it to new life.

Love your body, care for your body, worship the God who created your body.

Ros Clarke is Associate Director of Church Society and Editor of Crossway.

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