By / Jun 9

The way in which believers think about their bodies is more important now than ever. The church cannot hope to be effective in a culture confused by issues relating to our bodies and plagued by an anti-body mindset. If believers hold a low, misunderstood view of physical existence, how can we be salt and light in a world that does the same?

While the culture claims that physical, biological realities are inconsequential or that a baby’s developing body is somehow detached from her personhood, the church must be equipped to articulate a biblical worldview on the body. It is imperative to confirm from Scripture that the body is not only valuable, but that God has ultimate authority over us as those who are made in his image. By standing on a biblical understanding of physical existence and building a corresponding theology, we can confidently address the most pressing issues of our day.

How should Christians view their bodies?

While there are multiple approaches to constructing a robust theology of the body, I believe the best starting point is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. These Corinthian believers were highly influenced by the Gnostic and Platonic dualists around them. Viewing the material world as evil, the physical realm was considered bad while the spiritual realm was good. As a result, the Corinthians likewise elevated immaterial over material and became very anti-body. This thinking fueled their licentious behavior and allowed them to justify all types of sinful activities as they believed that, ultimately, the body did not matter.

So, what does Paul do? To combat their ungodly actions and immoral bodily treatment, he confronts and corrects the way they thought by establishing right beliefs about their bodies. They could only exhibit proper actions with the body by holding proper beliefs about the body. His correction flows from an argument for the body’s value and God’s authority over it by establishing Trinitarian involvement with corporeal experience—the ways in which Father, Son, and Spirit participate in and with embodied spiritual and physical existence of humanity. Paul specifically highlights resurrection (v.14), redemption (v.20), and indwelling (v.19) to show that the body was not too insignificant or sinful to warrant the Corinthians’ destructive actions.

We understand from Paul that the body is valued in our future resurrection and re-embodiment (v. 14), a promise that harkens back to the creation of embodied men and women made in the image of God. If the body is to be resurrected and the imago Dei fully realized, then the eschatological experience of embodied existence in the New Heavens and Earth holds meaning for the body now. Also, the reality that we were bought (body and soul) by Christ’s atoning work of redemption (v. 20) and our bodies joined to him as part of his body (vv. 15-17) signifies a definite worth to our material existence. Even more, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence in our corporeity confirms the body’s sanctity as his temple (v. 19).

Paul also asserts God’s authority over the body in highlighting Trinitarian involvement with resurrection, redemption, and indwelling. These realities convey accountability for believers because through them we see God’s right over physical form. You are not your own; your body belongs to God (v. 19). His authoritative power is clear in resurrecting us from the dead (v. 14). Life belongs, body and soul, to the one who possesses power over the grave. Likewise, Christ’s sacrifice redeemed our embodied existence, which is to be comprehensively submitted to him (v. 20). The Holy Spirit also claims the believer’s body as his temple, demanding recognition of and respect for his ownership (v. 19). By mentioning each of these truths, Paul calls on the Corinthians to cease living by their own desires and submit to God’s role as the sole authority over their bodies. Each of these Trinitarian works should guide what Christians believe about their bodies, as our bodily actions and behaviors manifest those beliefs.

At the end of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul concludes that believers should glorify God in their bodies, which transpires in the way we think about and treat our bodies (v. 20). This final overarching, all-encompassing command for God’s glory flows from a foundation of right beliefs about physical existence; beliefs that, again, recognize the body’s value and God’s authority over it.

So what?

Today’s Christians, like the Corinithians, may sometimes operate out of an anti-body philosophy. Here are some diagnostic questions that may indicate you wrestle with this mindset. Do you:

  • Believe the body is inconsequential, 
  • Fail to hope in bodily resurrection, 
  • View the body as a sinful hindrance to the sinless soul, 
  • Think salvation is fully experienced when the soul is released from body, 
  • Or that the body must be bridled for advancement of the soul? 

Whether intentional or unintentional, this mindset will affect other areas of life. And believers cannot afford to propagate or echo the world’s low view of the body. Whether it’s an obsession with physical fitness, addiction to pornography, rejection of the bodily realities as in transgenderism, etc., we will never treat our bodies rightly until we begin to think about them accurately.

So, before the church can speak to these cultural issues regarding corporeal existence, we must confront our own bias toward the body. Once we do that, we will be effectively equipped to speak into the culture on a whole host of issues, because after all, our theological beliefs should lead to practical application. Indeed, through a proper theology of the body, Christians will be able to:

  • Address gender issues that arise from a devaluation of our created bodies.
  • Help those who engage in self-harming behaviors understand the body’s significance.
  • Confront the need to steward our bodies with reasonable exercise and nutrition habits.
  • Speak into the lives of those with disabilities whose bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made for a purpose.
  • Recognize embodiment and the essential reality of existing as spiritual and physical beings.
  • Affirm the personhood of a developing child whose life God ordained and purposed.
  • Combat arguments for euthanasia with a recognition of God’s authority over the end of life.
  • Defend biological, physical realities that establish gender as a good gift of God.
  • Contend for God’s good design for men and women in marriage and childbearing in a sexually confused age.
  • Fight the pornographic push to objectify humans and separate sex from marriage.
  • More effectively understand the connection between mental health and physical health.

The list could certainly go on, but, clearly, believers are able to address a host of cultural issues, and any others that should arise, through a right theology of the body. In the end, we value physical existence and recognize it as belonging to our God who promises bodily resurrection, became embodied to secure our redemption, and indwells our bodies as his temple. As the church, we proclaim through our lives that it is our aim and purpose to glorify God with our bodies because we are not our own, for we were bought with the highest price (1 Cor. 6:20). 

By / Jul 7

Trillia Newbell interviews Kristie Anyabwile and Catherine Parks about how fear affects our body image and past impurity.

By / Nov 20

How can I know if my depression is primarily caused by a malfunctions in my body-brain or wrongs I’m committing in my beliefs-behaviors?

Another way to ask this question would be, “Is my depression something I am doing or something that is happening to me?” There is no universal answer to this question. The two leading treatments for depression tell a conflicting story: cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotropic medications. The effectiveness of CBT indicates that beliefs and behaviors play a large role in depression. The effectiveness of medication indicates that body malfunctions, particularly in the brain or glandular systems, also play a large role.

The reality is that depression is always both: (1) beliefs-behaviors and (2) body-brain. We are embodied souls. Every emotion we feel registers neuro-chemically in our brain; this is true of pleasant emotions (i.e., joy, excitement, and peace) and unpleasant emotions (i.e., depression, anger, and anxiety). Every change in our brain affects our thoughts and actions. Consider how you think-move in the morning before coffee.

There is a long list of things that can cause depression (i.e., a persistent down mood and/or the inability to enjoy normal pleasures): a significant loss, failure, lack of purpose, unrealistic expectations, temperament, glandular malfunctions, chemical imbalances, certain diseases, response to some medications, change in seasons, fatigue, isolation, sin or idolatry, unbelief, foolishness, legalism… (the list could continue).

The follow up question would be, “How can I tell if my experience of depression is rooted primarily in my beliefs-behaviors or my body-brain?” Here are a series of questions to guide you in this assessment. The order of these questions is intended to help you eliminate belief-behavior causes first. There are body-fluid tests for glandular causes of depression, but not for brain-chemical causes, so in most cases, it is recommended that you assess things in this order.

  1. Are you harboring any known sin that would affect your mood (i.e., bitterness, abusing a depressant like alcohol, lying-hiding to make your relationships feel fake, overworking to the point of exhaustion, etc…)?
  2. Are there any false beliefs about God or unrealistic expectations of yourself that you struggle to relinquish?
  3. Are there events, challenges, or changes in your life which would make your level and duration of depression an appropriate emotional response?
  4. If after addressing whatever changes are revealed as necessary in questions one to three, your depression persists then it would be probable that your depression is rooted in your brain-body more than your beliefs-behaviors. Consulting a physician or psychiatrist would be recommended.

You might ask, “But what if I have a family history of depression, does that mean I can/should skip to question four?” My response would be, “Not necessarily.” From our family we get both genes and habits; biology and culture. You are as likely to “inherit” things from your family that would be revealed in questions one to three as you are question four.

You might also ask, “What about suicidal thoughts? If I am feeling desperate, should I still go through all these steps?” My answer would be, “Not at all.” Going to a doctor to get medication for relief from depression is not a sign of weakness or spiritual immaturity; even if it means calling 911 because of your level of despair. Safety should always be the first concern. In intense cases of depression, the relief medication provides can help you think more clearly about the concerns raised in questions one to three.

If I am struggling with depression, what are some basic things I need to do to get some relief?

Begin by sharing your struggle with a trusted Christian friend. We read in I Kings 19:10 how believing that you are alone with this experience magnifies the emotions and false messages of depression. Isolation is a repeated theme in Scripture when it describes the experience of depression (Psalm 88:18). There is nothing like allowing someone to care for you to break the isolation and stigma that often comes with depression.

Regulate your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns. Depression will make its home in your lifestyle choices and stay until you kick it out. Diet, exercise, and sleep are not just “healthy choices;” they are the natural way our bodies regulate our brain-chemistry. Long before the availability of SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) people combatted chemical imbalance in these ways—even if they didn’t understand neurology, they knew a healthy diet, cardiovascular exercise, and regular sleep helped them feel better. Even with modern medicine, we should not force medication to sustain a neural-balance that our lifestyle is fighting against.

Read Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch. This is an excellent book that deals with the sin (beliefs-behaviors) and suffering (body-brain and hardships) sides of depression with a gospel-centered approach. This book should allow you to understand your experience of depression better so that you are more free to talk with Christian friends and feel more motivated to make lifestyle changes. In addition to Ed Welch’s book, here are three blogs I believe can be helpful.

  • Medication and Despair – Contains brief Q&A videos from Ed Welch and David Powlison on medication and other resources to help you think through the possible wise use of psychotropic medication.
  • 5 Part Series on Depression and Ministry – Contains to a series of posts on depression created by the Biblical Counseling Coalition for the Gospel Coalition. While it is written for pastors, it is helpful for any Christian who is struggling with depression.
  • When We Believe Suffering’s Lies – Reflects on how the hardships of life introduce damaging messages into our lives. We are most prone to believe lies when the harshness of living in a broken world seems to validate them.

If I have a friend who struggles with depression, how can I be a more effective friend and encourager?

Listen well without assuming your “instinctual explanation” of depression is accurate. We all have a default explanation for emotional experiences. It may come from our own experience, our “common sense,” or a favorite book. But when you listen do not force your friend’s experience into your assumption. Allow whichever of the causes (likely plural; review the list in question one) that best-fit your friend’s experience to be the cause. Just because something “worked for you” doesn’t mean it will work for your friend. Just because something is “right” doesn’t mean it “fits” every experience.

Be content to “walk with” rather than “fix” your friend. It is likely the cause-solution will not be easy. To rush to a premature “answer” is both ineffective and insulting. As you get to know your friend’s experience better and narrow down the causes; you may or may not feel competent or comfortable addressing them. Legalism or performance-driven overworking are easier for most Christians to address than the side effects of a new medication or a hypoactive thyroid. Regardless, remain an actively listening friend even if you encourage your friend to see a counselor or doctor.

Your presence and care have a powerful impact on removing the isolation and stigma associated with depression even if you are not the “advice giver.” Good advice without authentic, personal relationships is limited in its effectiveness. Your role as friend will outlast whatever role a counselor or doctor may play.

It would also be good for you to read some of the resources listed above. Depression is a common experience we all need to be skilled in addressing and these resources will equip you to echo important truths into the life of your friend.

If my struggle with depression persists and I wanted to seek counseling, who would you recommend?

If you are in the RDU area, we have a couple of options to serve you.

  • Summit Counseling Graduate Intern Program – This is free counseling with students completing their masters or doctoral degree in counseling.
  • Bridgehaven Counseling Associates – Bridgehaven provides a context to receive counseling from a full-time, experienced counselor on a donation basis. Bridgehaven offers a high quality of care that is both clinically-informed and consistent with the teaching of The Summit Church.

If you are outside RDU or prefer to pursue other counseling options, here are some helpful guidelines from CCEF on how to find a good counselor.

This was originally published here.