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.
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).