Our bodies are a big deal. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the global wellness industry in 2015 was worth a total of US $3.7 trillion. The fitness and nutrition sectors make up about a third of that total. It is plain that many cultures around the world place an enormous emphasis on the body. The pressure placed upon us in the West, both male and female, to conform to normative body ideals is huge. Plainly this can have many negative, even catastrophic, physiological and psychological outcomes.
I would like to humbly suggest that there is a two-fold mistake embedded in our culture that leads us to this kind of outcome. It is a mistake for which Christianity has a remedy. The mistake is firstly to think of the body as merely an instrument, and secondly to believe that that instrument is ours to do with as we please.
God has given you a physical corporeal form, primarily so that you can relate to Him and enjoy Him in His creation, and secondly so that you can relate to and enjoy other people. The form He has given you – whoever you are – is incredible but infirm, beautiful yet broken, constraining and enabling. But more than this, it is an integral part of your indivisible being. When God made Adam, God formed the body, breathed into him the breath of life, and in this way he became a ‘living soul’ (Genesis 2:7). You cannot be complete without a body. Even those saints who have died and gone before us will ultimately be reunited with their bodies.
Your body is not an inanimate object to be decorated and beautified like a house, it is not an inert material to be carved and shaped like a block of marble. You’re more than an assembly of atoms. But it is not enough simply to recognise that our culture, while it obsesses over the body, is actually guilty of demeaning it. It is not only Christianity which objects to the way in which we have divided up the real person. Similar kinds of holism – I’m careful not to say the same – are present in a number of other faiths as well as in the spiritual practices (like yoga) that derive from them.
Christianity has a lot to say about the nature of humanity, and the doctrine of imago dei is of critical importance to our worldview, because it elevates the body to a status above mere instrument. But it is in responding to the second mistake where Christianity provides an utterly exclusive remedy.
The remedy is redemption. When Christ died, he suffered in body, soul and spirit so that he could redeem you body, soul and spirit. Paul plainly tells us that our body belongs to God – He bought it – and as such we are instructed to use our body to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We now present our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
My body belongs to God. I don’t have the final say over my body, I don’t have autonomy to decide how I clothe, feed, exercise, or enjoy my body. Crucially though, I am not beholden to anyone else in this world, including to the culture; but only to God. (There is just one exception in 1 Corinthians 7:4.) He, by dying to redeem us, intends to return the body to the purpose for which it was created, He intends to lift the curse, to minister eternal life. Letting go of our desire for control, and presenting our bodies to Him as a sacrifice for His glory and not our own, is a game changer. It lifts us totally clear of the lies of our culture about the body.
I dare to suggest that just as we would acknowledge that there is a spiritual life that is exclusive to the believer, there is also a corporeal life exclusive to those in Christ. You cannot know the joy for which you were created if you are outside of Christ, and this extends to joy derived from movement and sensation in work, rest and play. Only a Christian can truly experience his or her corporeality as a gift from their heavenly father. Your body is a gift: be a good recipient. Enjoy your corporeality in the continuing awareness of His approving presence, as you live a life of sacrifice for His glory.
Should I eat this? Should I wear those? Should I play this game? Shall I go to the gym today?
These are the wrong questions. Instead ask: “How can I glorify God in my body today?”