It takes only a quick scroll through social media feeds during the summer to reveal that we live in a body-obsessed culture. Swimsuit selfies abound this time of year, but they aren’t the only manifestation of our complete obsession with how our bodies look and feel. Excessive exercise, restricted eating, binging and purging, gluttony, negligence, and substance abuse are other tell-tale signs that we have veered off course in the way we think about and relate to our bodies.
Last year, I wrote an article about my own struggle with an eating disorder as a teenager. Anything that human beings love and adore more than God Himself is an idol, and during high school I worshipped at the altar of my ideal, size-zero body. While this led to severely disordered eating for a season, my eating habits were not the root of my issue.
My ultimate problem was that I took cues about the purpose of my body from the culture rather than from God Himself. I sought to control my body as a means to my own end rather than caring for it as a means to bring God glory. I looked to the image of my body for my happiness and worth, and this left me in a mess. So, what does God have to say about the human body? How do we glorify Him by loving and caring for our bodies without simultaneously worshipping them as functional gods?
During the first century, the heresy of Gnosticism began to slip into the early church. The Gnostics believed the human spirit was intrinsically good and the human body was intrinsically evil, but the Bible tells a different story. In the first chapter of Genesis, we learn that God completed his creative work with the fashioning of man and woman—spiritual beings with gender-specific, physical bodies. Then, God looked back over all of his material creation and declared it very good (Gen 1:31). The human body is not intrinsically evil because it was created by a good God who declared it to be good. The body is a beautiful part of God’s design and plan for humanity, but it was never meant to be our god.
Corrupted by Sin
When Eve was deceived by the serpent, she doubted the goodness and truth of God’s Word and, together with her husband, disobeyed God by eating food from the one and only tree He had declared off limits. As a result, the entire human race was plunged into sin, and all of God’s good creation—including the human body—was subjected to corruption.
While our bodies are not intrinsically evil, they are now cursed with weakness, disease and ultimately death. Furthermore, they are now agents of the rebellion and idolatry flowing from our hearts. We falsely believe that our bodies belong to us rather than to God, and this belief typically manifests in one of two ways: 1.) We obsessively control our bodies for the purpose of our own glory or 2.) We are controlled by the fleshly desires of our bodies for the purpose of our own pleasure. The first may look like like hyper-fitness obsession, self-starvation and body selfies, while the second looks more like laziness, overeating for comfort, substance abuse or sexual immorality. These are different extremes of the same root problem. In both cases, we are worshipping and serving the creature (ourselves) rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25), and when our god is our stomach, we are on a path that leads to destruction (Phil 3:19).
Redeemed by Blood
In sin, we make our bodies idols, but through blood, God transforms our bodies into the spiritual temple of His Holy Spirit. When Jesus came to earth in bodily flesh, He lived a perfect life and died a bloody death on our behalf. He bore all of our sins in His sinless body on the cross, so that all who look to him by faith for salvation might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). Dying to sin means that we turn away from worshipping our bodies for our own pleasure and glory and begin stewarding our bodies as temples for God’s Kingdom purposes. The line between faithful stewardship and sinful idolatry is easily crossed, so the Word of God is critical in helping us discern the difference.
The Bible teaches that faithful stewardship of our bodies is less about health and wellness and more about godliness, purity, and sacrifice. Nowhere in Scripture will we find a list of specific foods we should or should not eat. There is Christian freedom when it comes to what we eat (1Timothy 4:4), but all of our eating and drinking must be motivated by a desire for God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31). The Bible does not outline how often we should work out for optimal health but exhorts us to focus primarily on training ourselves in godliness. While bodily training has some value, godliness has value both in this life and the life to come (1 Tim 4:8).
Does this mean we should eat whatever we want whenever we want it and sit on the couch all day? No. As those walking by the Spirit, we practice self-control (Gal 5:25) rather than being mastered by our appetites (1 Cor 6:12-13). There is value in learning what foods best fuel our bodies and consistently eating those foods. There is value in regular exercise and bodily fitness. But that value doesn’t rest in the fact that exercise might produce a more attractive body and that eating well might lead to long life. Healthy eating and exercise hold value because they enable us to expend our bodies in service to Christ and others during our years on earth. In view of the gospel, we are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices and die daily to our fleshly desires for self-worship (Rom 12:1). Sometimes this means hitting the gym when we would rather succumb to laziness. Other times it means skipping the gym in order to better serve our families and neighbors.
Resurrected to Glory
We don’t proclaim the Paleo, Vegan or CrossFit “gospels” because food and fitness cannot ultimately save our souls or our bodies. No matter how well we eat and exercise now, our physical bodies are still plagued with weakness and are moving toward death and decay. This should not cause us to lose heart but to refresh our hearts with the hope Christ alone offers. The redemption Jesus provides through His blood is not only for our souls now but also for our bodies in the life to come because “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus…”(2 Cor 4:4). So, our hope is not in the preservation of our frail, earthly bodies but in the One who will resurrect and transform them to perfect, glorious bodies (Phil 3:21). Our earthly bodies matter, but they are not ultimate as the world would have us believe . Christ is ultimate. He has bought us at a steep price, and we are not our own. May we glorify Him alone with our bodies, both in death and in life, now and forevermore.