The following excerpt from What God Has To Say About Our Bodies (Crossway, June 2021) appears in the Spring 2021 issue of Eikon.
It is not a question we might have considered even just 15 years ago, but rest assured it is increasingly being asked by a younger generation today.
Here are three foundational truths the Bible shows us about identity and our bodies.
1. You don’t just have a body; you are a body.
Consider the creation of Adam:
The LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Gen. 2:5-7)
This is the opposite of how many people today view themselves. God doesn’t make a soul called Adam first, and then look around for something physical to put that soul into, as though the soul is the real Adam, and his body is like Tupperware container to store it in. No. God actually starts with matter. He forms a body from the ground which is then brought to life. Your body is not fundamentally a soul that’s been shoved into the nearest lump of flesh, as if any body would do.
Or take these words of Paul to the Corinthians:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)
Notice how this passage reinforces the importance of the body. Paul uses “you” and “your body” interchangeably here:
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God. You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God in your body.
However much we might privilege the mind or soul over the body as the “real” us, we know deep down that the body is an essential part of who we truly are. When someone hurts your body, we know that they have not just damaged some of your property; they have violated you. What you do to someone’s body, you do to a person, not just to some flesh. We cannot escape our embodied-ness.
2. Your body is not everything
In the account of creation, we see that Adam is not just a body. God made him, but then had to breath his own life- giving breath into the matter for Adam to come alive. On its own, unanimated by God, the body cannot be a living creature. A body without God’s life is only a corpse. And what was breathed into us will one day be breathed out of us. Our bodies will return back to the dust from which humanity was first created. How our lives end reflects to us how they began.
So your body is not the sum total of who you are. Bodies may be essential, but on their own they are not sufficient.
We also see that God looks beyond them.
Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. (1 Sam. 16:7)
We look at outward appearance. We size one another up. But whereas we tend to begin and end with outward appearance, God sees into what is inward. He looks on the heart.
There are a host of reasons we might not like the body we have. Your body, in all its glory and limitations, is you. But it is not the totality of you. Looking only at the physical gives us a very limited and incomplete picture of someone.
3. Your body is not nothing
If one mistake is to think about the body as if it is the sum total of who we are, another is to think of it as if it has no bearing at all on who we are. This seems to be more and more prevalent in the West today –– we increasingly see our real self as who feel ourselves to be deep down inside.
This has become the basis for much of our ethical thinking. Whatever this true self wants and desires is self-justifying. We have to be authentic, and this legitimates virtually any kind of behavior. The longings and yearnings we find deep within ourselves have to be granted in order for us to be truly authentic. It is not uncommon now to hear of even leading Christians justifying abandoning biblical ethics on the basis of having to be “true to who I really am.”
But this is a profoundly unbiblical way to think. Our bodies are not incidental, just as they are not accidental. They are a gift and a calling –– and a truly fulfilled life will not be found without regard to the physical body God has given us.
Sam Allberry is a pastor, apologist and author, and is based at Immanuel Nashville. He is the author of Seven Myths About Singleness and Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?
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