Body and Soul
“It didn’t mean anything—it was just physical.”
We’ve all heard the line, in movies and perhaps in real life. Someone has been caught cheating on their spouse and in the moment of confrontation this is the defense they offer. The assumption behind it is that if something is merely physical then it doesn’t matter. And the assumption behind that is that the body itself is just flesh and blood, and as such, is not of crucial significance. Ultimately, so the thinking goes, what we do with our bodies doesn’t really matter.
It is not unusual to find this sort of thinking in the church today. Indeed, it seems to have been rife in the church in Corinth. One of their slogans was “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (1 Cor. 6:13). This was evidently being used as a justification for various kinds of sexual immorality. Just as we should eat when we’re hungry, so also we should satisfy sexual urges when we feel them. Some were even using this to rationalize sleeping with prostitutes.
We can see how this sort of thinking might have developed. If we make the soul the focus of our spiritual life and downgrade the body, we can argue that the body is spiritually irrelevant. God (we might assume) is only interested in the spiritual side of me; the body is of no concern to him.
The mentality might be common in the church today, but it is profoundly unbiblical. We might think it doesn’t matter what we do with our bodies, but the Bible repeatedly and powerfully shows us this is not the case.
Our Bodies Were Made by Jesus
Assuming our bodies have little spiritual relevance flies in the face of what the Bible teaches about our creation. The physical world (our bodies included) did not find its own way into existence and then God happened to come along and tried to extract something spiritual from it. No. God made the world. And he made our bodies.
I’m not hugely creative, but on the rare occasions I make something it becomes meaningful to me. Creatives (proper ones) create art or music or buildings or literature because those things matter to them. And if God made our bodies, it means that they matter to him. How could it be otherwise?
Add to this the care with which the Bible shows God made us and it is even more clear. In the Old Testament, David could say even of his fallen and imperfect body that it had been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). Not only did God make us, but he made us with enormous care. If we knew the full extent of it we would shudder.
It always makes me smile to watch first-time parents hold their newborn baby. Everything happens in slow motion. Huge care is taken with this precious life. Why? Because it has been fearfully and wonderfully made. There is a sense of awe in those brand-new parents. What they carry in their arms may be small, but they know it is of infinite worth. If that is true of, say, the mother who carried the child in her womb, how much more is it true of the God who actually knitted it together in that womb?
Scripture shows us that all things were made through Jesus (John 1:3). That includes our bodies—which means they matter.
Our Bodies Have Been Bought by Jesus
I’ve written a handful of books and just had to buy one for myself. I realized I didn’t have a copy of it and would need to refer to it for something I was working on. As it landed on my doorstep and I opened up the packaging, it occurred to me that there is some absurdity to having to pay for something I created.
It is a tiny glimpse into what Christ has done for us. He made us, which means he knows us far more than we know ourselves. He came up with the idea of us in the first place. And in his death he has bought us. So we are, in a sense, doubly his now—though creation and now also through redemption. So greatly he loves us!
Paul explains it this way:
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 with a price. So honor God with your body. (1 Cor. 6:19–20)
Our bodies no longer belong to us if we are Christians. This is not bad news, but breath-taking, liberating news. We are now in the hands of him who is perfect love.
But that does mean we have an obligation: “So honor God with your body.” It is not our personal playground. It belongs to Jesus. He purchased it with his blood. He bought it for himself. That is how much it matters.
For the past few months I have been driving a car that a friend has loaned me. It’s a really nice car, as it happens, so I’ve been careful in how I’ve been driving it. But that’s not the only reason to be careful. The car isn’t mine. It belongs to someone else. It’s not mine with which to be reckless.
The same is true of our bodies. And given the glory of the One to whom they now belong, we will want to be all the more responsible with them.
Our Bodies Are Useful to Jesus
I own some things because they are useful (my laptop and my bed). I own other things because I really like them, even though they’re not of much practical use (the stuffed toy I’ve kept since I was two years old, for example). But some things are precious to us and useful. We love them and they serve a really good purpose.
This is how our bodies are to Jesus. He doesn’t just own them. He wants to use them. Paul urges us to offer our bodies to God for his service (Rom. 12:1). In fact, he tells us to be specific:
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Rom. 6:13)
We are to “present our members”—to offer the various parts of our body—to God. Paul says they can be “instruments for righteousness.” Not only is our body not a negative thing in Paul’s eyes, it is actually a positive. It is not given to us just so that we can make do with it. Paul wants us to use it for God. That is what it is ultimately for (see 1 Cor. 6:13). Our bodies will have any number of imperfections and limitations. Some of us might not be very mobile, others not very strong. But all of us can consecrate our bodies to God for his service. Every single body is useful to Christ. Every single body matters.
Our Bodies Will Be Redeemed by Jesus
Our bodies are useful to Jesus. But that doesn’t mean they only matter for this life. One of the most distinctive tenets of the Christian faith (and sadly, often overlooked) is that God has an eternal plan for our bodies. They are not just a temporary necessity for now. In the age to come we will not have “graduated” out of our physical lives into some floaty alternative. Our future is physical. We won’t be done with our bodies.
Paul talks about our bodies being redeemed (Rom. 8:23). They will be raised again:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies. (Rom. 8:11)
We will be resurrected. These bodies—sin-worn and imperfect though they are—will be raised to new and perfect life. Our future is physical. The death of your body won’t be the end of it. Your footprints and fingerprints will be all over the new creation.
The promise of resurrection for our bodies makes our use of them now all the more significant. In my sophomore year at university I lived in a hall of residence that was to be demolished at the end of that academic year. Needless to say, knowing that meant we did not take good care of it. We could do anything to it, and it would make no difference. There was little incentive to look after it. It didn’t matter.
The opposite is true of our bodies. They have a future—a glorious, eternal one, in fact. God himself will raise them to new life. That means they matter. They really matter!
Sam Allberry is the author of What God Has to Say about Our Bodies: How the Gospel Is Good News for Our Physical Selves.