When it comes to thinking about our bodies, Moore College student Karina Brabham challenges us to shift our gaze from the world to Christ.
Putting our bodies in focus
We live in a world where how you look matters. We take multiple selfies so we can choose which one makes us look best and upload it to Instagram. We spend billions of dollars on cosmetics. We continually compare ourselves to the person standing next to us. And we all have at least one thing that comes to mind when we’re asked what we’d change about our appearance.
I’m no exception. As a teenager, I worried a lot about what people thought of me, because of how I looked: I was tall and skinny, which translated (in my head) to looking like an awkward stick insect. It stressed me out that most of my clothes were hand-me-downs that expressed the personality of their original owner more than mine. (I definitely wasn’t a fluoro shirt kind of girl!) I had this idea of who I was (or at least who I wanted to be) that didn’t fit with the picture I was showing the world each day. I hated this feeling.
Body image is an issue for all of us. Up to 35 per cent of women are unhappy with their physical appearance, and so are 28 per cent of men. Poor body image can also be the first stop on the way to more serious problems—like mental illness or eating disorders. While God has been incredibly kind to me in that my view of myself has never developed into something that threatened my health, my attitude towards my body image is still something for which I keep having to shift my focus. As a Christian, I’ve realised that this starts with, firstly, understanding who God says I am and, secondly, understanding what God has to say about the body he has given me.
In contrast, we often listen to the voice of the world, which tells us that physical appearance matters and so the bodies we have matter. I’m not just talking about our idolisation of beauty, accompanied by the constant barrage of good-looking people on our screens; in the individualistic society of the West, our physical bodies matter because they tell others who we are—our personalities, our hobbies, our gender. We display all these markers about our identity on our bodies. We treat the physical mass of flesh as our canvas, malleable to the idea of “This is who I am”. And when our bodies don’t speak the message we want—when they fail to live up to our idea of “self”—we’re unhappy with our bodies.
Yet for the Christian, our identity isn’t wrapped up in our bodies. We’re called to find our identity in Christ. So what are we meant to think about the physical selves we inhabit? Here’s three principles for considering our bodies afresh in light of the new people we have become through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Each of these challenges us to shift our focus from a limited worldly viewpoint to the grander vision of Christ.
1. Our bodies belong to Christ, so let’s serve him with them
Contrary to what the world would say, our bodies are not our own. 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20 says, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body”. The Apostle Paul is telling the Corinthians that what they do with their bodies matters. The same idea appears in Romans 6:12-13:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 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.
If we also consider ourselves “members of Christ”—that is, those who have new life—we need to live that out through what we do to our bodies and with our bodies.
Firstly, this starts with an attitude change: no longer should we think along the lines of “It’s my body; I’ll do what I like with it”, but instead, we need to embrace the unity we share with Christ as those who belong to him. When you brush your teeth in the morning, those teeth belong to Christ; when you lift weights at the gym, those arms belong to Christ; and when you eat a Big Mac for dinner, that stomach you’re filling belongs to Christ. Our bodies belong to Christ, and they should be used for Christ. They are the earthly vehicle we’ve been given with which to glorify Jesus. And when we do that, we display the wonder of Christ. After all, Isaiah tells us beautiful feet belong to the one who brings good news (Isa 52:7).
Taking this to a practical level, this means we need to consider Christ more in the decisions we make about our bodies. How are we using our bodies to bring glory to Christ? If we’re constantly dieting or exercising to bring glory to ourselves, that’s a problem. If we’re spending time and money on making ourselves look good, instead of prioritising investment in the gospel, that’s a problem.
But I don’t think that this should become an excuse not to care about our bodies or appearance. If we eat junk food and never exercise, that impacts the health of our bodies: research shows that an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise leads to lack of energy, mood irritability and increased susceptibility to more serious health issues. All of these habits have a negative impact on our bodies and on our ability to serve others. While this doesn’t mean we should feel guilty if we can’t run a marathon, or when we enjoy a slice of cake with our coffee, it does mean we need to assess our motivations for what we’re doing or what we’re not doing.
Ask yourself what you need to change in order to maximise how you glorify Christ with your body. Is it ensuring you get sufficient rest on Saturday night so that you aren’t struggling to stay awake during the service on Sunday morning? Or is it forgoing the monthly manicure to instead support a gospel ministry financially?
2. Our bodies are part of one body of believers
Secondly, we are not just individually saved to Christ, but in our salvation, we become a united people—the body of Christ. We become part of a new “body”. While this is an idea expressed in metaphoric language, it captures the profound unity Christians share with one another through Jesus. The reality of our identity as God’s gathered people means our focus shifts from ourselves to the bigger picture of the community that Christ has made us.
This unity needs to be displayed clearly in how Christians act towards one another (1 Cor 12:25, Eph 4:1-4). We are to love and care for another using our individual bodies. Service is active—whether it be speaking, listening or doing—and it involves our physical bodies. I’ve known and benefitted from this kind of service in so many ways—through the families who’ve cooked a meal and invited me over, the friend who taught me to drive, the guy who fixed my washing machine free of charge, and the elderly ladies who prayed and wrote me letters of encouragement when I went overseas on high school student exchange. Their actions were diverse, but they were all fuelled by hearts that loved the Lord.
There’s a wonderful beauty in the diversity of God’s people brought into community together. Our bodies are different, but we are still one Body. It’s not about dressing the same, having the same skin colour or speaking the same language; it’s about Christ. Together we highlight what unites us among the diversity God has gifted us in each other.
3. We look forward to a physical resurrection
Thirdly, our future is a physical one. When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, he revealed that his risen form was not as a spirit or ghost, but “flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39). So the resurrection we look forward to is a bodily resurrection. Yet Paul also makes clear that there is some inherent newness and heavenliness to our future bodies: in 1 Corinthians 15, he describes how our current perishable and weak physical selves will be raised powerfully as imperishable bodies who “bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor 15:49). We can’t know the specifics of what this all means yet, but it does help us understand what our attitude to our bodies should be now.
When our skin starts to wrinkle, our hair turns grey and our bones start to ache, we are reminded that our bodies are perishable and we can rejoice in what’s ahead. Again, the Bible challenges us to shift our focus—from a temporary view of our bodies to an eternal one. If we are spending too much time dwelling on the beauty of our appearance, the Bible rebukes us and helps us to remember that there is something greater to come. What’s more, the greatness of our resurrected bodies has less to do with our own sinful ideas of beauty, and more to do with God’s own definition of what is good for those made in the image of Christ.
When it comes to our bodies, we need to lift our understanding out of the sin-ridden worldview of the now. We need to look to Christ, who brings us new life through his own body and heralds for us God’s eternal kingdom of perfection. With this gospel vision saturating our minds, how we value our bodies should be transformed too.