I pulled the hand weight up to my shoulder, letting out one last grunt. I eyed myself from every angle in the mirror-clad room, as sweat dripped from the tip of my nose. Putting the weights back in their place, I gathered my things from the shelf (I’ve never had enough patience for a cool-down routine). Having the entire place to myself, I took my time. I sipped my water and frustratingly forced the sleeves of my sweatshirt over my sweaty arms.
I suddenly noticed that I had been watching myself the entire time. For the last forty-five minutes, I had seen myself from every angle, my eyes rarely departing from my own image in one of the many mirrors that walled the room. I watched the way my body moved, I noted every imperfect and each area of change, and in that ordinary moment in a quiet gym I realized: I am my body.
In many ways that revelation seems trite and obvious. Yet, I couldn’t quite bring myself to utter the words aloud. There was a twinge of guilt in my gut that hushed my thoughts. As a Christian in the Christian church, I’m much more comfortable thinking about myself as a soul than as a body. But the truth was staring right back at me from every mirror: I am my body. There is no other existence I experience than in my body; there is no other “me” that this flesh and bones self. I am, fundamentally and entirely human, and I live out my entire existence – physical, spiritual, mental, and emotions – in this body. I am my body.
I made my way back to our little apartment to ready myself for the day, this seemingly new revelation haunting me the whole way. Somewhere and somehow, I had become a gnostic. Secretly and subtly I had embraced the belief that body-forgetfulness was the key to being spiritual – that if I could just sit in my room with my Bible, close my eyes and forget the world around me that I would somehow elevate to some more spiritual existence.
I wrapped my freshly washed hair in a towel and grabbed my toothbrush. Now, every time I do, I think about pushing back the decay of death (thanks, Tish Harrison Warren) – yet, another reminder of my humanity. I stood staring at the floor, mesmerized by the swishing of my toothbrush and startled by the thoughts swirling in my head. If I am my body, what does this mean for my Christian life? If I am not fundamentally spirit or soul, what, then, does this mean for what I once considered “more spiritual”?
In the days that have followed, I have considered the body every day. I have searched the Scriptures and found three ways that our bodies matter for our holiness.
A common denominator for all Christians is the process of sanctification. By God’s grace, He saved us from our sin; by His grace, He also doesn’t let us stay where we are. The Spirit of God is at work in all believers at all times making us more like Him. This process of being made holy as He is holy is called sanctification.
I used to think that sanctification was primarily internal. And while it has unseen, silent currents, the only place that I can obey God is in my body. There is no other location of my obedience or holiness than in my body. When God calls me to have “truth in the inner parts” (Psalm 51:6) the only way that I can put obedience into practice – the only thing that reveals what is in my heart – is through my tongue (Matthew 15:18). Holiness will always require physical, bodily obedience. As God makes me more like Him, I will obey – not just in my spirit or mind, but in my body.
Every Sunday (at least in our tradition) the Lord calls His people to the Supper. We come to the Table that has been set with bread and wine. We take the elements of Communion and receive them as the body and blood of Christ, and, in doing so, we receive grace. Similarly, those who embrace faith in Jesus as their Savior, are plunged into the waters of baptism. In faith, we are joined to the Savior who is Living Water; in the waters of baptism the old Adam drowns, and we are raised to life in the joy and resurrection power of Jesus. These sacraments, the Supper and baptism, are means of grace. They are both an invitation and command of our Lord.
We cannot participate in these sacraments outside of our bodies. We cannot partake of the Supper without our hands and teeth and tongues, and there would be no Supper without the body of our Savior, having been sacrificed on our behalf. And, we cannot be baptized without getting our bodies wet, without submitting our bodies into the hands of the one who sinks us beneath the waters and brings up back up again. God has called us to these spiritual practices that cannot be embraced in any way apart from our bodies.
Recently, the Lord has called me to a season of sacrifice. This dying to self, has often felt like death. It has pained me in my gut, built a knot in my throat, and pressed hot tears from my eyes more often than I would like to admit. When God calls us to sacrifice, even when the sacrifice is unseen or intangible, we bear that sacrifice in our bodies.
This is only appropriate, isn’t it? The One who we follow in giving up our lives, sacrificed for us in His body. The One who calls us to follow His example and to die to self, gained our salvation fundamentally through His body. In His bodily holiness and sinless life, in His physical death, and in His bodily resurrection He has saved us. And He has saved not just our souls, but our bodies. The great promise of Christ’s resurrection is not a spiritual existence in heaven, but a bodily resurrection.
In this light, I want to watch my body closely. I want to think on the body with a new concern for my holiness, a new watchfulness in the sacraments, and fresh lens for which to view the sacrifice God has called me to. Will you join me? Will you look at the body with me in the light of God’s Word and the hopefulness of heaven? I believe we have only started to scratch the surface.
This New Year’s Day, if you’re considering starting a diet or changing a habit or introducing a new routine, stop and consider your theology of your body that lies beneath it. Are you a gnostic, trying to find a way to body-forgetfulness? Do you subtly believe that the body is a hinderance to your own sanctification, rather than embracing that sanctification by the Spirit happens through and in your body? As we start a new year and new routines let’s be careful to embrace a biblical theology of our bodies. After all, our salvation ultimately came through one body – our God made flesh.