Learning to Love Our Bodies

Some days I look at my body and think of it as a prison to my soul. My soul is good, but my body is bad; my soul is my truer self, while my body is a rusty cage from which I'm waiting to break free. It has stretch marks, it restricts me, it embarrasses me, it deceives me, it makes me sick, it causes me sorrow. Sometimes I think of my body as an old car that isn’t worth putting money towards fixing anymore. It doesn’t seem to do much good anyway. I often become frustrated with my body and the way it looks and limits me. 

In the Fall, both soul and body were broken by sin. Our bodies were then plagued by sicknesses and diseases, and ultimately death. Our bodies would be pushed and worked hard in order to survive. What was created to live with God in perfect relationship forever would now return to the dust it came from—but not without enduring physical hardships. But before this, when God formed us, he declared the whole of us as good—not just the soul. Both are created by God, both are created to glorify him, and both will be redeemed by God. 

Made by the Perfect Hand of God

When God created man and woman, he called them good.[1]It wasn’t just the soul he breathed in through their nostrils but their entire self that was declared as good. We also see in the beloved Psalm 139 that David wrote, “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.”[2]Jesus even reassures us of God’s care by saying every hair on our heads is numbered by him.[3]

This physical body was created by the perfect hand of God, and because of that, it is wonderful and good. Though sin has corrupted it, made it sick, and led it to death, that doesn’t change the fact that God made this body originally good. God made our bodies with each freckle and wrinkle. What you look at in the mirror and despise, God declared good and wonderful when he knit it together.  

Made to Glorify God

My soul and body together are my full self. My soul is not my truer self or better self, and my body isn’t the evil side of me. Both are me. As Michael Horton writes,

 “The soul is not an emanation of divinity entombed in a physical body; it is a natural but nonphysical aspect of our creatureliness. The soul is not divine, nor is the body demonic or evil; full humanity is a psychosomatic (body-soul) unity. We do not have a body (as if our soul were our real selves); we are created as a psychosomatic (soul-body) whole, as persons .”[4]

And God calls me to love him with my entireself—with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.[5]As those who love God, we should seek to glorify him in all that we do.[6]We can fall prey to the temptation of using our bodies to glorify ourselves—working out so that our bodies look attractive to others, dressing it in such a way to receive compliments, eating well to meet a certain worldly standard—rather than to glorify God. We can become consumed with “caring” for our bodies to the point that it becomes worship rather than care and stewardship or as a way of loving our neighbour. 

Not just our souls, but our entire selves were bought by Christ when he took the wrath of God that we deserved on the cross. “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 glorify God in your body.”[7]Though we sinned with our bodies and hearts and Christ did not, he went willing to the cross to suffer not just physical pain but to suffer under the mighty hand of God’s righteous wrath for our sins. That was a grand payment for our redemption, and one that calls for our obedience from a heart of gratefulness.  

To be Redeemed by God

Redemption, then, isn’t just the release of my soul to eternal life. It is the redemption of both my soul and body. As Michael Horton writes,

“Immortality is not an attribute of the soul any more than of the body; it is God's gift of resurrection-glorification in Jesus Christ. To put it more simply, Platonism sees embodiment as a curse, while Christianity understands disembodiments to be the curse.”[8]

These bodies, though broken and sick, will be freed from the curse of sin with our souls. When Jesus returns to gather his saints, he will raise our broken bodies to newness. “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”[9]What a hope! We can sing with the Psalmist, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”[10]Jesus, when he rose from the dead, conquered sin’s greatest blow.

A Good Kind of Self-Love

How, then, do we care for these bodies that were created by God to glorify him and be redeemed by him? How do we steward them and honour them as temples of the Holy Spirit?[11]It’s not by despising and criticizing them every chance we get. At the same time, we must guard ourselves against idolizing these bodies and loving them more than our neighbour or more than God. We must hold them in their proper place—we care for them in orderto love God and our neighbour. Eating well, exercising, resting, sleeping, and practicing good hygiene are not selfish endeavours but important and necessary pieces of self-care. If our bodies aren’t cared for, how will we be able to serve and help to our best capacity?  

This kind of self-care is biblical. As Matthew Henry wrote, 

 “There is a self-love which is corrupt, and the root of the greatest sins, and it must be put off and mortified; but there is a self-love which is the rule of the greatest duty: we must have a due concern for the welfare of our own souls and bodies. And we must love our neighbour as truly and sincerely as we love ourselves.”[12]

This needs to be such a careful balance. The road is thin and the ditches wide—we can easily fall into the ditch on either side by neglecting ourselves or selfishly loving ourselves. Our bodies are important and have significance, but our care for them shouldn’t be to neglect of our spiritual health.[13]The Christian is called to care both for their physical body and to be self-sacrificing. We need to hold both in tandem. I don’t have a formula for seeing the time for one or the other, but I believe it is something that with wisdom we are to discern as each case will look different. But know this: your body is not a prison, and it’s not a dilapidated car ready for the junk yard. It is something we are to care for, something God cares for, all to his glory. 

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[1]Genesis 1:26-31

[2]Psalm 139:13-14 NASB

[3]Luke 12:7

[4]Michael Scott Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples(Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 120.

[5]Luke 10:27

[6]1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV

[7]1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV

[8]Horton, 121.

[9]1 Corinthians 15:42b-44a NASB

[10]1 Corinthians 15:55-57

[11]1 Corinthians 10:31

[12]Matthew Henry, Exposition of the Bible, Matthew 22:40.

[13]1 Timothy 4:8