Why Your Physical Body Matters

Neither Everything Nor Nothing

Every right-thinking Christian will know that the body is not the crowning human experience (Rom. 8:5–8). But neither is the body nothing. It is far from nothing. In this passage Paul teaches us a theology of the human body as something glorious. For the Christian, his or her body has been made a sacred location of God’s redemptive presence in the world:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 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 with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor. 6:15–20)

If the Bible did not say this clearly, would we dare to believe it? Would it even have occurred to us as a possibility? But Paul treats it as something so obvious that all Christians should be aware of this: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (v. 15). Amazingly, the gospel reveals that our bodies, the humblest part of us, are members of Christ, limbs of Christ, organs of Christ. Epictetus, a younger contemporary of Paul and an influential Stoic philosopher, taught this:

Inasmuch as these two elements were comingled in our begetting, on the one hand the body, which we have in common with the brutes, and, on the other, reason and intelligence, which we have in common with the gods, some of us incline toward the former relationship, which is unblessed by fortune and is mortal, and only a few toward that which is divine and blessed. [1]

If I did not believe the gospel, Epictetus’s view would seem to me plausible. I could understand myself his way. I have my spiritual and intellectual self, which is more heavenly and godlike, but I tend to neglect it. And I have my physical and visceral self, which is more earthly and animal-like, and its impulses and appetites I tend to obey. And my salvation would lie in my spiritual self subduing and dominating my physical self. But this is not the Christian gospel, for the Word became flesh (John 1:14).

Members of His Body

The gospel claims that our bodies—not just our souls, but our bodies, with all their appetites and drives, with all their smells and messes, with all their aches and pains, with all their sneezing and yawning—yes, our bodies are united to the living Christ. We are physical extensions of Christ in the modern world.

So, for example, our legs are how Jesus walks the streets of our cities today. He so cares for us in all that we are, he so identifies with us, he so gets involved with us, that every part of our very bodies, including our sexuality, is eternally joined to him now and brings his incarnational presence into the world we live in.

No Greater Dignity

Could our bodies have any greater dignity? Can we now allow ourselves to trivialize our sexual behavior as of little consequence, as long as our hearts glow with love for the Lord? The Christian gospel creates strong sexual integrity not by despising the body but by honoring the body.

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel

Ray Ortlund

By laying out a cosmic vision of marriage as the Bible teaches from Genesis to Revelation, this volume honors and exalts marriage as a grand display of the gospel, offering hope for our marriages today.

Here is the apostle’s point in the rest of verse 15. I will summarize it by expanding and paraphrasing the sense: “Shall I then take the sexuality of Christ and join his sexuality to a prostitute? Shall I take the eyes of Christ and the brain of Christ and make them members of porn? Shall I take any member of my body, which Christ now claims as dear and precious to himself, as if my body were his very own body, because it is, and use my/his body for any sinful purpose at all? Never!”

If our poor bodies could somehow speak for themselves, they would plead with us, “Oh, please, don’t take me there! Please don’t do that with me! I belong to Jesus now. He cares about me, even if you don’t. He values me, even if you would abuse me. Oh, have mercy upon me and don’t do such horrible things with me! In fact, don’t even think of me. Think of Jesus, and treat me as a part of him, because I am!”

Here then is how our standards of sexual behavior are elevated and preserved—the love of Jesus reaching out and embracing us, all that we are, as genuine members of his holiness.

1. Epictetus, Epictetus: The Discourses as Reported by Arrian, Books I–II, trans. W. A. Oldfather, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 25.

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