Three Images of the Human Body


Ashamed of your body? Dislike your body? Preoccupied with your body? Is your body the most important part of you? Who influences what you think of your body? What is the Christian view of the body? We may view our bodies as a prison, as a god, or as a temple of God.

The Human Body as a Prison

Some pagans viewed the material world, including the human body, as evil. Plato thought the body hindered the soul from gaining truth, contaminating and imprisoning the soul. Epictetus saw himself as a “poor soul shackled to a corpse.” Seneca called the body a “detestable habitation” imprisoning the soul. Virgil spoke of the body as “blind darkness of this prison house.”

The Old Testament does not picture the body as evil, yet Philo, a Jew, thought of the body as a corpse, a prison, and a hindrance to the knowledge of God.

Gnostics taught the body was evil and denied Jesus Christ had actually come in a flesh body. This led to two extremes: one demanding abstinence from marriage and sex and the other advocated full gratification of bodily desires because the body had no effect on the soul.

Some early Christians considered the body a prison and a corpse, which makes belief in God difficult. Origen held that the soul was assigned to the body as a prison, as a penalty for sins. His disdain for the body is evidenced by his self-emasculation. Augustine viewed celibacy as holier than marriage. He taught that procreation in marriage was the only legitimate use of sex and even this was tainted because the child inherited the guilt of original sin. Contempt for the body contributed to monasticism in the church.

Paul Tournier, Christian psychiatrist, states, “The body is like a dog: if it is treated as an enemy, it snarls. To live in contempt of one’s body heaping it with abuse and vexation, is to wage a sort of civil war within oneself and to endanger one’s health.” Those addicted to food, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or sex have lost the sense of their body as holy. Contempt for the body results in shameless, sinful misuse of it.

God created human beings with bodies and declared his entire creation “very good” (Genesis 1:27, 31). We need not be ashamed of the way God made us.

The Human Body as a God

When Enlightenment thinkers lost confidence in God, they deified man. Reason, feelings, or bodily desires became their god. Rousseau, a Frenchman, taught that nature is good and one should do whatever comes naturally.

When a spiritual focus in life is lost, a physical focus becomes dominant. Bodily pleasures become the preoccupation. When one rejects the true God, false gods are substituted.

Today’s pagans practice the idolatry of body worship. Hollywood, TV, and the Internet feature gods and goddesses whose focus is on the body and sex. The worship of the body is screamed at us today by all forms of media as the focus of success and happiness.

Having rejected the Bible, D. H. Lawrence looked to the body for truth and meaning. He said: “Give me the body. I believe the life of the body is a greater reality than the life of the mind; when the body is really awakened to life . . . the human body is only just coming to real life. With the Greeks it gave a lovely flicker, then Plato and Aristotle killed it, and Jesus finished it off. But now the body is coming to life.”

“I want it” and “It feels good” do not justify “doing it.” Many feel that sexual pleasure sanctions any action. Physical health and beauty, eating, sex, or any other bodily pleasure or function makes a bad god. The body does not know right from wrong. Unless the mind and will are committed to normative standards, the strong impulses of the body can lead one to rationalize any behavior.

When Solomon kept his heart from no pleasure, his life was meaningless and “a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:10, 11, New American Standard Version). One who lives for pleasure is dead while he or she lives (1 Timothy 5:6, NIV). Those who worship their bodies submit to a very fickle and foolish god.

The Human Body as a Temple of God

The word body can mean the physical body (1 Corinthians 13:3) or the whole person, the self (Romans 12:1). The New Testament word for flesh can refer to the material covering our bones (1 Corinthians 15:39), the physical body (Galatians 2:20), or to persons (Galatians 1:16, Acts 2:17). Paul often uses flesh to mean life apart from the will of God following one’s selfish desires.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). Do not use your body selfishly but glorify God in the use of your tongue, eyes, ears, dress, habits, and entire lifestyle. Present your bodies as an offering to the Lord (Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17).

Marriage should be marked by honor and purity (Hebrews 13:4). Marriage is the general rule; however some are celibate for the kingdom’s sake. Sex is not sinful but is a wonderful gift to be exercised only within marriage, directed and disciplined by God’s guidelines. Marriage partners must control their own bodies out of mutual love and concern for the best interest of the other (1 Corinthians 7:4). “Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies” (Ephesians 5:28, NIV).

The body can be an instrument for good or evil (Romans 6:12-19). The body itself is not sinful but can be misused in sin. Babbage states, “Our Lord was sinless with a body. The devil is sinful without a body.”

The body is subject to the spirit’s control. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). Tournier suggests that the spirit is like a good horseman who holds the reins firmly not to mistreat or paralyze but to guide and direct.

Do not let your body be enslaved by alcohol, smoking, drugs, immorality, gluttony, or anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). Discipline your body to keep it subject to your spirit (1 Corinthians 9:27). Mastery of the body is essential to holiness. Tournier says, “It is not a matter of treating the body as an enemy and raining blows upon it but rather as a friend whom one helps to play his part correctly.”

The body was not meant for fornication but for the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:13). “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Don’t deliberate or debate. Flee! Get away from any compromising or tempting situation as fast as possible. Sexual immorality is a sin against the body (1 Corinthians 6:18). Sexual sin results in far-reaching physical and psychological scars and consequences, harming the person. Paul Tournier said men and women in his counseling room believe God will forgive all sins except sexual ones because “they are projecting to God their own contempt of themselves.”

We must “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1, NASB). Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20) and our bodies are members of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15). Live by the Spirit not according to the flesh (Galatians 5:16-25). “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).

Clothing provides protection, modesty, and adornment. Dress modestly (1 Peter 3:3-5). Immodest dress—sexually provocative, ostentatious, or weird—calls inappropriate or undue attention to your body. Live with hope and courage that Christ will be honored in your body (Philippians 1:20). Our bodies will be raised up on that Great Day (1 Corinthians 6:14) as glorious bodies (Philippians 3:21). Regardless of how dilapidated or diseased our bodies become in this world, we will have new bodies fit for eternity.

A young boy in the Midwest had scrubbed his pig, ready to enter it into the show ring at the county fair. On the way to the show ring the pig managed to get dirty in a mud puddle, frustrating his owner. Sitting on his back steps that evening, the boy observed a cat cleaning herself. He thought, “If I could only get the spirit of the cat into the pig.”

Christ makes us new creatures as his Holy Spirit comes and dwells in our bodies as his temples. What a privilege! We must not degrade our bodies as a prison. Hate for our bodies shows contempt for the God who made us. We must not deify our bodies as a god. When we make our bodily desires supreme we worship a false god. We must continually dedicate our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit so that God is glorified and Christ is honored.

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