Living for God in Our Bodies: notes on embodied discipleship

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

This past weekend at Eastbrook I preached about our belief in the resurrection of the body (“I believe in the resurrection of the body”), emphasizing different implications of that belief, from the historical resurrection of Jesus to our future resurrection at Christ’s return. However, the last phrase of Galatians 2:20—”The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”—highlights the resurrection impact on our lives now.

If we have been crucified with Christ and transformed by the resurrection life of Christ, then our daily, bodily living should reflect that change. Although Jesus came to bring God’s truth, Christianity it is not an abstract philosophy, but rather an embodied approach to living. We cannot walk toward heaven while living like hell. Instead, our life in the body must increasingly display the present, dynamic life of Christ.

While calling the Corinthian believers to repentance from sin and idolatry, the Apostle Paul declares the human body of the Christian to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s exclamation at the end of this challenge is a moving description of our embodied discipleship: “you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:20). What does honoring God in our bodies mean other than letting God’s presence pervade our bodies and God’s ways be preeminent ins how we daily live in our bodies? Our physical life—eating and drinking, work and rest, affection and sexuality, speaking and acting—must all honor God.

“Faith in Christ” is the theme of Galatians, permeating the entire letter. The word ‘faith’ or derivations of it appear over 20 times in this brief letter. In a sense, the entire letter is an exposition by the Apostle Paul of the prophet Habakkuk’s words: “the righteous shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11). But this faith is not an abstracted faith but a faith rooted in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Messiah, who saved us through His body given and His blood poured out for us. Because of His sufficient work, our faith is now lived out in the body. Our spirituality as Christians is embodied.

Portions of Western Christianity have developed a fundamental divorce between body and spirit. The easiest thing to blame is the Enlightenment, but it seems like this challenge runs all the way back to the early church. The Apostle John wrote his epistles in part to combat an early form of gnosticism that claimed Jesus did not really come in a body. These early gnostics appear to have downplayed the body and creation in favor of an abstracted spirituality. Today a sort of neo-gnosticism has arisen within Western Christianity, where the body is either devalued through a skewed asceticism or overvalued with a materialistic hedonism.

But this is not what we find in Scripture, which instead points to a fundamental continuity between body and spirit. The Jewish concept of nephesh, which is sometimes translated soul, refers to the totality of the person: body, mind, heart, and spirit. The early Gospel writers made it absolutely clear that when Jesus rose from the dead, He did so physically. He was alive in a resurrection body not as some disembodied spirit. John even goes so far as to show Jesus eating fish with His disciples after the resurrection. Paul elaborates on this when writing about Christians’ future experience of resurrection bodies. He says that just as Christ is the “first fruits” of the resurrection, so we will be raised anew with resurrection bodies when He returns (1 Corinthians 15:20). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul’s letters are often structured around divine truth (first half) and application to real, embodied living (second half).

Thus, if Christian spiritual is fundamentally embodied, then the way we steward our bodies and physical resources, such as generosity versus hoarding and our physical care of our bodies, is spiritual. If Christian spirituality is embodied, then the food and drink we take in has spiritual significance, not only for communion, but also in relation to nutrition (see Paul’s discussion of food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 10). If we truly want to live our faith out in our bodies, then the physical actions of worship and devotion, such as kneeling, raising hands, fasting, and even the physicality of the space for worship, hold spiritual significance. If our bodies and creation are important for the kingdom, then the way we care for the created world has spiritual meaning. If the life we live in the body is for the glory of God, then the physical needs of the sick, the poor, and the needy have spiritual meaning beyond just keeping someone alive to share the gospel with them. If our discipleship is implicitly embodied, then we are not simply trying to save people for heaven, but equipping people to live embodied on earth for God’s glory until the dawning of the new heaven and new earth.

So, let me ask us a few questions for reflection:

  • Do we believe in the value and spiritual significance of your body?
  • Do our lives of faith reflect that bodily spiritual significance or a disembodied spiritualism?
  • How do you think we can live a life of worship of the true Creator God in our physical bodies?

Lord, thank you for buying me at a price.
May my bodily life reflect my relationship with You.
Thank You, Jesus, for Your faithfulness to the Father that gives me new birth.
Help me to live each day full of faith in You, my living Savior.

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