There was an issue that got a surprising amount of attention in last year’s U.S. Presidential election. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard it mentioned in political debates before. I’m not talking about taxes, or immigration, or public debt or reviving the economy. The issue was the human body. ‘Body shaming’ made its way into the race for political office as people discussed whether it was appropriate for a would-be President to refer to people’s weight in such demeaning terms. Now that the election is over people are thinking about the human body for other reasons. Many of us overate during the holidays and are pondering New Year’s resolutions and gym memberships. Recent studies indicate that a person’s theology of the body – what they believe about the nature of the human body – has a big impact on how they feel about their own body. With all of the negative messages our culture sends about body image, clear biblical thinking in this area could surely help all of us.

Let’s start with the studies. Last fall, Christianity Today reported on a Biola University study that showed that people who saw their body as just something we live in here on this earth or who saw their body as sinful or less important to God than their soul, reported higher feelings of body shame. By contrast, people who believe that their body was created by God, indwelt by His Spirit and a means to glorify and honour Him, had a greater appreciation of their body. Another study showed that the conviction that the body is sacred, corresponded to “fewer abnormal eating concerns and higher body satisfaction.” As in all areas of life, what you believe matters.

You’re bombarded every day with images and statements about the human body, but are you clear on what the Bible teaches?

  1. God formed your body wonderfully! David famously said, “You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). His point wasn’t just to tell God that He did a particularly good job with his body. David was recognizing that God created each one of us. So no matter how many times I bump my head on doorways, I need to pause and recognize that God made me this way and He did so with a wonderful purpose.
  2. ‘Healthy eyes’ are critical for healthy bodies. Jesus taught that “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matthew 6:22-23). Jesus wasn’t warning about the danger of people who needed glasses but rather encouraging us to guard the moral compass that our eyes are to us. What we expose ourselves to with our eyes affects us.
  3. The physical body of every Christian has been made sacred through the Holy Spirit. The Bible asks, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). When we read the Old Testament regulations about the tabernacle or the temple and all that the people had to go through to prepare a sacred space for God to dwell in the midst of His people, we realize with awe and wonder, ‘God’s Spirit dwells in my body now!’
  4. The Bible commends feasting, fasting and self-control and a healthy Christian should be growing in all three. Jesus was without sin and yet was attacked by His critics as a “glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:33). While the accusations were unfair, He earned the reputation at the many dinners and banquets He attended in His ministry to the lost. The early church faced similar attacks from false teachers who required “abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3). And yet Paul taught that self control was a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and Jesus said that His disciples would fast (Matthew 9:14-15).
  5. God calls us to offer our bodies to Him in on-going sacrifice as an act of worship. The Bible says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Worship is not just a song we sing on Sunday but a life we live in devotion to God all week long.
  6. The after-life will one day include the resurrection of our bodies. People sometimes think that after death we will wander around heaven as body-less spirit beings forever. But the Bible promises that one day we will receive new, resurrected bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44) to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth that God creates.

In a world that both idolizes as well as degrades the human body, I think we need to remind ourselves of these truths more than ever. And our children need this vital vision of the body God has given us to rescue them from body shaming, eating disorders and unhealthy body image.

In awe of Him,