This post has been adapted from a recorded conversation with BibleMesh Institute Teaching Fellow Lainey Greer available here.
Why Do Our Bodies Matter?
It’s hard to read Scripture and conclude that our bodies don’t matter. God created human bodies along with all else in the material creation and pronounced it all very good (Genesis 1:31). Throughout Scripture, we see that our bodies are inseparable from who we are as God’s embodied image-bearers.
Additionally, our bodies are used to serve God, accomplish his purposes, and bring him glory. Israel’s great commandment to love God involves doing so with “all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” that is, everything our bodies can do (Deut. 6:5). Or consider the overarching command of “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). When physical actions of eating and drinking are specified as activities we can do for God’s glory, our bodies matter.
Our bodies are also symbols that God uses for a watching world. Israel’s food and cleanliness laws set God’s people physically apart, symbolizing God’s order and mission in the world (Ex. 19:6). Bodily circumcision further distinguished God’s people and served as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17:1-14). In the New Covenant, the physical act of baptism marks the church, identifies us with Christ, and symbolizes his death, burial, and resurrection through bodily immersion.
When Paul summarizes the gospel he was entrusted with and preached to others, he focuses in on the centrality of the resurrected, embodied Christ.
Finally, Paul reminds us of our bodies’ value and God’s authority over them in I Cor. 6:12-20. He specifies the “Lord is for the body” (v. 13) and that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (v. 19). Because the body is inseparable from God’s calling on our lives, Christians are called to “glorify God with your body” (I Cor. 6:20). When Paul summarizes the gospel he was entrusted with and preached to others, he focuses in on the centrality of the resurrected, embodied Christ. If Christ was not bodily raised from the dead, then nothing else matters. Nothing about his message is true, and his preaching is useless (I Cor. 15:12-19). However, because Christ was bodily raised, not only is his gospel true, but also we have hope in an embodied future with him when we are physically resurrected to live with him forever in the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 20-22).
So, our bodies matter because they matter to God. As his embodied image-bearers, they are part of our created and future existence and are also integral in the ongoing work he calls us to in our daily lives as ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).
The Challenges of Embodiment in Our Contemporary Culture
Our contemporary culture is uniquely challenging to a biblical view of the body. We witness increased rates of obesity, depression, and addiction because of what we put into our bodies. Not to mention, the life rhythms we are trained to keep push us to the breaking point of stress and burnout. As if these challenges weren’t enough, we also face ideologies that are hostile to Scripture’s teaching that embodiment is natural and therefore good.
At the root of this phenomenon is the splitting apart of physical and mental health, misunderstanding their connection and equal importance
The transgender movement presupposes a division between our selves and our bodies, locating truth and reality in our sense of self. The body can be molded to conform with that sense if we feel we’re in the wrong body. At the root of this phenomenon is the splitting apart of physical and mental health, misunderstanding their connection and equal importance. For the sake of the mind, we disregard the body through mutilation. If that weren’t enough, we can even terminate it, as is the case with recent developments in euthanasia for those struggling with mental health, addiction, or neurodivergence.
What Does It Mean to Be Healthy?
We often associate physical health with a particular number on a scale or the absence of being sick. But what if health was considered a holistic concept, which had more to do with honoring God in our bodies as we treat them according to the ways he designed us? If that were the case, we would not only pay attention to what we put in them for daily sustenance, but also what we did with them, such as avoiding sinful and impure actions. We would also recognize its important to God that we not neglect our bodies either.
A rich theology of the body pushes us towards caring for our bodies in light of how significant they are according to God’s design.
A rich theology of the body pushes us towards caring for our bodies in light of how significant they are according to God’s design. Health is not just a way to ward off death or increase our quality of life. Health is a way of worship, of honoring God by caring for how he made us.
What Resources Exist for Caring for Our Bodies?
Many helpful books have appeared in recent years examining a theology of human embodiment. Such resources can help Christians overcome the sense that the Bible doesn’t speak to our care for the body. Or that our current embodiment doesn’t matter because our present bodies will experience death and decay to be later resurrected. Books by Sam Alberry, Kelly Kapic, and Katie McCoy can help Christians to think well theologically about what it means to be embodied and how to respond to the challenges of physical suffering, sexual identity, and mental health raised by our contemporary culture. Additionally, the forthcoming books Embodied Holiness (B&H Academic, 2025) and Struggling with Body Image: Seeing What God Sees (New Growth Press, 2024) by BibleMesh Institute Teaching Fellow Lainey Greer offer further wisdom in caring for our bodies in light of Christian convictions.
Lainey also has developed practical resources for Christians struggling to care for their bodies amidst the challenges of our culture, the pressure of work and ministry stress, and the general gap in knowing how our bodies work and how to care for them. Her program, Understand Healthy, teaches Christians how to make practical changes in their habits to better love the Lord, honor his gift of the body that he has given us, and image him well to a lost world that often misunderstands care for our physical bodies. Her online program is for groups and individuals who desire to learn how to steward their bodies to the glory of God in ways that support their roles in ministry.