How does the gospel apply to our understanding of the physical body? As believers, we desire to view everything in life through the lens of the Scripture. How we understand the body, and the whole person for that matter, should be of no exception. Therefore, how do we allow Scripture to form and shape how we understand ourselves as whole people, including our physical bodies? To answer this question, let’s look at how the topics of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation apply to how we understand the whole person, especially regarding the physical body.
In creation, we recognize that human beings are made in the image of God, involving all of who we are, our souls and bodies. We are created as embodied beings. Scripture also describes how we have been created as engendered, meaning that we are either male or female. We are also emplaced, which describes how we exist in space and time within our bodies, all made possible because we are embodied image bearers.
We know that before the fall, Adam and Eve had a perfect relationship with God and each other in creation. Genesis 2:25 states that they were naked and were not ashamed. Not only did they relate rightly to God and each other, but they also related rightly to themselves. In the garden, they rightly understood who God created them to be. They found their identity in him and they saw themselves through the lens of Eden without the influence of sin. There were no struggles with body image or other related issues. They did not experience the same difficulties that we do in how to understand themselves.
But, in the fall, we know that Satan tempts Eve with a lie, which causes her to question what God said. She eats the fruit, Adam eats the fruit, and suddenly their eyes are opened. They are aware of their nakedness. Through their actions, sin enters the world, and suddenly Adam and Eve become self-aware, but in a much different way than prior to the fall.
In the fall, we see how their focus shifts from being fully on God to themselves, and their response is to hide. Then, of course, we know how the dialogue goes between Adam, Eve, and God, as he walks through the impact of their sin.
We see and experience the effects of this today regarding the topic of body image. The effects of sin greatly impact how we understand ourselves and who God has created us to be. This shows up in various ways, including how we struggle to understand ourselves and our bodies.
However, even after Adam and Eve sin, God does not leave them. He provides a covering for them, and this foreshadows what comes forth in Christ.
So, in redemption, Jesus enters into the world to redeem it and rescue his people through his incarnation, death, and resurrection.
In the incarnation, we see the importance of the physical body in Jesus himself, the God-Man. John 1:14 describes how Jesus came to earth in a physical body and dwelled among men. We also know that he returned in bodily form after the resurrection, and appeared to many, including his disciples. He encouraged them to touch his hands and feet and says in Luke 24 that a spirit does not have flesh and bones as he has.
In Jesus’ earthly ministry, we see how Jesus cares for his own physical body and the bodies of the people he ministered to. We see how he enters into people’s pain and suffering in a real way, and seeks to provide holistic restoration by addressing both their spiritual and physical needs. We can think back to the feeding of 5,000, and how he healed the physical ailments of many others including the leper, Jairus’ daughter, the woman with the bleeding disorder, and many, many more.
Physical healing was a significant part of Jesus’ early ministry and these physical needs and limitations were used to highlight people’s spiritual needs that could only be fulfilled in him.
Jesus’ hope was for these struggling people to experience holistic restoration, so that they were also restored to engage and flourish in all realms of life. We can think about this in regard to the healing of the leper. A man who was the outcast of society and considered unclean was healed when Jesus’ touched him.
I mean, think about how this impacted his life! People like this man with leprosy, who experienced such renewal of their bodies and livelihood, would not only tell of Jesus and his miraculous healings but would also witness to the whole person restoration that was only made possible through him.
And, this gives us hope! We see how Jesus cares for the whole person, including the body, and that he can transform our brokenness, suffering, and pain, especially in this area of body image. He cares for us as whole people, not just our souls.
Through this redemption lens, Jesus offers us hope in the waiting as we think about our bodies and God’s intentions for how he has created us. We may struggle on this side of eternity, but we won’t struggle forever because we know that Jesus will return one day and will make all things new.
In consummation, all things will be made new. All of God’s creation will be redeemed when Christ returns. And, we see in Jesus a picture of our future resurrection! 1 Cor 15 tells us that Christ has been raised from the dead and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Scripture tells us that we will be raised one day, just as he has been raised.
On the day of Christ’s return, believers who have passed away will be raised from the dead and will experience the resurrection of their bodies, and all believers, both decreased and living, will experience glorification of their bodies.
In the resurrection and glorification of the body, the goodness of God’s creation is exemplified and brought to fruition. As Philippians 3 describes, our citizenship is in heaven, and in the return of Christ, he “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” When we see him, we will be made like him, as 1 John 3 tells us.
Looking forward to this final restoration can also bring us hope in the waiting knowing that one day there will be no more weeping and no more pain. We will no longer struggle with issues of body image or identity! And, not only this but as we just discussed, we will be made like Christ and that includes our bodies, which will be transformed into glorified, imperishable, heavenly bodies in the resurrection.
And, Paul assures us of these realities in 2 Cor 5 when he says that the Spirit has been given to us as a guarantee, which brings us comfort and hope as we walk by faith. Remembering that we have been indwelt with the Holy Spirit can bring us hope in the midst of these struggles reminding us that this is not all there is and that one day things will be made new.