God Cares About Bodies
John Sikkema delivered the following as a devotional reflection at ARPA’s 2023 God and Government Conference. The Conference theme was Imago Dei.
Let’s read from Romans 6. For context, in Romans 5, Paul was just telling us about how, though all died in Adam, many are made alive and made righteous through Christ by grace.
In Romans 6, Paul writes,
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with Him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
We celebrated Easter earlier this month. Maybe that feels like a long time ago already for some of you. It does for me.
The resurrection, as we know, is at the heart of the Christian faith. First, Christ’s resurrection – Christ the first fruits – makes our resurrection possible and certain. We look forward in hope to when we will be free from pain and sorrow and loss and sin and have perfect fellowship with God and each other. It is a great hope. We have a great future.
But here’s an interesting thing about Romans 6, as noted by Peter Leithart. Romans 6 seems to say that we have resurrection life already now. Verse 4 says we “were buried with Jesus by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” We have new life already now.
Of course, in verse 5, Paul assures us of our future bodily resurrection – “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” But, returning to the present tense after verse 5, Paul exhorts us to live as those who are raised to life in Christ already now as he says in verse 11, “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is saying there is a continuity to your bodily life in Christ both now and after death. The most fundamental divide in one’s life as an embodied image bearer of God, you might say, is not life before and after physical death, but life before and after Christ. Jesus says he who believes in me has eternal life (John 3:36).
After Paul assures us that we have been raised with Christ to new life, Peter Leithart observes that Paul immediately proceeds to talk about bodies. In verse 12, Paul says, “Therefore, do let sin reign in your mortal body.” And in verse 13, he says, “Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
Paul teaches the same in 1 Corinthians 6. There Paul says, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” He is saying this to correct Corinthian Christians who see the body as unimportant. Their attitude – “food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both” – leads not only to sexual sin but also to other consequences.
Yesterday, I mentioned Tertullian’s defence of freedom of conscience and his idea that the image of God is centred in man’s reason. Our rational capacities are undoubtedly important. But in Genesis 1, God says He wants to create an image bearer so that this image bearer can rule and take care of His marvelous, good creation. And immediately after Genesis 1 says God created embodied image bearers, male and female, God commands them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion.
God places us within His good creation order as part of that creation. We are dependent on it and capable to study it, shape it, and care for it. God gives us the capacity to cultivate plant life, raise livestock, build things, make art, and more. He even gives us the capacity to create and nurture new human life. Surely, it is not only our mind or our reason that is important in what it means to be image bearers of God.
Our bodies are truly amazing. Limited? Yes. Dependent on God to provide us with nourishment and hydration through His creation? Yes. Dependent on others? Yes. These things too are good. I think we don’t give God the praise that He is due if we devalue our bodily existence. David (in Psalm 139) is right to praise God that he is fearfully and wonderfully made. “Your works,” says David, “are wonderful.” David is just blown away by how God made our bodies. And David presumably didn’t know about the intricately complex mechanisms we have in each of our 100 trillion living cells.
In her book Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey insists that you are your body. Pearcey argues that our failure to appreciate the profound beauty, givenness, and moral significance of the body is deeply connected with the issues of abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, and gender. It’s all connected. Abortion? It’s just a clump of cells, not conscious, not self-aware, not a person. Euthanasia? If you’ve lost mental or other capacities, you’re not really the same person (or maybe even a person at all) anymore. Sexuality and gender issues? My body is a vehicle for pleasure or self-expression.
I recently heard the testimony of a parent whose daughter began identifying as transgender as a young teen. This girl was coached on how to transition by an older transgender person on the internet. And she was recruited online into “sex work” in creating pornography. She was persuaded to sell sexual videos of herself for money with the argument that her body isn’t really who she is anyway. And she believed that. She disassociated herself from her body.
It’s heartbreaking. How do you think it makes our Creator feel?
God is gracious. Romans 6 tells us that God has made a way for people to be set free from the power of sin to reign in our bodies. As those who have been set free, let us model the resurrection life, pray that God would save many from a culture of death, and bear witness to the truth about God’s good creation of human beings as His embodied image bearers, male and female.