Friend or Foe: Embracing the Divine Design in Your Body’s Messages

Talk to a Christian about our physical body and you’re likely to get confused. You might hear, “You must take care of your body because it’s the temple of the Holy Spirit.” And a minute later you might hear, “You must deny your body, crucify the flesh.” So is your body good or bad? Friend or foe? What is the divine design in your body’s messages?

The idea that the body is somehow bad and the immaterial “spiritual” part of you is good does not come from the Bible. That perspective is Platonism (which is pagan), not Christianity. When God knelt down in the mud, with His own hands formed Adam’s body, and leaned down to touch Adam’s lips with His own, He declared the human He had made to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We must be careful not to call evil what God created as very good.

Then in Genesis 3 sin enters. Humankind falls. And “the body keeps the score” in all kinds of ways. We’ve been talking a lot about sexuality and intimacy, and your body certainly plays a big role there. Let’s consider the big picture about how to think about our body’s messages as followers of Jesus, and then we’ll briefly apply it to sexuality.

Jesus as Our Example

As always, looking at Jesus provides the best perspective. Jesus physically coming to earth and taking on a physical human body is a radical thought. The Word, the second Person of the Godhead, the One who spoke the universe into existence, was now skinning his knee, having dirty feet, getting tired and hungry, feeling sexual tension. We too often forget how human Jesus was, and is.

And remember, friends, the tomb is empty! Jesus did not leave His body behind and enter a disembodied spiritual experience at His resurrection. His body became glorified, as ours will be if we stick with Him. But there is Someone with a physical (yet glorified) human body sitting right now at the right hand of the Father in the throne room in heaven.

Let that thought mess with your brain for a moment. It’s remarkable.

So how did Jesus deal with His body while here on earth? He embraced His physicality, not running away from any of the realities that implies. But He did not allow his body (or His emotions or anything else) to lead Him. He didn’t ignore or deny His body. But He, while being fully submitted to His heavenly Father, was in charge, not His body.

Your Body and Trauma

Jesus’ body has scars. What scars does your body carry?

I was about seven and was rushing outside to play. Running fast, my hand missed the latch and shattered the glass part of the back door. I still have an inch-long scar on the inside of my left arm.

But my body and yours also keeps the score from other kinds of assaults. When your internal nervous system becomes overwhelmed and feels powerless to manage or deal with negative experiences, whether a single terrible event or ongoing lower-grade harm, deep ruts form in your brain. Our culture can overuse the word trauma, but it’s a real thing. And the brain pathways so formed are like train tracks – physical connections from one neuron to another.

When your heart rate goes up and your muscles tense when in the presence of a certain person, that may be unhealed trauma talking. When your emotions ignite in a volcano that’s out of proportion to the current moment, that’s probably old stuff being triggered.

And it doesn’t help to say, “That shouldn’t happen.” Your body is talking; are you listening? Remember, following Jesus’ example means you don’t blindly let your body “lead” you, but you do need to pay attention. What is your body trying to say?

And by the way, inviting Jesus into your past trauma can be a huge part of healing even the very physical brain pathways involved.

Your Body and Sexuality

God created us as embodied beings, and that includes our nature as sexual beings. “Male and female, He created them” (Genesis 1:27). The only book of the Bible devoted to a single subject, Song of Songs, includes a lot of physical imagery of the beautiful attraction, arousal, and sexual enjoyment between husband and wife. The Hebrew poetry is very sensual, erotic, and explicit. And it’s all unadulterated goodness!

Evil has messed with our bodies’ physical sexuality as well as with everything else. Porn-induced sexual dysfunction, various pain syndromes as a result of sexual trauma, and sexual arousal from fetishes or violence are just a few of the many such ways.

And stewarding your sexuality as God would have you do includes listening to and lovingly leading your body. Someone said to me just this week, “I learned that just because I feel aroused does not necessarily mean I have to have an orgasm.” Healing after sexual trauma mandates paying attention to your body’s messages. And for those who are married, this also means talking about sex with your spouse – what arouses you, what turns you off, what you like and dislike.

Caring For Your Body as a Temple

How would you care for a temple? Among other things, it would include treating it as something very valuable. You would protect it, and guard who or what came into the temple. You wouldn’t use it as a trash heap, or pretend it doesn’t matter. A temple is important, but even more important is Who is living inside.

It’s the same with your body. Treating your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit is often talked about in discussions about a physically healthy lifestyle, and that matters. But when Paul first talked about this he put it squarely in the context of sexual behaviors:

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).

And the Holy Spirit living inside you is also what makes it possible for you to continue submitting your sexuality to Jesus. These ideas have very practical physical implications. If you’re struggling, make sure you have an escape plan. Connect with other people. And pursue intimacy with Jesus.

Keep showing up. And keep saying Yes.

Your turn: What’s your relationship with your body and your body’s messages as a Christian? Where have you learned to listen to but then lovingly lead your body in a Christ-honoring way? Leave a comment below.

Want more? This week on the podcast I talk with Bill Donaghy from the Theology of the Body institute about erotic desire, God’s design for the body, and more. Listen or watch.

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