How Then Should We Live?
February 8, 2024
by JC Bicek
What does the Bible say about the body in light of today’s gender confusion? How then do you think we should live?
While not new, a form of a gnostic dualism is ascendent in our world today. Our postmodern culture has rallied behind a two-tiered view of the human being, promoting the mind or consciousness at the expense of the body. In terms of gender identity expression, which is the impetus of my writing, the mind is the authentic self, while the body is merely a worldly vessel. From the perspective of this postmodern Gnosticism, it is right and good to take it upon ourselves to alter our bodies to align with the vision we have of ourselves in our minds.
So, what does the church have to say about this? What should we make of this phenomenon? It clearly degrades our God-given bodies—it values them less than our minds—and says they are ours to do with as we see fit or are tools for our purposes. This idea is pervasive in Western culture (what used to be Christendom) today, so is there any justification for it? If not, how should Christians engage the culture to counter this distorted view and promote a healthy view of our human bodies, especially among the vulnerable, as is the focus of our advocacy work here at CMDA?
Unfortunately, looking to the contemporary Evangelical church is not much help as they have at times promoted, likely unintentionally, a sort of Christian-Gnosticism, which is not much different than the views of the larger secular culture. The church’s dualism may not be gender related, but in less explicit ways they promote the mind or, more importantly, the spirit or soul, at the expense of the body.
Psychology professor Elizabeth Lewis Hall laments that “theologically we emphasize going to heaven rather than looking forward to the true culmination of Christ’s work in the resurrection of the body. We categorize sins, so that sins of the body such as sexual immorality are seen as more serious than non-physical sins such as gossip and envy. We talk about ‘saving souls’ as if it were not the whole embodied person participating in salvation.” The church’s dualism can detract from what Scripture says about our bodies, making us more susceptible to the distortions in the larger culture. It can also lead Christians to shun the body and physical satisfaction. Lewis writes, “This is particularly unfortunate since of all religions, ours is very much a religion of the ‘flesh.’”
Considering this, we—particularly Christian healthcare professionals—should think through a theology of the body that seeks to understand the God revealed in the Bible and to provide a Christian understanding of reality. To understand God’s creation of the body, its current condition and God’s redemptive work in relation to the body, I advise we take a systematic approach to help us better understand and appreciate God’s view of the human body. My goal is to explore God’s Word and then encourage us to regard the body as God does so we may treat it as He desires.
For the structure of this work, I found it helpful to think in creedal terms. The Nicene Creed provides a framework for acknowledging the highlights of the human body’s role throughout Scripture. This framework will highlight what much of the church has affirmed for more than a millennium and a half. The Nicene Creed is also appropriate because it was intended as a statement of orthodoxy in opposition to certain heresies of the day, especially Arianism and Gnosticism. Today we can use it to draw conclusions that are in opposition to the heresies of our day, mainly gnostic dualism as seen notably in gender identity expression.
The Nicene Creed is composed of three key articles: creation, redemption and restoration. After considering the human body as it is highlighted in each of those three articles as follows, I welcome your comments on the implications and how we should encourage the culture.
Our understanding of the human body cannot be separated from what God Himself tells us about its creation. The Nicene Creed affirms that God made all things visible and invisible. He creates our bodies from dust and breathed life into Adam’s nostrils; we are embodied souls. Systematic theology professor Ola Sigurdson writes, “Embodiment is an integral part of a human’s existence, given with and through the creation of human beings by God, and not something incidental.” In the creation account, we see that God makes our bodies, animates them and sees to it they are sustained, there is great purpose with His design.
In creating the heavens and the earth, filling the earth with animals and planting a garden in Eden as outlined in Genesis 1-2, God formed an ordered world to sustain and nourish the human body. He doesn’t only create humankind, but He finetunes everything in such a way that we would survive and flourish. We were given all we needed from the very beginning and as Moses noted six times in the first chapter of Genesis, God said it was good. He establishes an order of dependence, and each higher order depends on what is under it for its existence. Our bodies were meant to flourish in their given ecosystems, as do fish in water.
With the addition of Adam and Eve, God says with the whole of the ecosystem this is “very good.” I might argue “complete.” According to exegetical theology professor John Kleinig, “All that follows presupposes God’s approval of the human body. Thus any disparagement of it as something bad, or contempt for it as unfit for God, is ruled out of order by the first chapter of the Bible.” Indeed, in writing to his young friend Timothy, the apostle Paul says everything God created is good (1 Timothy 4:4).
Further establishing the status of the human body’s inherent goodness is that the human being is created in the image of God, as it states in Genesis 1:27. Multiple interpretations of this idea and several deeper theological concepts could be unpacked with more time, but in any case, the takeaway should be that anything imaging our awesome God should be satisfactory for us. Altering our bodies in our own image seems like a grave affront when we have been gifted and entrusted with His image.
This image extends to both maleness and femaleness, which correspond to biological sex, outlined in Leviticus. These binaries are given by God in creation and are, therefore, also very good. Professor of Christian theology Gregg Allison writes, “…God created human beings as male or female is an application of the pattern of binary creation he employed leading up to the apex of his creation of his image bearers.” God created difference and distinction, not a spectrum of intermediate realities. We see this is the binary of creation from the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1:1 to male and female in Genesis 1:27. The creation of our sexed bodies and gender is indeed at the apex of our design, so they are not incongruent and should not be considered malleable.
At this point, Adam and Eve had all they needed, their bodies fit together and they were unashamed of those bodies. Things were as they were supposed to be. Then, all became corrupted, including our bodies. In following the serpent rather than adhering to God’s creation plans, they chose to do what seemed right in their own eyes. They sought to “…be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5, ESV).
They went from being unashamed of their bodies to knowing they were naked. They would then feel pain in childbirth and toil for their food. Our bodies now deteriorate as we move closer to death—we call this aging. Most noteworthy in this account, they would now return to dust. Our bodies were meant to live on this earth as they were in harmony indefinitely. They were not meant to die. Paul says in Romans 6:6 that our bodies became bodies of sin.
However, God, while justly punishing them for their sin, graciously clothed them. In fact, He provided them with clothing superior to the loincloths they fastened for themselves. Things were not as they were supposed to be, but God clearly still cared for those bodies that were now destined to turn to dust. God created a world for us that is ordered toward our flourishing, then He created us with incredible detail, with complementary bodies that would, in His image, manage to subdue and fruitfully fill the earth. However, we do as we see fit—at the threat of death and against a God who clearly cares for our well-being—and bring destruction upon these bodies.
In spite of our transgressions, God acts to redeem our bodies and shows how much He cares for us. Our understanding of the human body cannot be separated from what God Himself tells us about its creation. The Nicene Creed affirms that God became incarnate, was crucified, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.
In John 1, the great mystery of Jesus’ embodiment is summed up, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:14-16, ESV). His body has become the place for theophany, the place where God shows His glory to all people, in order to give them access to His grace. Through His human body, He shows us God.
In Wonderfully Made, Professor Kleinig writes, “In the human body of Jesus, we see the excellence of God the Creator mirrored for us. […] With His human body, He undoes the damage done by our rebellion against God and restores God’s good order on earth.” Our heavenly Father holds the human body—His good creation—in such high regard that He chose to come to earth to live and suffer in a human body to rescue us from bodily and spiritual corruption.
While on earth, Jesus engaged with people in a bodily way by drawing near, touching, healing, etc., but this wasn’t just to identify Himself with them physically. He engaged with them physically to redeem them body-and-soul for life with God the Father.
In the Gospels, Jesus was frequently touching His followers’ physical bodies to love them, but this pointed beyond those brief interactions to their bodily resurrection from the dead in eternity. Only then would all their ailments and troubles be gone and all be made right. For our bodies to be made right, Jesus’ body needed to be sacrificed. He was crucified on a cross to redeem and restore our relationship with God; to go back to the garden, “once for all,” when our bodies and communion with God were perfect (Hebrews 10:5-14, ESV).
Our vision of God incarnate here on earth is incomplete and of little use to us unless we see that Jesus maintained His embodiment after His ascension. In ascending to heaven, Jesus retained His human body, which now transcends all time and space, so He may mediate between us and God.
Jesus shared our entire human lifecycle in the body from embryo to birth (though His was uniquely and magnificently of a virgin) and to death, in order to bring us with our bodies back to God the Father. Jesus was put to death in His human body in order to make us fully alive with the Holy Spirit. That was the chief purpose of His incarnation. Peter writes, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24, ESV).
While still here on earth as we await His return, we can now participate in the eternal life of the triune God with our whole being: body, mind and spirit. The third article of the Nicene Creed affirms that, with the Holy Spirit we are given life, so the Father and Son will be adored and glorified, and that we look forward to the resurrection of the dead.
Since God created and redeems our bodies, they belong to Him and are meant to be used in His service. In Romans 12, Paul tells us to “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1, ESV). However, we do not and cannot do this of our own accord, as God the Father makes and keeps us holy through His son and the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us. With the Holy Spirit, we are able to obediently bring glory and honor to Him.
With the Holy Spirit we are able to live righteous lives, but we still wait for our bodies to be made new as they were. Paul uses the analogy of a tent in 2 Corinthians 5. We long for these bodies to “…be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4, ESV). We obediently carry on in our current state, but we have confidence in our future resurrection.
Nevertheless, upon our resurrection, we will not be raised disembodied souls. While death means separation of body and soul, unnaturally, we have assurance from Revelation that the dead will rise. We may become disembodied souls while we await His return to earth, but “following death, the intermediate state, and the resurrection, human existence will be embodied. Thus, the temporary condition of disembodiment does not overthrow the thesis that the proper state of human existence is embodiment.”
Though while embodiment is our proper state, our bodies will not be exactly as they are now. Jesus will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, as it says in Philippians 3:21. In Wonderfully Made, Kleinig writes,
“Yet they will not be alien to us. They will still be recognizable as our bodies—even more recognizable than now, for our resurrected bodies will provide a perfect match for our redeemed souls. We will recognize ourselves and each other as the people we once were before we died. Only then will we be fully at home with ourselves in our bodies and with others in their bodies.”
Paul addresses this in detail in 1 Corinthians 15:35-57, which the ESV breaks into two sections titled “The Resurrection Body” and “Mystery and Victory,” after being asked in verse 35, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”
When we, as those saved by grace through faith, are resurrected in our new bodies, we will no longer worry about our appearance—like in the garden—because we will be perfect in His sight.
With a creedal, systematic view, it is clear God holds an incredibly high view of the body, which is evidenced by His creating them, redeeming them and restoring them, and we should therefore affirm His “very good” design and take great care of our bodies. The human body is not a mere physical thing or a tool for our use, rather, “the body is part of God’s salvific plan for the world,” as Katherine Kelaidid writes in The Wheel Journal.
These bodies of ours are a gift from our Creator, Redeemer and One who gives us new life. We must understand what they are and treat them as such. If we appreciate the body as God does—through the lens of His intentional design, incarnation, bestowing His Spirit upon it and resurrecting it from the dead—we will treat it with incredible dignity and value. We will affirm His design, and we will affirm that the separation of gender from sex violates His given order for humanity with its polarity of men and women.
For those who made it this far, I hope this was edifying and will foster thinking and discussion about our God-given bodies. At this point, I would ask what you think. If the postmodern secular culture around us has embraced a gnostic, dualist view that degrades the body that means so much to God, what are we to do? Practically, how can we best engage the culture to counter this distorted view and encourage those around us to regard the body as God does so we may treat it, as that brings glory and honor to Him? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.