My Body Is Not My Own

How God Redeems What Sin Seized

Oh, the paradox of this human body. How wonderful — and how terrible.

For those with eyes to see, our Creator’s brilliance will be on unusual display next month at the Summer Olympics as the world’s fastest, strongest, and best-conditioned bodies compete for the gold. For some, it will be the apex of their human glory. For others will come massive letdown, even humiliation.

The rest of us also know our bodies as instruments of both glory and humiliation. Apart from athletic achievement, many of us live in the glories of sight and taste, of bodily movement, of balance and coordination, of acquiring and honing new skills. Our bodily abilities may not be Olympic, but they can be stunning in their diversity and precision, especially when compared to the far more limited and focused abilities of animals — and in view of the sorrow of disability.

At the same time, however, how familiar we are with bodily weakness, shame, and humiliation.

God Made Brother Ass

When C.S. Lewis quotes Saint Francis on the human body, he too speaks of glory and humiliation:

Man has held three views of his body. First there is that of those . . . who called it the prison or the “tomb” of the soul, [those] to whom it was a “sack of dung,” food for worms, filthy, shameful, a source of nothing but temptation to bad men and humiliation to good ones. Then there are [others], to whom the body is glorious. But thirdly we have the view which St. Francis expressed by calling his body “Brother Ass.”

Lewis then comments, “All three may be . . . defensible; but give me St. Francis for my money.” He continues,

Ass is exquisitely right because no one in his senses can either revere or hate a donkey. It is a useful, sturdy, lazy, obstinate, patient, lovable and infuriating beast; deserving now a stick and now a carrot; both pathetically and absurdly beautiful. So the body. (Four Loves, 93)

Long before Lewis, the apostle Paul also spoke of our present “body of humiliation” (sōma tēs tapeinōseōs) as well as our coming “body of glory” (Philippians 3:21). What Scripture teaches about the human body is not simple but textured. The Creator’s design is magnificent, even in this present age with its layers of sin and the curse. We can only imagine how able and beautiful were those first two bodies God made, before they fell into sin. We do not reside in Eden. Nor have we Christians yet reached our final homeland in the Zion that is to come.

Story of the Body

For those in Christ, we view our bodies in layers — layers of a redemptive history. Our bodies are not only fearfully and wonderfully complex but vitally en-storied. Understanding our past (as human), our future (in Christ), and our present (in the Spirit) is critical for duly appreciating, chastening, and making the most of our bodies in this life. So let’s rehearse the story.

1. Sin has seized our bodies.

After remembering that God designed and made our bodies, and that “the body is . . . for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13), the next truth to recall is that we, and our bodies with us, are fallen.

Sin wracks our bodies, not only in the effects of the curse into which we’re born, but also in our own culpable desiring and doing of evil. The bodies God gave us to image him as we move about his created world have become bodies of sin and death (Romans 6:6; 7:24; 8:10). No longer the original unfallen creations, nor yet the coming imperishable bodies, they are now “mortal bodies” (Romans 6:12; 8:11), dishonored in our sin (Romans 1:24). We will be judged for what we do in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10) — and apart from God’s redemptive provision, we will be thrown, soul and body, into hell (Matthew 5:29, 30; 10:28).

2. God himself took a body.

That redemptive provision, stunning in so many ways, begins with the incarnation, when God himself took a human body in the person of his eternal Son — and not only took on the full flesh and blood of our human bodies but also gave up his human body to death on a cross to cover our sin and rescue us (Philippians 2:8).

If you come to the Christian Scriptures with questions about your own body, one of the first surprises will be how much the New Testament talks about the physical body of Jesus Christ (Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 11:24, 27, 29). His human body is the turning point in the story of our bodies. Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). And Hebrews 10, so memorably, puts Psalm 40 on the lips of Jesus, when he came into the world as man: “A body have you prepared for me. . . . Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:5–7; Psalm 40:6–8). Hebrews 10:10 then comments, “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

Because sin, its curse, and death have infected us in both soul and body, the divine Son assumed both human soul and body, and gave his body up in sacrificial death to rescue us, soul and body, who are joined to him by faith.

3. God himself dwells in our bodies.

Next, and perhaps the part of the body’s story most often overlooked, is that God himself not only became human in Christ but also now dwells in his people by his Holy Spirit. When 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God,” the emphasis is not on how impressive our bodies are. Rather, the focus is the spectacular reality that God himself, in his Holy Spirit, has taken up residence, as it were, “within you” — that you have the Spirit. This is almost too good to be true. It is news to receive with the kind of pulsating joy that comes “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Paul makes it plainest in Romans 8:9–11. If you are in Christ,

the Spirit of God dwells in you. . . . [And] if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

“You not only have indwelling sin, but now also have the indwelling Spirit.”

In case you missed it, if you are in Christ, “Christ is in you” — his Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, “dwells in you” (as Paul says three times). You not only have indwelling sin, but now you also have the indwelling Spirit. Our human bodies have become temples, dwelling places for God, whom we have in the person of his Spirit.

4. We glorify God now in our bodies.

Now, because of Christ’s work outside of us, in his human body — and because of his Spirit’s work in our own souls and bodies — we live to the glory of God. So 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 says to us in Christ: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

Our bodies of humiliation already, though not yet fully, have become instruments for God’s glory. And they are being redeemed both as we (positively) magnify God in our affections and actions of love for him and neighbor, and as we (negatively) “by the Spirit . . . put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13).

So, we pray like Paul that “Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). Given the depth and pervasive effects of sin in our bodies, we might think we need to get out of these bodies in order to glorify God, but because of Christ’s body, and the dwelling of his Spirit in our bodies, we can now honor Christ and glorify God in our bodies. So, in Christ, we realize how our bodies are “for the Lord” (1 Corinthians 6:13).

Whereas we once presented our bodies to sin, we now present them to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). We do not sacrifice our bodies for Christ in the way he sacrificed his body for us — that is, redemptively. He died (and rose again) to rescue us. We live for him (which could lead to dying) as those rescued by him. His sacrificial death is the cause; our sacrificial living is the effect. And to that end, we discipline our bodies (1 Corinthians 9:27), refuse to let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12), and so pray and act that our bodies “be kept blameless” till the day of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

5. We await a spectacular bodily upgrade.

Our future, forever, will be embodied — beyond our best imagining. At that coming day of Christ, he “will transform our lowly body [literally, “the body of our humiliation”] to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).

Here we live, as Jesus did, in a state of humiliation. Even as we experience some of the original glories of our human bodies, they are short-lived. Soon enough, we age, or suffer tragedies and losses, and we realize more and more what a state of humiliation this life is for our bodies. And if Christ does not return first, we soon endure the humiliation of death.

But for those in Christ, the dishonor of death will give way to the glory of resurrection. Our natural bodies will be sown, in death, like seeds that will spring up and blossom, through Christ’s resurrection power, into bodies of glory like his risen body.

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42–44)

Note: this will be a spiritual body. Not merely a spirit, like a ghost, but a spiritual body fit for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the rock-solid world of the new heavens and new earth.

Praise the Man of Heaven

If you are in Christ, your resurrection body will be spectacular. No more aches and pains. No more colds and COVID. No more sprains, contusions, and broken bones. No more heart attacks and strokes and cancer. No more devastating physical and mental disabilities.

Soon enough, you will shine like the sun in your perfected, strong, imperishable, glorified human body. And the best part of it all isn’t what your body will be like, but whom our imperishable bodies and souls will help us to know and enjoy and be near and praise: “the man of heaven.”

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [Jesus Christ]. (1 Corinthians 15:49)

Our focus in the new heavens and new earth won’t be our bodies. Our perfected bodies will get the many distractions of our previous humiliations out of the way. They will enhance and support our making much of our King. But the focus in glory will be the one that we as Christians eagerly await right now — the man of heaven.