Or didn't you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don't you see that you can't live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Spiritual transformation is the process of forming our inner lives to take on the character of Jesus Himself. Our outer lives will then also look more like Jesus. For this to happen, our bodies must be poised to do what is good and to refrain from what is evil. The body needs to serve us as our primary ally in achieving Christlikeness.
Our bodies are not inherently evil, but will often hinder us in doing what we know to be good and right. Because our bodies - like our minds, hearts, social lives, and souls - have been formed within the reality of human sin, they foster evil and constantly run ahead of our good intentions - but in the opposite direction. Still, our bodies are good as God made them for good. It is Christ's desire not only that we would become like Him in our thoughts, feelings, hearts, and souls but also that our bodies would be devoted to God. When we accept Christ, the Holy Spirit begins to indwell our bodies, giving us the power to actually achieve this vision.
The body should be cherished and properly cared for - not as a master, however, but as a servant of God. The problem is that most people's bodies govern their lives. But with the vision of being transformed into the likeness of Jesus we wonder if our bodies can truly become our allies in achieving this. They can and they must!
Prayer: Dear God, we want to learn how to cherish and care for our bodies as Your servants. We want our bodies and their actions to be outward expressions of what is inside our hearts. Teach us how to let our bodies be Christlike. We give You our bodies for transformation.
THE VISION TO TRANSFORM MY BODY
Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (Romans 6:13)
God has a vision to transform our bodies, but the body is the toughest part to give over to Christ. It is a primary obstacle to becoming like Him, yet we cannot leave our bodies out of this transformation journey. We learned back in Part 3 the results of self-denial and self-worship. When we don't take God seriously, we automatically leave ourselves at the center of our lives. Thus, the sensations of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the passion to appear important become great temptations for us (see 1 John 2:15-16).
Common temptations of the flesh involve the misuse of our tongues (gossip, lying, slander), physical abuse (rage, fighting), food (overeating, gluttony, eating disorders), discipline (laziness, sleep deprivation, too much sleep, procrastination), and sex.
Here's a scenario that should help you understand God's vision to transform your body. Let's say you are a female and have a friend named Ryan, with whom you have a pretty serious relationship. He has begun to spend an awful lot of time with some other people who like to drink. He attends church with you, hearing messages about what it means to follow Christ, but doesn't seem to take it all that seriously.
The Carnally Focused Life
Ryan is carnally focused, which is being intent on feeding what his flesh desires. This usually leads people down a path that ends in destructive results, involving the following six steps:
1. My Way: I want to establish my own kingdom. Even though Ryan has heard Christian messages and participated in church activities, he has not personally or intentionally decided in his heart to make Christ the center of his life. So, by default, Ryan and what Ryan wants are at the center.
2. My Body, My Choice: My body becomes my primary source of gratification and the chief, if not the only, instrument for getting what I want. Our physical bodies are our primary means for getting what we want. The only way to extend our kingdom is through our bodies. Ryan's goal is to take dominion over his body, using it toward the purposes he feels are beneficial to him, and he has decided in his heart that he enjoys consuming alcohol with his new friends.
3. Your Body, My Choice: I move to expand my kingdom over others. Since the two of you are very close, Ryan tries to come up with ways of getting you to join him in his new endeavor. He intends to expand his kingdom to take over yours. He may tell you about all the fun they have, inviting you to join them to see for yourself.
4. My Choice vs. Your Choice: Others who are seeking to establish a different kingdom come into conflict with my desires. When you realize what Ryan is doing, you will have to make a choice based upon your own pathway. If your choice is the same as Ryan's, then you will most likely 'join in the fun.' Let's say your desires are not the same as Ryan's and you refuse his invitation, therefore coming into conflict with Ryan's plan.
5. War: I respond with destructive emotions. When you refuse Ryan's invitation, he feels rejected. People respond in different ways to this situation. He may try putting a major guilt trip on you and say things such as, "I thought we were friends." He may respond with anger by saying, "If you don't go with me, then we might as well go our separate ways." He may even respond with physical force. This is precisely what is written in the book of Jude: "But these people sneer at anything they can't understand, and by doing whatever they feel like doing - living by animal instinct only - they participate in their own destruction. I'm fed up with them! They've gone down Cain's road" (Jude 10-11). Remember the story of Cain. When he didn't get his way, he killed his brother (see Genesis 4).
6. Win the Battle, Lose the War: I inject poison into my social world, and my body is betrayed. The outcome will be negative if Ryan doesn't have a change of heart. With you standing your ground and refusing to give in, you are no longer friends. This not only ruins your relationship, but also the relationships within your friendship circle.
If Ryan continues down this path, he is taking great risks - not to mention his disobedience to God. This pattern of behavior can also apply to other scenarios: seeking a high position in a company, trying drugs, or desiring sex.
The Spiritually Focused Life
Christ's vision is different, a better way with a far different result. As we continue with Ryan, please keep in mind that real life is harder than this and that obedience is a difficult process - not something we arrive at overnight. However, I think these examples will illustrate how Ryan's life might turn out differently as a consequence of different choices.
1. Christ's Way: I want to establish Christ's kingdom. In this scenario, Ryan makes a different choice. He chooses the way of Christ. When he attends church services, he seeks to surrender his will to God's will. Ryan takes Christ seriously.
2. Christ's Body, Christ's Choice: My body becomes my primary source to do the will of Christ. Ryan sees various kinds of media with their suggestive advertisements, and he interacts with friends who urge him to go the way of the flesh. However, Ryan understands that his life and body belong to Christ. Ryan has made a vow before the Lord, trusting that God is looking out for his good. While these friends may remain a part of Ryan's life, he decides against joining them and is determined to practice this discipline.
3. Your Body, Your Choice: I will not force Christ's choice on others. Even before Ryan went with these other friends, he knew your choices were compatible with his. He also knows, from Scripture, that a good relationship cannot be built on a foundation that is divided in purpose. Peace can only exist in an environment in which people are not constantly fighting to get their own way over another's wishes.
4. Christ's Choice vs. Your Choice: I will choose Christ's choice when it conflicts with others' choices. Ryan has given Christ center stage in his life. He makes his decisions from the heart, and he plans, with God's help, to keep his commitments. As Ryan progressively experiences a transformation in all five parts of his person - mind, heart, body, social life, and soul - his commitments become easier to fulfill. Christ's choice and plan are what governs Ryan's choices.
5. Peace: I respond with constructive emotions. Because of this path, Ryan's goal is not to establish his own kingdom but rather Christ's kingdom in and through him. He allows the teachings of Christ to develop and display the fruit of the Spirit in his relationships, creating an environment of peace.
6. Win/Win: I inject health into my social world, and my body is honored. A Christ focused life creates a win/win scenario. If Ryan stays on this path, he will experience a godly life, free of guilt from past mistakes created in and by the body. He will avoid the casualties of ruined relationships brought on by his insistence on building his own kingdom. He will "take hold of the life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:19)
The body of an apprentice of Jesus has literally been brought back from evil by God through the death of His Son. It is therefore God's body to do with as He pleases, and He pleases that our bodies should be showplaces of His greatness (see 1 Corinthians 6:20). Christians are the last people on earth who can say, "My body is my own, and I shall do with it what I please." The only sensible pattern for a human being who trusts Christ is to do what Paul urges in Romans 12:1-2:
So here's what I want you to do, God helping you. Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Prayer: Father, we can see Your vision to transform our bodies, and we trust You to know what is best. We want to show the world through our bodies that we belong to You. We want our bodies to showcase Your greatness. So we give our lives - including our bodies - to You as an offering.
But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won't know what we're talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells - even though you still experience all the limitations of sin - you yourself experience life on God's terms. (Romans 8:9-10)
Transforming our bodies into the likeness of Christ means our bodies will be devoted to God and His will, just as Jesus' body was when He was here on earth. This vision not only pleases God but also leads to personal health and happiness for us. We must trust Him and believe in His grace and goodness to move in this direction. I hope we have all captured this vision.
When it comes to transforming our bodies, we must not only capture Christ's vision but also intend from our hearts to pursue that vision. When our hearts come to new life in God, the old "programs" we used to follow which are contrary to our new hearts, are still active within us, mostly in our bodies (see Romans 7:12-18). Sinful passions are still at work. Our identity before God has been shifted over to another life that is given to us as God's gift. While the spirit (or heart) is willing, the flesh is weak (see Matthew 26:41). We may find ourselves doing the things we hate (see Romans 7:15). But it really is no longer we who are doing them but rather the sin still functioning as a living force within our bodies (see Romans 7:23).
Our heart must be willing and we must have the intent. However, the flesh is going to give us problems because it is already set in its ways. Jesus said the flesh is weak. So, to strengthen our bodies to match the intent of our hearts' vision, we must engage in spiritual disciplines - with God's help. Here are four overall suggestions we can do to place our bodies fully at the disposal of the powerful, redeeming God - two "dont's" and two "do's."
Don't: Idolize Your Body: You have given control of your body to God, so you no longer make your body an object of ultimate concern. You have taken your hands off of outcomes with respect to your body, caring for it only as it serves God's purposes in your life and the lives of others. You don't worry about what will happen to it - sickness, aging, death - for you have placed God in charge of all that. You take care of your body within the framework of values laid down by God and exemplified in Jesus Christ, taking issues that arise to Him in prayer. You don't live in fear of your body and what it might "do to you."
Don't: Misuse Your Body: Do not use your body as a source of sensual gratification. When this becomes a necessity, addictions of various kinds exist. Bodily pleasure in itself is not a bad thing, but when exalted to a necessity, we become dependent upon it and are slaves of our bodies and their feelings. Only misery lies ahead.
Do not use your body to dominate or control others. Do not present your body in ways that elicit sexual thoughts, feelings, and actions from others. We can be naturally attractive without that. Consider carefully our clothing decisions, not giving in to the current trends of our society. Don't intimidate other with your body with loud and domineering behavior.
Do not overwork. In our current world, this is a primary misuse of the body, having become the new "drug of choice." Often associated with excessive competition and trying to beat out others in some area of life. We may feel our circumstances are imposed upon us by others, but it is still a misuse of the body and a failure to work things out with God. God never gives us too much to do. He is not the author of an impossible work schedule, as described by David in Psalm 127:2:
It's useless to rise early and go to bed late, and work your worried fingers to the bone. Don't you know he enjoys giving rest to those he loves?
Do: Release Your Body To God. The presentation of our bodies to God needs to be a definite decision and one that we renew regularly. It isn't something we can drift into passively; we must give conscious attention to it. Know that it is a good and indispensable thing to do. Find a quiet, private place where you can be alone with God. Quiet your soul and body so they can be cleared of the fog of your daily burdens and preoccupations. Meditatively pray some central Scriptures before the Lord (such as Romans 6-8 and 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Lie down on the floor and explicitly and formally surrender your body to God. Kneel before Him and ask Him to take charge of each part of your body, filling it with His life for use for His purposes. Give thanks to God and spend time in praise. A joyful reading of Psalm 145-150 would be an excellent exercise. Put your body into it.
Do: Properly Honor And Care For Your Body: Regard your body as holy because it is owned and inhabited by God. Practice the Sabbath as being a day of rest. When we come to the place where we can joyously "do no work," it will be because God is so exalted in our minds and bodies that we can trust Him with our lives and our world and can take our hands off of them. Here are some practical suggestions for experiencing the Sabbath:
Practice solitude and silence: We must spend time alone in complete silence. This is difficult for most people, but the body must be weaned away from its tendencies to always take control, to achieve and produce, to attain gratification. Progress in the opposite direction can only be made in solitude and silence, for these disciplines "take our hands off our world" as nothing else does.
Get rest and enough sleep: Sleep is a good first use of solitude and silence, being a good indicator of how thoroughly we trust in God. However, we cannot sleep our way to sainthood. People may sleep because they are depressed or sad, have a physical condition, or are just evading reality. Also, this does not mean that godly people do not work hard and are never exhausted. But when we give our bodies to God, we have resources that are not at the disposal of ordinary people who run on fumes and promises. We have to learn how to reach for these resources and place our bodies in the rest of God.
Exercise: Develop a realistic exercise program focused on caring for your body and making it fit to do the will of God. Exercise gives us strength and even increases our mental alertness. Not caring for our bodies in this way may eventually demand attention through some kind of health crisis.
Diet: Most people diet for the wrong reasons, being because of an obsession with the body and its shape. Dieting for the right reasons is totally appropriate and necessary as it gives us energy to do the will of God. Overeating or undereating makes us sluggish, weak, and sick. Not a good way to treat God's precious property.
Sometimes rest is the most important discipline we can pursue. Here are some verses to consider:
I stretch myself out. I sleep. Then I'm up again - rested, tall and steady, fearless before the enemy mobs coming at me from all sides. (Psalm 3:5-6). At day's end I'm ready for sound sleep, for you, God, have put my life back together. (Psalm 4:8)
God has made every provision for our bodies to fully serve Him. There may be severe problems with our bodies, at least from the human point of view. We should not deny or disregard disabilities or chronic health struggles. But the real power of life lies in who we are in Christ. Our behavior flows out of our identity as His redeemed people. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight (1 Peter 3:3-4). These verses give us a clear indication of where genuine beauty, health, and strength for the body come from and of the incredible grace that lies in the spiritual transformation of the body.
Prayer: God, our bodies are Your home. We want to pursue the transformation of our bodies, even when they don't want to cooperate. We give our bodies to You for Your service. We will take good care of them and will not misuse them because we understand that they are Your holy temples. We will be obedient to You with our bodies, and we thank You in advance for the transforming work You will do in us.
Let's review the principles from this Part:
The Vision To Transform My Body
Carnally Focused Spiritually Focused
Step 1 - My Way Christ's Way
Step 2 - My Body, My Choice Christ's Body, Christ's Choice
Step 3 - Your Body, My Choice Your Body, Your Choice
Step 4 - My Choice vs. Your Choice Christ's Choice vs. Your Choice
Step 5 - War Peace
Step 6 - Win the Battle, Lose the War Win/Win
The Means To Transform My Body
1 - Don't: Idolize your body
2 - Don't: Misuse your body
3 - Do: Release your body to God
4 - Do: Properly honor and care for your body
Prayer: Loving God, transform our bodies to be outward expressions of renovated hearts. Transform the vision we have of our bodies from a worldly focus to a spiritual focus as we give our bodies to You. We release our bodies to Your hands and will follow our personal renovation plans for transformation. As we are transformed, let people see You in and through our bodies.
Next week: Transforming My Social Life