Many people in today’s society are plagued by body image issues. Sadly Apostolic Christians are not immune to self-image problems resulting from an identity crisis. If we don’t understand how God thinks about us, we don’t know how to think about ourselves. We can reclaim our identity when we look to Scripture to realign the most foundational aspects of our thinking: who God is, what He thinks of us, and then how we should think of ourselves.
Reclaiming Our Identity
It would be nice if cultivating a God-centered self-image was something we worked through as sixteen-and seventeen-year-olds and then graduated to live secure, stable Apostolic lives never to be rattled by identity questions. Yet the statistics and the struggles of people we encounter weekly reflect an epidemic of identity issues that rock Christians of all ages.
Our world culture has chosen to believe humanity is innately good and that if we’ll be the best
The body was made by God, He does all things well, and so the body is good.
version of ourselves, we’ll be good individuals and that will transcend into better and better communities.This ideology plays into the selfishness and depravity of our culture and blinds us to the seed of evil within humanity and the decline of morality and unrighteousness in our world. Yet perhaps the church is not perfect in this equation either. In recognizing the potential for evil and the inclination toward unrighteousness, have we been too quick to presume the worst in human nature and label humans broadly as “bad?”
Biblical History behind Identity
The Corinthian church ran into some of these issues. As a major seaport for the Aegean and Adriatic Seas, the people of Corinth were exposed to a wide array of philosophies and ideologies, some of which contradicted the teachings of Jesus Christ. One such idea was that the physical body was bad. This originated from Greek dualist philosophy that separated physical and spiritual components. The Gnostics were so affected by these dualistic theories that they rejected the Incarnation on the grounds
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:19–20, KJV).
that a holy God could not inhabit a human (bad) body. Many Corinthians had recognized the value of spirituality, which was good, but conversely they assumed everything about the physical person was bad. Consequently, many believers were careless with how they treated their bodies or even veered to the extreme of asceticism, which involved punishing and mutilating their bodies. (See also Colossians 2:23.)
Paul corrected this teaching in I Corinthians 6. Though in the context of guidelines for sexuality, Paul expounded on the value of our bodies: “They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies” (I Corinthians 6:13, NLT). Paul went on to clarify with two verses that Apostolics love to preach: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6:19–20, KJV). These verses are more than a reminder for practical holiness application, though that is important. These verses should also be a mantra for understanding how to view our whole person. Clearly our physical bodies were made by God (in His image) and were meant to be part of what makes us us. Our body was made by God to glorify Him.
Wrong thinking: “I am a soul and I have a body. [The soul is the real me.]”
Allow I Corinthians 6:19–20 to serve as a mantra for understanding how to view our whole person.
Biblical reality: Humans exist as body, soul, and spirit. You cannot take apart who we are and draw strong lines between these elements. The body was made by God, He does all things well, and so the body is good.
Who Is God?
So we were made by God with a fleshly body that is good, but what do we do with Scriptures that talk about crucifying the flesh? In fact, many of us could easily rattle off a dozen Scripture verses that suggest troublesome human nature and speak of resident evil in our flesh. Why?
One of the first passages we should address is Romans 7:14–25. In the larger context, Paul was establishing the need for Jesus Christ’s atoning work at Calvary. When Paul said there was no good thing in him (verse 18), notice the parenthetical interruption he used to clarify his own statement. It’s not that he as a whole person is not good, but his “flesh” is not good. That sounds like we’re back to square one since we just established that our bodies are created by God and are good. However, there is a nuance from the Greek language lost in translation that holds the key to understanding this passage and others like it in light of I Corinthians 6 and the understanding that our bodies are gifts from God.
Two related nouns were used frequently in the New Testament:
In English, the words body and flesh sound synonymous, but in Greek, soma refers to the physical person while sarx refers to human nature. When a Greek writer spoke of skin and toenails, he used soma. When he indicated the dependence on the corruptible flesh and that which is allied against God, he used sarx. When Paul talked about the “flesh,” he was talking about our corruptible and decaying nature. (See James D. G. Dunn’s The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006) 51–78.)
So are human beings naturally good or naturally bad? The answer is “d-all of the above.” We need to affirm the goodness of God’s creation and that God is a perfect Creator. The fact that we have a physical body and funny-looking elbows and big toes is not bad; that part of us will decay physically, but it is not a source of wickedness. In fact, our bodies are not at war with our spirits. But our sinful nature is at war against the Spirit of God and what He wants to do in our lives. That is the issue.
When Paul bemoaned that there was nothing good in his flesh, his sinful nature, he recognized that without daily surrender to let the Spirit of the Lord have dominance in his life, that depraved evil nature would derail the good things of God (Romans 7:18). Paul also declared: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). That choice—every day resisting selfish, unrighteous impulses and instead pursuing the reign of the Holy Ghost in our lives—is what gives us our identity.
What God Thinks of Us and How We Should Think of Ourselves
Remembering that we are made by God in His image becomes the foundation of our identity. One example of a healthy identity is positive body image. Cutting your body, whether for release of internal pain or to achieve unattainable standards of beauty, is a lack of understanding your self-worth. If you face this situation, it is vital to allow someone you trust in your life to step in and
A prayer: Father, I am fearfully and wonderfully made…I dedicate my body to Your service and seek Your help in treating it as Your temple.
help you find healing in Jesus. Similarly if you are struggling with an eating disorder of any kind, whether it’s intemperate eating,
bulimia, anorexia, or any number of issues, God loves you and wants to help you find peace with the way He has made you. He loves you so much that He calls people to professional ministries who can help you with any of these issues.
The testimony of Scripture establishes that His fingerprint on us was intentional and significant. Ephesians 2:10 reminds us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” We are His custom-crafted treasures, and He has created us in Him image for His purpose.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you have any sense of how God sees you?
- Do you really get that He loves you?
- Do you honor the privilege of being made in His image?
- Do you let the hunger for acceptance by and affirmation of others shape your sense of worth and manipulate your behaviors?
- Do you struggle with feelings of low self-confidence or ricochet to the extreme of arrogance over your perceived strengths and talents?
Father, I thank You that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I know that You make good things, and I dedicate my body to Your service and seek Your help in treating it as Your temple. I also recognize there is a selfish nature in me, and today I ask for Your help—Your grace and strength—to deal with the daily struggle of my selfish, destructive impulses. Cover me in Your blood and keep me from evil. Thank You for Your mercy!
Lee Ann Alexander is a disciple of Jesus Christ and a teacher and preacher of the gospel. As an associate editor of the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI), she leads the curriculum team at Pentecostal Publishing House and is passionate about teaching teachers.
Resources and Links
Adapted from More Than Grasshoppers: Reclaiming Your God-Given Identity.