We are engulfed in a body-focused world. In our media and entertainment-driven age, we are being told stories from all angles about our body’s purpose, how our bodies must look, and what we can do to make our bodies look a certain way. Turn on the TV, unlock our phones, go to the theaters, enter the check-out aisle at the grocery store, and what do we see? We see pictures and videos of celebrities, athletes, actors, and actresses intended to draw our eyes to their sculpture-like bodies. The purpose of our bodies has been presented, and little by little, we begin to believe the lie that our bodies were made to attract others. The standard for what our bodies should look like has been set, and every time we see these images, our minds begin to construct what we think our own bodies should look like.
It is of no surprise then that the issues of body image and body shame are so often discussed in our world today, but what do these terms mean exactly? According to the Merrian-Webster dictionary, body image is “a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others.” Although closely related, body image differs from body shame in that body shame is “to criticize or mock someone (or one’s self) for supposed body faults or imperfections.” You may find that these definitions describe your own life or the life of someone you love, as body image and body shaming are real issues for many people. In the U.S., 25% of male teenagers are concerned about how muscular/lean they are, and 9% of adult males report frequent body checking. For females, 50% of 13-year-olds and 70% of 17-year-olds are unhappy with their bodies, and another 70% report withdrawing from activities because of their bodies.
There is much being said about the causes and solutions for struggles with body image and body shame. We are told to love our bodies as they are, to believe that our bodies are good enough, and to be kinder to ourselves. But in order to begin understanding how we can embrace the body that we have, we must ask the question: what does God, the Creator of our bodies, have to say about our bodies?
We must start where it all began: with the creation of embodied humanity. In Genesis 1:27, the reason for which human beings were made is laid out for us: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Have you ever wondered what you were made to do? This verse tells us that human beings were uniquely made by God to know God and make Him known on earth as His representatives by filling the earth (increasing in number) and subduing and having dominion over the earth (to name and care for the earth). Genesis 1:1-25 clearly reveals God as a personal, rational, creative, competent to control the world He has made, and morally admirable. Therefore, as humankind alone is made in His image, they possess these qualities in their own unique creaturely way. And how did God create man to fulfill their purpose? “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). According to this verse, human beings are both 1) body (material), and 2) soul (immaterial). In order for mankind to fulfill their image-bearing responsibilities of exercising dominion over the material world and showing affection for other rational beings, they must have a material body. So, what we can conclude from this is that our bodies were given to us by God so that we may bring Him glory by using them to care for His created world and to care for our fellow man.
Why do so many people struggle with their body image then? We need to recognize that the Fall of mankind into sin has greatly distorted our ability to reflect God’s holiness rightly. We still have our bodies, but sin has caused us to turn in on ourselves. Sin has caused us to use our bodies to bring ourselves glory rather than God. Instead of exerting our energy to bring God glory by caring for His created world and our fellow man, we exert our energy to satisfy our own desires for approval, wealth, power, reputation, and praise. Instead of finding our satisfaction in the all-satisfying God and reflecting His glory, we look to our bodies to find satisfaction in the approval of ourselves and others and end up unsatisfied. So, if you are unsatisfied with your body today, take heart, for you were never made to find your satisfaction there.
God deeply cares about the body, so much so that God in Jesus Christ took on a body in order to rescue us from our sin by sacrificing His body on the cross. Jesus Christ is the true image of God in His humanity and in His deity (He is fully God and fully man), and being raised from the grave and ascended into heaven, the glorified Lord Jesus Christ is now embodied for all of eternity. And this is our hope as Christians: that we will dwell in glorified bodies with our glorified Savior for all of eternity.
How can you begin to steward your body well now?
- Reader, if you find yourself today without hope, without God, and enslaved to thoughts about your body, then you first must be born again (John 3:3-5). Turn from your sin and self, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. Look away from yourself and to the cross and see His body broken for you, see how sufficient Christ is to be your Savior, and come to Him, for none who comes to Him will He ever cast out (John 6:37).
- Jesus has commanded His disciples to not be anxious about their life, nor what they eat or drink, nor about their bodies (Matthew 6:25; 10:28). There is more to life than being preoccupied with what our bodies look like. Instead, we are to renew our minds, take every thought captive to Christ, and preoccupy ourselves with the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
- Although we are commanded not to be preoccupied with our bodies, we are also commanded to care for them: “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). So, exercise and eat well, but not in order to look better. Exercise and nutritious eating are gifts to strengthen our bodies so that we may serve others well for the glory of God.
- Keep first things first: spiritual health is ultimate; physical health is not. 1 Timothy 4:8 says: “While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” If you are prone to being sedentary, use this text to remind yourself that “bodily training is of some value.” If you are prone to making physical exercise an idol, remind yourself that your physical health is not ultimate, but “godliness is of value in every way.”
For now, Christians live in the already, but not yet. Christians have already been justified but have not yet been fully sanctified and are yet to be glorified. For now, we have disordered desires that must be put to death. For now, our bodies ache, age, break, decay, and eventually die, but yet to come is the promise of a body that is imperishable. “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on the immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15: 53-57).
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 Kearney‐Cooke, A., & Tieger, D. (2015). Body image disturbance and the development of eating disorders. In L. Smolak & M. D. Levine (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Eating Disorders (pp. 283-296). West Sussex, UK: Wiley
 Packer, J.I. Concise Theology, page 71.