This Is the Body the Lord Has Made

From the dreaded magazine aisle at the local supermarket to the borderline pornographic advertisements we see while surfing the internet, we are bombarded with images of the human body. 60 seconds to ripped abs. Lose inches from your waistline while sleeping. These constant “promises” tempt us to discontentment and idolatry. And yet we don’t talk enough in our churches about what God wants from our bodies. 

Is our culture’s obsession with the human body completely wrong? After all, we believe in a sovereign God who created our bodies. And we know that God doesn’t shy away from discussing physical beauty in his Word.  David, Bathsheba, Saul, and Rachel were just a few biblical characters who could have posed for magazine covers. The Bible tells us Esther was beautiful in form and easy on the eyes (Esther 2:7). Absalom, God tells us, didn’t have a flaw from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head, and there wasn’t another in the land who equaled his appearance (2 Samuel 14:25).

Therefore, it seems that God, too, places a certain amount of emphasis on the physical form. We must not become modern-day gnostics and abhor the physical. So what are Christians to do? How do we begin to think about exercise and body image?  

Exercise and the Curse

Some people want to curse when they hear the word exercise, but they don’t often consider the effects of the curse on exercise. We know that God cursed our work after the Fall, but we typically think of this cursing in terms of frustration: jammed printers, bumper-to-bumper traffic, difficult coworkers. 

However, we don’t often think about the curse of our work coming in the form of an air-conditioned office, an assistant for every chore, or a comfortable sedan effortlessly transporting us to the office. Our physical bodies were designed to toil and labor, but our labor isn’t all that laborious at times. Don’t get me wrong, these things are pleasant graces from our Lord. But few of us burn the energy we were created to exert. The curse is now evident in sore backs and achy joints that aren’t sore from physical exertion but atrophy. Our modern professions require that we now supplement this physical exertion in the form of exercise.

Busyness and Priorities

Even though most of us know we should exercise, when can we find time? We’re driving the kids to different sports, working more than 50 hours, and serving at church—we don’t have time and energy left over.

We need to know our priorities. Don’t neglect the Lord in Word and prayer. Don’t neglect your family. And don’t neglect the church. But so also is physical exertion a biblical call (Gen. 2:15; 2 Thess. 3:6-12). Make room in your schedule. Put exercise on the calendar and plan on showing up to the appointment. Kill two birds with one stone by being active with your family and friends, listening to sermons while running, or praying for others while walking around the block. You’re keeping multiple priorities in place without sacrificing extra time.

Here’s some extra incentive. God, in his infinite wisdom, gives fully functioning bodies to some but not to others. Some humans will never leave a wheelchair and would love to exert their bodies physically. See the arms and legs we have as a grace from God and joyfully use them. As you run that next mile (or think about working up to a mile), thank God for the many muscles working together to propel you along. Rejoice in the Creator of the human body and boast in what he has done.

Priority Not a Profession

We must, however, be cautious of our idolatrous heart. Nothing is necessarily sinful about training for a marathon or doing CrossFit for a couple of hours every day. Of course, if you’re only after a 26.2 sticker, you might want to look discerningly at your heart. God has called us to steward the body, but be careful stewardship doesn’t turn into worship. If your day is ruined when you miss a workout, chances are you need to trust God to root out some idolatry. If you attach joy to anything other than Jesus, it will fail you.

There’s so much more to discuss, but here are 10 final thoughts for reflection as you begin to make exercise a priority:

  • As far as results go, think internal—a healthier heart opposed to abs.
  • Think of exercise as a literal way of fighting the sin of laziness.
  • Christians are charged to be disciplined, and exercise reinforces that discipline.
  • This “job” will sometimes get mundane, just like your current one.
  • This investment may keep you from becoming a physical and financial liability later in life.
  • Physical fitness assists you in serving others.
  • Your body houses the Holy Spirit.
  • Physical inactivity is often a sin.
  • You will feel better.
  • Christians, no matter what your body looks like, Jesus redeemed it and one day soon you will have a glorified one.
  • Ben

    Great, balanced thoughts on exercise, John. Thanks for helping us parse through and separate the sinful attitudes about exercise from the godly ones. This one’s getting printed for future reference.

  • Karen Butler

    Thank you for this excellent encouragement. I especially liked the insight that physical inactivity is the modern thorn and thistle that we must battle in our daily work.

    I am going to print this and post it where I’ll see it often, and I think it will spur me on to get fit for God’s glory, and to fit prayer and spiritual encouragement into the plan. I have gotten sluggish about my daily walks and stretching.

    Another aerobic exercise benefit you might add to the list — that it works better than anti-depressants to battle depression and less likely to relapse, by a wide, wide margin:

  • Patrick Harner

    John, I really enjoyed this article. It seems we often fall into the trap of over-spiritualizing things (I don’t need to worry about my body, Jesus will give me a new one someday) or over physicalizing things (I have to workout for at least 2 hours every day to get anything out of it). I like that this article addresses this. Well done! Something to consider: is exercise innately good? Doctors recommends eating right and exercise. Why not recommend eating right and exercising right. If exercise is damaging is it our responsibility to find out what “right” exercise is? If exercise is physically damaging, be it too much, too fast, too soon, or other, might it then fall into the same category as complete inactivity (leading to the same detriment).

  • Wes Faulk

    Great article. I think the only thing I would add would be that in a culture that is obsessed with image our witness is tied to our health. How can we proclaim the abundant life God has given us when we take such poor care of the bodies we have. All of life is about magnifying God to the culture around us and we cannot nor should not lose or platform because we fail to care for our body.

    I also know the temptation of becoming to focused on health. I am a marathoner and minister to many nonchurched endurance athletes. Endurance is a religion to many. Our group worships the endorphins produced by multiple hour runs. This group fights the sting of death by trying to become so healthy that they literally run from it. We need more believers to step up and sacrifice their bodies so that Christ might be shared on the marathon route.

  • Adam Condit

    Very good and balanced article. As a long time endurance athlete I agree with Wes – being deep in the running/endurance community can often cloud our judgement when making physical fitness an idol. I’ve written about how despite the joy, freedom, and worship (to Him) we can experience through fitness it (just pure running, that is) will still leave us empty –

    Cling to Him and His joy will run (no terrible pun intended) over to be yours!

  • Enakeme Dogun

    Thank you for sharing this article. I believe that Americans are focusing too much on their outside appearance, because everywhere we turn it’s around us. We need to focus on glorifying God in everything that we do, and exercising our body is something that keeps us healthy and focused.

  • Ben

    As a personal trainer, I found this post very encouraging. I work in a fitness center on a college campus 40 hours or more a week, and am surrounded by women trying to tone their legs and cores and men trying to hulk up. I am constantly reminding my clients that their superficial beauty goals shouldn’t be what defines them. I am hoping that my clients can find the value in having a healthier body, not necessarily a sexier body. It is also great to be reminded that we are to be stewards of our bodies and enjoy the gifts that they are, but also to be responsible with them (just like alcohol, sex, coffee, cookies…). Thanks for the post!

  • David Derksen

    Thank you for this article. I consider it well-balanced and generally uplifting. It is certainly a refreshing addition to the conversation about Biblical fitness and well-being. Thank you. However, as someone who has shed over 100 pounds, earned a Masters in Divinity from Yale University and worked professionally as a chaplain under the banner of the Evangelical Free Church of America, I have a few concerns. My primary concern is with comments at the end. One thought in particular disturbs me: “Physical inactivity is often a sin.” This strikes me as a statement used to motivate people to exercise. But what is doing the “heavy-lifting” for such motivation? Grace? Love of God? I experience this as using shame to motivate me to exercise more or-maybe-“false” guilt. I call it “false” guilt because a Biblical argument could be made to its contrary. Case and point, Martha and Mary around Jesus. It is a small critique on a long article full of good points and encouragements. Thank you, again, for sharing!

  • Pingback: Mid-Atlantic FCA - This Is the Body the Lord Has Made()

  • Josh

    I have been avoiding this article because the title alone convicted me–but they were words worth reading.

    Thank you for your time and thoughts–they were edifying.

  • Pingback: Around the Web (4/5) | Men's Bible Cafe()

  • Pingback: Pain & Gain: Fitness and Faith | Reel Thinking()

  • Pingback: Stewardship in Every Sense: Part Two. | Sarah Anne Hayes()

  • Pingback: Passion Points | Three Passions()

  • Pingback: The Lord is for Your Body | GODWARD()