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Made in the image of God, humans are different from other creatures. We are not merely spirits like the angels. And we are not merely bodies like the animals. Rather, we are both body and spirit that were created good. This is clear from the very beginning of the Bible.

In the time of the early church, however, conceptions of what it means to be human were heavily influenced by Platonic philosophies of matter and spirit, the uncle of one of the earliest and most dangerous heresies in the early church: gnosticism. Gnostic dogma includes the dualistic idea that the material is bad and the immaterial is good. Salvation for the gnostic, therefore, means liberating the spirit from its prison—the body—through the acquisition of secret knowledge and purity in spirit. Although this may sound like archaic philosophy, gnosticism has proved to be a chronic malady for the church. Indeed, the Western church has long been plagued by Gnostic tendencies. Neo-gnosticism made a vigorous resurgence in the rationalism of the nineteenth century. Simply put, whenever the spiritual realm is pitted against the physical realm, a sort of neo-gnosticism emerges. When care for the soul neglects the body, a gnostic asceticism is at play (see James 2:16). Such asceticism, as Paul tells the Colossian church, has an appearance of piety but is of no real value (Col. 2:20–23; see also Heb. 9:10).

In light of Paul’s later words that “bodily training is of some value, [while] godliness is of value in every way” (1 Tim. 4:8), some get the impression that he has a low view of the body. What matters is the spirit, not the body. To be sure, Paul is adamantly opposed to mere externalism (e.g., 1 Tim. 6:6–10; see also 1 Peter 3:3–4). But he’s not positing a dichotomy between body and spirit; rather, he’s using athletic imagery to show that godliness in all of life is of comprehensive, eternal value. Further, a robust Pauline theology of the body will take into account all of Scripture, including Paul’s forceful dictum in 1 Corinthians 6 that the Christian’s body is holy.

We glorify God now with the same instrument in which we will glorify Him forever.

Paul says that we are to glorify God in our bodies (v. 20) for two reasons. First, our bodies are members of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 15). Second, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (v. 19). Contra gnostic conceptions of the body, there could hardly be a greater degree of holiness assigned to our bodies or a greater responsibility to keep our bodies blameless (1 Thess. 5:23). Notice the Trinitarian dimension of our bodily holiness: we are to use our bodies as instruments of righteousness for God, by virtue of our bodily union with Christ and by the residential indwelling of the Holy Spirit. United to Christ, the Christian’s body has been bought with a high price (1 Cor. 6:20) and serves as the abode of the Spirit of God. My body—united to Christ’s body—is sacred, and the Spirit is within me wherever I go and whatever I do. Joined together in vital union to the holy Son of God; a living, walking, sacred temple of God—do you see your body that way, Christian?

Underneath Paul’s theology of the body is the reality that human beings are both material and immaterial, and these two are inseparable. Soul piety leads to bodily piety because, in God’s design, the body and soul are inseparably linked. If the body is merely a neutral (or evil) capsule for the soul, then we are left with a piety that discounts the holiness of the body, a false piety that can produce one of two common errors. The first error is what Paul seems to address in Colossians 2, where we rob the body of all earthly pleasures, for such pleasures can only ever be evil. If it feels good, it’s bad. The second error is what Paul seems to address in 1 Corinthians 6, where we indulge every bodily passion, for what we do with our bodies has no real impact on our souls. If it feels good, it’s good. The antidote to both errors is a proper view of the body in relation to Christ and the totality of His redemption. Let’s note three doctrinal realities that buttress the idea that our bodies are holy.

First, the Son of God took on a human nature to reclaim us—body and soul—and bring us back into fellowship with God. Christ is perfectly holy, and we are united to His person. This vital connection that we enjoy with Christ by faith renders us holy in body and soul and summons us to be holy in all our conduct (1 Peter 1:15–16).

Second, our bodies, being united to Christ and dead to sin, are now presented as liberated instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:11–14). The practical ethical implications of this truth are vast but are beautifully encapsulated in several Pauline imperatives: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” (v. 12). In all things, we are to pre­sent our bodies as living sacrifices, “holy and acceptable to God” (12:1), striving to honor Christ in our bodies (Phil. 1:20), for the will of God is for His people to “know how to control [our] own bod[ies] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust” (1 Thess. 4:4–5).

Third, we’re destined not for disincarnate souls but for glorified bodies (see Phil. 3:20–21). We eagerly await the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:23) in a new heavens and new earth with other embodied souls, including the Lord Jesus Christ, who took on a true body and a reasonable soul, never to shed His human nature. Because of Christ’s work in the body, we have died to sin (1 Peter 2:24), and our mortal bodies will put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:53). The body that is now perishable will be imperishable—not a different body, but the same body, albeit glorified. Therefore, we glorify God now with the same instrument in which we will glorify Him forever.

Christian, your physical body is united to Christ and is the sacred dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. What you will be is shrouded in mystery, but know that you will be like Christ in body and soul (1 John 3:2; see Phil. 3:21). Live accordingly. The destructive lie of gnosticism has undeniably led to all sorts of bad fruit. But a recovery of the holiness of the body will surely bear the good fruit of pure and undefiled piety that cares for the body and the soul (James 1:26–27). God cares about our soul and body. We must not sever what God has bound together. As we belong with body and soul to our faithful Savior (Heidelberg Catechism 1), so we are wholeheartedly willing and ready to devote ourselves with body and soul to Him, both in life and in death.

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