One of my favourite days of the year is what we Brits call Boxing Day –– December 26th to the rest of the world. For us, it’s a public holiday so that we get at least two days off over Christmas. And what makes it special for me is the chance it gives me to exhale and really think about Christmas. However noble my intentions, Christmas Day itself is normally too frenetic to do much real reflection; by the time I’ve navigated church services, travelling, visiting relatives, and checking I’ve packed the right gifts for everyone, there’s not much space for actual deep thought. So Boxing Day is perfect. All the busyness and commotion of the previous day is behind me, nothing pressing is needing to be done. I can grab a Bible and an armchair and think about the Word becoming flesh.
Which means I’m thinking about the body. How can one not when reflecting on the events of that first Christmas? God did not simply visit the earth as an avatar. Nor did he grab a human costume as a temporary disguise. He became fully human. And he did so permanently. This was no phase. He didn’t ditch his humanity on his way back up to heaven. He is, and remains, fully human.
Our tendency to sideline the significance of our bodies doesn’t line up with the heart of the gospel itself.
All of which is to say that our tendency to sideline the significance of our bodies doesn’t line up with the heart of the gospel itself. In the world, the body tends to be thought of as both accidental (the product of entirely random processes) and incidental (carrying no intrinsic significance to my identity). It is simply the lump of flesh I happen to be carrying around. The real me is who I feel myself to be deep down inside, and my body becomes a canvas on which I express that inner identity.
But our attitude inside the church isn’t often much better. We know God cares about souls. We tend not to think he gives much thought to our bodies. The spiritual parts of life are not physical.
But the message of the Bible is very different. Our bodies are not an accident. God has lovingly created them, each with individual care and precision. A body is both a gift and a calling. The complexity of living in a broken world means that it might not be the gift we would have wanted, or the calling we would have chosen. But it nevertheless remains part of a good God’s design for who we are.
And nor are our bodies spiritually irrelevant. Paul can describe them no less than as ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:19). Moreover, they are part of God’s plan for our eternal future. As we wait for the age to come, we look forward to ‘the redemption of our bodies’ (Romans 8:23). At the end of this life we won’t be done with them. They will be physically raised for life in the new creation.
The New Testament frequently speaking about our discipleship in bodily terms.
In the meantime, we see the New Testament frequently speaking about our discipleship in bodily terms. Prayer, food, rest, training, self-control, consecration to the Lord – all these are spoken of in very physical language. We cannot separate our bodies from our walk with God. The body is for the Lord just as the Lord is for the body, as Paul reminds us (1 Corinthians 6:13). In fact, we cannot be healthy disciples without being attentive to our physicality.
Two years of a global pandemic has brought home to us just how much physical presence means and matters. Zoom, messaging, and phone calls all have their place, but are lousy substitutes for actual flesh-and-blood time with others.
So it’s a good time to look again at what the Bible says about our bodies. We may find ourselves surprised at how much it has to say. But as we do so we will come to see just how much Jesus is good news for our bodies. Christmas Day was only the beginning.
Sam explores these themes in more depth in his book What God Has to Say About Our Bodies (Crossway, 2021). You can read our review of Sam’s book here.