Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. Romans 6:12-13
I couldn’t define the terms Gnostic or Gnosticism (other than that it’s the name of heresy prevalent in the early Church) until I studied the letters of John in the New Testament. I began to learn more about the beliefs and practices. I recognized the lines of thinking: Gnostics believe that the spirit is good and the body is evil.
It kind of makes sense in a superficial way, though it is completely wrong. If we don’t dig too deeply into motivations and attitudes, it seems that sin comes from the physical part of us. Under this premise, we don’t need to take care of our bodies. But if this were true, our bodies could never be “instruments of righteousness.”
Last year, we read Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson. She addressed the issue of recognizing our physical nature as good. “Do we humbly embrace and honor our bodies, or do we see them as a source of shame, embarrassment, and guilt? ‘Many people,’ notes biblical scholar Dr. Gregg Allison, ‘abhor their body, and many Christians … consider their body to be, at best, a hindrance to spiritual maturity and, at worst, inherently evil or the ultimate source of sin.’”
In Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Hayley Barton writes, “The incarnation itself—Christ’s choice to take on flesh and inhabit a human body—forever elevates the experience of embodiment to the heights of spiritual significance.” If it weren’t enough that God created male and female, then called his creation “very good,” Jesus is God incarnate.
Of course, the Gnostics denied the physical incarnation of Christ. There were a couple of applications of this belief. One, asceticism – abstaining from physical pleasure. If the body is evil, it must be kept in check and punished. Two, hedonism. Only the spirit matters. What you do in your body doesn’t affect your spirit, so you might as well enjoy yourself.
Though I haven’t heard Christians today preaching against the incarnation, many (including myself) have a tendency to lean towards strict denial or indulgence. We still find it easy to believe that our bodies are bad. Barton describes the usual Christian relationship to the body as ascetic and the worldly as hedonistic, but often, the lines between the two are blurred.
We must learn “how to receive the goodness of the body as part of our life in God that he pronounced good. We are in need of a sacramental approach to life, in which the body is understood to be sacred because it is the place where God’s Spirit has chosen to dwell.”
In thinking about this, Romans 6:12-13 came to mind. I can give up my body as an instrument of wickedness or I can offer it as an instrument of righteousness. In itself, my body is not evil, but I can use it for evil if I let sin reign in me. To offer my body as an instrument of righteousness includes taking care of it, listening to it, and praying in it, as well as walking in obedience.
Cross-cultural life on the Equator, in a tropical climate, has emphasized to me the importance of taking care of my body. I have to stay hydrated and eat well. I have to stay out of the sun. If I don’t, I’ll be too sick to do anything at all. Has caring for your body changed with your geographic location?
This life is also more stressful than the comfortable life I left behind. I have more frequent headaches and tension in my shoulders to prove it. Though unpleasant, these can both be a gift if I recognize them as signs to let some things go, ask for help, or stop trying to live by my own strength. What I found intriguing here, though, was that Barton noticed God leading her through the way she felt, beyond recognizing being overworked. Namely, identifying what she should be doing based on her energy levels. Have you ever noticed God’s direction through the way you feel physically?
Let’s talk in the comments. What stood out to you in this chapter? What do you find challenging? What’s encouraging to you?
April 9: Chapter 6
April 16: Chapter 7
April 23: Chapter 8
April 30: Chapter 9 and Appendices