Why it’s important to care for your body, not idolize it

Ashley Dannelly

Ever since I was a teenager, I can remember worrying about my body. I don’t mean I worried about how my body functioned. I mean I was concerned with how my body looked.

As a young adult, it became easy for me to hide behind my issues with body image and claim I was pursuing health through many of the decisions I was making concerning food and fitness. I didn’t see it at the time, but my obsession with body image and the pursuit of health had become a menacing idol.

Fast forward several years, countless life changes, and two children later, and my life is profoundly different. And while it is likely that the process of growing up has allowed me to see the futility of pursuing a perfect body, that is only part of the story.

The Lord has used much of my past to allow me to question what He actually expects of my body and where I got the idea that I needed to pursue my idea of physical perfection.

Your Body, the Temple

If you are a Christian, you’ve likely heard it said that your body is a temple. In fact, this is stated outright in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

In this passage, our bodies are equated with temples to demonstrate the severity of sin and our calling to pursue God’s righteousness rather than our wicked desires. But over time, these passages have been taken out of context to suggest that we should treat our physical bodies as temples by perfecting them on the outside.

For me, this included meticulous dieting — or clean eating — and a feeling of shame when I believed I had failed. I committed to rigorous daily exercise and constantly compared myself to others’ size, shape, and ability. Predictably, this led to an obsession with my body that weaved itself into virtually every moment of the day.

God has not called us to obsess over our physical bodies, but to focus on our spiritual growth in relationship with Christ.

But God never told me to live such a life. In fact, the Bible tells us that “man looks at the outward appearance, [but] the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). While God is pleased when we take care of ourselves, He has not called us to obsess over our physical bodies, but to focus on spiritual growth in relationship with Christ. 

Although stewarding our bodies and taking care of them 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” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). As a result, we are first and foremost to “train [ourselves] for godliness.”  Eternity is our reward, and a Christ-centered focus on bodily training and stewardship develops out of the overflow of spiritual training and stewardship.

Where Are Your Physical Pursuits Taking You?

So how can we know whether our body image is glorifying to God or idolatrous in His sight? By talking to God in prayer and reading the Bible

In addition to showing us who God has made us to be (Psalm 139:13-14), reading the Bible will show us God’s character, His love, His will, and His wisdom (Jeremiah 29:11-13). The more we know about Him, the more we understand who we are in relationship to Him. 

As we spend time with God, we can also take stock of the direction in which our body image is leading:

1. Toward freedom or bondage? 

When we are pursuing a healthy relationship with our bodies, we feel the freedom of living out God’s plan for our lives without being consumed by whether we missed the mark (Galatians 5:1). We are freed from bondage to a certain body size, style of eating, or workout regimen. 

2. Toward love or fear? 

The Bible teaches us that love is the antidote to fear (1 John 4:18). This relationship between love and fear extends to our physical bodies. If we experience the freedom of being created by God, we’re able to love others and, in so doing, be a light for Christ (John 13:34). But if we’re consumed with fear over what we look like or whether we’re healthy enough, our body image has not yet been “perfected in love.”

3. Toward God or idolatry? 

Do we put God first by reading the Bible, praying, and thinking about Him throughout the day? Or, is our attention consumed by workout plans, food restrictions, and the quest for a flawless physique?

It is good to honor God by how we eat, move our bodies, and pursue longevity. But our efforts can quickly become distorted and create such a self-centered focus that we lose sight of what God has actually called us to do. 

If you focus more on body image than pursuing things that matter to God, talk to God about it. He loves you. He will always guide you toward His righteousness and give you peace in the process (Philippians 4:6-7). Also, find family members or close friends who love Jesus and can help you on your journey. We are not called to be perfect, but to love the Lord and follow as He leads. 

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