Body Image Series: Applying Biblical Principles

This is my fourth and final post on developing a biblical, God-honoring body image. The previous one established a context for understanding body image based on Scripture, and it’s important to read it first. In this post, I will use 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 to define several body image principles.

Forming your body image from Scripture rather than worldly standards is critical. Repeated exposure to unattainable appearance ideals will never create an environment conducive to a healthy body image. So, altering appearance expectations—basing them on Scripture not society—is highly important to the development of a God-honoring body image.

The following list provides several body image principles from 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. Anyone can apply these principles to their body image struggles, no matter your age, gender, or ethnicity. My dissertation applied these to a child with physical disabilities, a teenage girl, college-age guy, postpartum mom, menopausal woman, and mid-60s man. The framework these principles supply is applicable in any scenario.

A God-honoring body image revolves around Scripture’s affirmations of the body.

We must agree with the Lord that no matter its condition our body is good because he affirms our body throughout the bible.

A God-honoring body image fights and denies wrong thoughts about the body. Perceiving the body as defective, lacking, or unattractive will naturally drive negative thoughts and beliefs about physical appearance. Choosing to believe inaccuracies will instigate an adverse body image and support negative feelings, possibly even triggering actions of bodily harm.

A God-honoring body image understands that bodily neglect and harm are not permissible or beneficial behaviors (1 Cor 6:12).

When controlled by negative body image, a person may engage in activities that, though not inherently sinful, bring about harmful physical effects and thus are wrong. Exercise, skipping a meal, causing oneself to vomit, and overeating are all permissible actions on occasion. However, if these behaviors become habitual and serve as the means of pursuing outward perfection, then they are not only damaging but also sinful. These image-driven behaviors take a physical toll that is far from beneficial and will go on to dictate and dominate thoughts, feelings, and actions.

A God-honoring body image recognizes the consuming drive to meet worldly appearance standards and refuses to acquiesce to these enslaving ways (1 Cor 6:12).

Preoccupation with body imperfections coupled with an obsession of achieving a physical ideal can enslave one to a negative body image. Perfectionism also enslaves. Vanity and idolatry, hallmarks of body image issues, are cyclical and serve to reinforce one another. Enslaved to desires of outward perfection, the idolatrous quest for an “acceptable” body never ends, as new problem areas or inabilities constantly arise. The exhausting cycle of negative body image perpetuates because nothing is ever satisfactory.

A God-honoring body image trusts that the body will be resurrected and responds by treating the body in respectable, ethical ways (1 Cor 6:14).

In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Paul connects future bodily resurrection and present bodily submission. He argues that belief in the resurrection naturally progresses to God’s powerful claim over the earthly body, which should fuel our desire for pure thoughts about and actions with the body. Mistreatment of the body results from a negative body image, escalating into embodied sins that dishonor the Lord because they damage the body he created and will one day resurrect.

A God-honoring body image hopes for the coming restoration of the body while soberly accepting that the body will not reach perfection in this age (1 Cor 6:14).

If the body has no future, then dignifying it in the present has no purpose. The world touts certain body types as preferable, with the implication being that one is lesser and incomplete without certain musculature, makeup, or measurements. If this weren’t so, plastic surgeries, body-enhancing medicines, and commercial diets would not be such lucrative industries. Rejecting these secular expectations, believers place their confidence in future sureties and not in present improbabilities that appearance-improving efforts hope to achieve.

A God-honoring body image submits to God’s authority over the body (1 Cor 6:15).

It is antithetical to true Christian faith for one not to submit our entire embodied life to God’s authority. Thoughts about, feelings of, and actions with the body are surrendered to the Lord. Here is a deep meaning for body image. A wrong body image often propagates sinful thoughts and negative feelings that generate damaging actions against the body, a clear demonstration that an autonomous mindset is driving behavior. Belief that the body is insufficient or lacking usually leads to an acceptance of whatever measures are necessary to achieve the worldly ideal, measures that exhibit an attempt to claim authority of the body. In this way, everything that arises from dissatisfaction with the body surfaces from an independent spirit that is neither humble nor dependent on the Lord.

A God-honoring body image assesses the body as sacred (1 Cor 6:19).

For the body to be called the Spirit’s temple contradicted the Corinthian mindset that the body didn’t matter. In similar ways, a Christian cannot simultaneously agree that the body is worthy of respect and honor as the Spirit’s temple while also harshly assessing it through a negative body image. Likewise, the body cannot be respected as the place of the Holy Spirit while also engaging in physical mistreatment so that one can attain an ideal image. Comprehending the reality of the Spirit’s indwelling should guard Christians against thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that disparage the temple in which the Spirit resides.

A God-honoring body image is grateful for the divine ability to be self-controlled and restrain worldly appearance desires or behaviors (1 Cor 6:19).

The fruit of self-control, which comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit, helps in the fight against a critical appraisal of the body. Think about it this way. If you fight to control the use of profanity but simultaneously allow profane thoughts about the body - this is a contradiction and lack of self-control. The self-controlled believer fights false, distorted, and destructive conceptions about the body, battling them by the power of the Spirit. A steady, determined mindset to utilize self-control, fueled by indwelling Spirit, is the only way to be victorious over such internalized sins as negative body image.

A God-honoring body image seeks to intentionally glorify God in every aspect of embodied living (1 Cor 6:20).

The very necessity of a command arises from the reality that what is commanded does not come naturally. So, we do not naturally glorify God with our bodies. But the body belongs to the Lord, so it is the believer’s task to steward it accordingly. Conceiving the body in negative ways that fuel depressive emotions and generate bodily harm is far from glorifying God in the body.

A God-honoring body image reflects the body’s significance based on its connections with the Godhead (1 Cor 6:19-20).

In the final two verses, Paul crescendos with a dramatic emphasis on each divine person’s association with the body as a final means of calling the Corinthians to value their bodies as Father, Son, and Spirit do. So Christians revere the body based on Trinitarian involvement with the body. The Father will bodily resurrect his created embodied image-bearers; the Son came to bodily atone for embodied image-bearers, and the Spirit indwells and empowers embodied image-bearers. While a negative body image sees the body as insignificant, forgetting its greater purpose associated with Father, Son, and Spirit, Christians must view their bodies as revolving around these Trinitarian realities.

This series on body image reflects some of my doctoral work. Any insight that I have on this topic comes solely from the Lord. I hope you find these principles helpful.