The Worship of the Body

Over the last year or so, I’ve been working on developing the discipline of honoring my body. There have been seasons in my life where I felt enslaved to food or enslaved to exercise. Seasons in the past where I felt almost addicted to working out. Seasons where I felt addicted to indulgence. Throughout both these seasons I’ve felt a powerful pull to worship either food or fitness. In response to that pull, I’ve grown in the discipline of gospel proclamation.

This may seem silly to most of you, or maybe you’ll deeply identify with this. As someone who has had season of excess in either direction, I have become so acutely aware of the temptation to worship my fitness or my food. So now when I work out and I feel like quitting (or when I don’t feel like working out at all) or when I feel like eating whatever I want and too much of it, this is the conversation I have in my head.

“The Creator God who made all things, made them to be good and full of life. That Creator made you and your body. Your body is not an accident. It is not going to burn to dust in the end. Your body is an important and purposeful facet of your human design. When you work hard and honor your body, you honor the Creator who made it and called it good. When you challenge your body to grow and strengthen, you honor the purpose of your body and the calling of God on your life. Being fit will not bring you life. Being thin will not satisfy you. Bingeing on sugar will not meet your needs. You are made for the Creator and He has made you with a body. Turn your eyes to Jesus. See His goodness, love, and beauty. Honor your body out of respect, awe, and worship of Him because of the great lengths He went to that you might have true and abundant life. When you care for your body, you proclaim the lordship of Jesus and the beauty of the Creator. Work hard. He equips you even for the small, daily things.”

Since I started this process I have gotten a lot better. With practice, I now usually notice very quickly when my heart slips into worship of other’s opinions of me, my own physical goals, or control. I don’t tell myself that I’m a disaster for being tempted or having those thoughts. I recognize the temptation for what it is and rebuke the lies. I proclaim the reality of Jesus’ authority and practice gospel proclamation to myself at 6:00am when I don’t want to work out, and late at night when I want to eat all the ice cream at once.

Health and fitness is an unquenchable god. Never satisfied, always asking you to bleed out for it. To try a little harder, to cut back a little more, to focus a little more on swimsuit season or how much stronger your friends are. Fitness is a fickle god that denies the intrinsic value of you as a created being loved by its Creator. You are not made to worship your body, you’re made to worship God who gave you a body.

In fitness it is so easy to worship your goals. If I weigh this much, if I’m this toned, if I workout this frequently, then I’ll be satisfied. But that’s idolatry and it’s a fickle god. When we worship anything but the Creator who loves us, we always find ourselves restless, feeling unknown, incapable, and insufficient. When our god is our body, our belly, our muscles, our mind, we end up unsatisfied and ruled by shame. Those gods are never satisfied. You are never enough for the idols you worship. Only in worship of the Father do you simultaneously find yourself so aware of your inadequacy and also overcome by the reality of how deeply and perfectly loved and known you are right now.

The chase of idolatry is fickle and unending, but the Father doesn’t change or move or send you away until you’re better. I’m learning to honor the Father by the way I care for the body He has given me. I’m learning to pause when I feel like giving up or when I find myself thinking about what other people think or see, and to reset my perspective. I’m learning to remind myself of the truths of the gospel that compel me to care for my body. God has made me human, with a body, heart, and mind. The body was intentional and an important aspect of His creation. When I care for my body I proclaim the Lordship of the God who made it. I proclaim my assurance in His purpose for me and His promise to restore all things to their intended design. When I care for my body I participate in His restoration in a temporary way until He completes it finally.