The Importance of the Body in Discipleship


When speaking of the change process, we should notice how Paul emphasizes the importance of the body, particularly in Romans 12:1 when he pivots from the theological to practical: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (NLT).

Nothing is more personal than our bodies. 

They affect everything we do and relate deeply to who we are. We experience life and relate to others through them. People may know who we are inside, but they identify us by our appearance and voice. Christians have the hope of one day receiving a new body that will be perfect and won’t wear out. But until the resurrection, we must be dedicated to caring for the body we have been given. If we do not wash, nourish, rest, and heal our body, it will make us miserable.

Our bodies are essential to our identity. When people think of me, they first think of my appearance—height, weight, and demeanor—and the sound of my voice or laugh. And the body has its own form of knowledge. For example, we don’t have to decide to breath, shiver, or sweat. We do these things automatically. The body also has great power that can be used for good or great evil.

Our body can be either our servant or our master. Paul chose to use discipline to make his body his servant (1 Cor. 9:26–27). The body is not morally neutral. Because of sin, our body requires transformation. Everything from our posture to our facial expressions and tone of voice can become our ally or our enemy.

An Altar of Sacrifice

God knows how dear our bodies are to us, yet he asks us to put our bodies on his altar as a sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). If this image of placing your body on an altar seems unpleasant or strange, that’s because it should. Paul’s original readers were familiar with the altars in temples used to sacrifice and burn animals and other costly offerings to God or the gods. These unwilling animals were killed first, but Paul uses this image to call us to willingly participate in the process of change by giving up our body as a “living sacrifice.” While we do not physically die, this is not a comfortable experience.

So why would anyone want to offer up their body as a living sacrifice? We give ourselves to God because of all he has done for us. We love him back with concrete actions, not just a rush of emotion. Placing ourselves on the altar and dying to self leads to our transformation into holiness and living in a way that pleases God. And unlike other sacrifices that end in death, this one, though painful, will result in life and eventually resurrection. Paul knows that despite the pain involved, we will do this if we have the right motivation and if the intention of our heart is good and true. There is nothing more worshipful than a willingness to give God what is most precious to us and to allow his Spirit to lead us into holy living. This is the worship that God seeks.

More on Paul's view of the body in Romans: The air-tight argument Paul presents in chapters 1–11 forces the reader to admit that the only logical, rational action is to turn oneself over to God for service. If God went to all that trouble to save us, empower us, and make us his own, then he is the best one to tell us what to do now. If this is not your conclusion, you need to reread the first eleven chapters of Romans.

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This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.

Image credit: Unsplash.