Skin Deep

The number of people struggling with body image is at an all-time high. But nothing can rewrite what God already says about you.

In a culture obsessed with sex, youth and the idea of a perfect body, perhaps it’s unsurprising that many of us are unsatisfied with the bodies we currently have—no matter what they’re like. On top of personal dissatisfaction, most of us are constantly comparing ourselves to others on social media. Selfies and perfectly filtered photos fill our feeds, and now research supports what most of us understand inherently: The more time we spend on social media, the worse we feel about ourselves.

“Younger adults spend more time per day on [Facebook] and experience more negative body image because of Facebook than do older adults,” according to a recent study conducted by Hayes, van Stolk-Cooke and Muench.

Another survey found that nearly half of 18- to 34-year-old users feel “ugly or unattractive” because of what they see on their social media. Add the daily bombardment of advertisements that tell us we should try to look younger, weigh less and enjoy incredible sex, and you’ve got a recipe for body image disaster.

Christians, however, don’t have to use the same measuring stick that culture does when it comes to evaluating our image. Christian teaching affirms that we can confidently assert that while our bodies are valuable, they aren’t the primary determinant of our worth or even beauty. God alone gets the final word on body image since He is our creator, and because we have been made in His image, we also know that our bodies are good (Genesis 1:27). This truth changes everything.

1. Being made in God’s image means your body’s main purpose is not to attract others.

Look around and you’ll notice more than enough images of bodies to make you believe they exist simply to attract others. Magazines, music videos and commercials teach us—a thousand times a day—that our bodies were created to draw attention and attraction to themselves over and above any other purpose they might have.

But as people made in the image of God, our bodies were not ultimately created to attract other people. More than anything else, our bodies are created to attract the presence of God. How? Through worship. We can worship God in our bodies through service, love and acts of praise and mercy. The apostle Paul exhorts his readers in the book of Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Understanding that our bodies are primarily meant to be vehicles for worship can help us turn the cultural obsession with attraction on its head.

As a caveat, it’s important to note that there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to appear attractive to other people—unless our motives are corrupt. If we take care of our bodies and present ourselves appropriately through our clothing choices because we value ourselves and our interactions with others, aiming for attractiveness can be a good thing. But if we want to induce jealousy or lust in others because of how we look, we’ve veered from biblical standards for how to carry ourselves in the world, and we need to change our ways.

Ultimately, attracting the presence of God through the lives we live in our bodies is much more important than attracting the passing attention of others. Worshipping God is what our bodies are made for.

2. Being made in the image of God means your body is immensely more important than a number on a scale.

Within a culture of excess and extremes, it can be difficult to know how to find balance when it comes to caring for our bodies. Nearly two-thirds of the population struggles with being overweight, and 3 to 4 percent struggle with serious eating disorders. Most people worry about their weight at some point in their lives. That number on the scale—or the size of our jeans—can become a point of obsession and frustration.

Alisa Keeton is the founder of Revelation Wellness, a nonprofit that uses fitness as a tool to spread the Gospel message. When the question of weight comes up, “I always first go to motives,” Keeton says, because true fitness isn’t based on weight.

“True fitness has always been measured by the inside factors,” she says. “How is your blood pressure, can you climb a flight of stairs without being winded—how are our systems working? We’ve got it all wrong in our culture; we’re so focused on what we see as a measurement of our health rather than what’s going on inside of us.”

Keeton believes that the unique way God has made each one of us, spiritually as well as physically, is much more important than a number on the scale: “The world does not need another lookalike of Heidi Klum, it needs you—your voice, your message, your unique battle for which you were born. And it can’t hide in the shadows of someone else’s form or figure.”

Ultimately, your weight is a number that does not define or even identify you. It has nothing to do with your eternal value or earthly import. But we will live in these bodies for the rest of our lives, and being people made in God’s image means that our bodies have immense value and should be treated with respect and care.

As Jesus modeled for us during his time on Earth, we are called to live in these bodies with faith and self-control, neither ignoring the needs of the body nor obsessing over them.

3. Being made in the image of God means that sex is wonderful but it isn’t the pinnacle of existence.

Part of the angst about attractiveness and weight that many of us experience stems from a culture that is obsessed with sex because it inherently understands just how powerful sex is. Thankfully, the Bible has a lot to say about this.
Most pertinent here is that sex is reserved for the “marriage bed” (Hebrews 13:4). But the Bible doesn’t stop there; Paul tells us that sex is actually a picture of the intimacy between Jesus and His Church—something he calls a “profound mystery.” Sex is supernatural; it’s not just for the purpose of pleasure. It’s meant to point us to something bigger—it’s meant to point us to God.

Being made in the image of God means that we can be deeply thankful for the power and pleasure of sex, but it also enables us to acknowledge that sex is not the pinnacle of existence; knowing and being known by God is the only thing that can hold that place in our lives.

This mindset flies in the face of cultural beliefs, and it frees us to do two things: First, we can place the correct emphasis on sex without letting it become a marker of our identity. Sex is something important and transformative, but whether or not we are having sex doesn’t change our worth. Our identity is in Christ alone.

Second, being made in the image of God also frees us to enjoy and appreciate sex in bodies that don’t measure up to the cultural ideal. Sex has become perverted in our world, and when the act of sex is at the center of a culture’s focus, then bodies become hyper-sexualized, and assumptions are made about what types of bodies are the most exciting sexually.

We've got it all wrong in our culture; we're so focused on what we see as a measurement of our health rather than what's going on inside of us.

It can make us feel ashamed when our bodies don’t measure up to that ideal. The reality, though, is that sexual satisfaction is a culmination of many aspects, not just the physical. God made us that way—He intertwined our bodies with our emotions and our spirits, something that even scientific studies support.

A 2009 study reported that seven out of the eight components of “great sex” were relational aspects such as “connection,” “authenticity,” “being present” and “extraordinary communication.” Body shape and size didn’t even make the list.

It’s not the shape or size of a body that makes sex wonderful—it’s the context of sex within a godly marriage to a loving and thoughtful spouse that gives sex its power and delight. The emotional, spiritual and relational aspects are what make sex deeply satisfying, over and over again, with the same person.

Having bodies made in the image of God allows us to enjoy the gift of sex in its proper place without making it out to be an idol that we unintentionally worship through unrealistic standards or by connecting it too closely to our identity.

4. Being made in the image of God means that even while your body is decaying, you don’t have to fear.

As teenagers and young adults, many of us imagined that our bodies were endlessly malleable and unceasingly able. If we wanted to run, we went for a run. If we wanted to stay up late, we stayed up. But the older we get, the more we experience the truth of bodies that are already starting to break down: We tire easily. Our bones harden and become more brittle. Our immune systems weaken and our metabolism slows. In ways large and small, we start to feel the effects of where we are all heading: death.

Externally, all of us are wasting away. Daniel Doriani, a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary, points out that being a “realist” about our bodies is important. “Vitality is a fleeting gift,” he says.

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But the fleeting nature of our strength can point us toward gratitude for what we do have: “I try to view every day where I can run or play tennis or climb a mountain as a gift, a bonus,” Doriani says.

The Scriptures teach that though human bodies are breaking down, still, “we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). The struggles we have in our bodies can also help us to remember that there is a day coming for Christians when these bodies will be made new (see Philippians 3:20-21).

“The aches and failures of my body always point me to the day of Christ’s return,” Doriani says, because our bodies aren’t only made in the image of God for our years on earth. “The physicality of Jesus’ resurrection body is our destiny, too,” Doriani says. “We will have renewed bodies. Praise God.”

Eventually, our bodies will fail, and every one of us will die. But we don’t need to be afraid. Jesus has already died the death we deserve on the cross by having his body beaten, bruised and ultimately killed for our sakes.

And Jesus’ resurrected body gives us the hope of what we will be like when He returns—because we are made in His image, and we will be like Him, both spiritually and physically, in this world and in the next (1 John 3:2).

Being made in God’s image allows you to live in the body you have with great hope, knowing that He delights in you. This new year, don’t let unrealistic advertising or body shamers get to you—the only one who matters already had the final word.

1 Comment

Michael Johnson

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Michael Johnson commented…

Appreciated this in the magazine and glad they have it up online now for everyone. Loved this quote in particular: "Having bodies made in the image of God allows us to enjoy the gift of sex in its proper place without making it out to be an idol that we unintentionally worship through unrealistic standards or by connecting it too closely to our identity."

Sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at https://www.facebook.com/FMUniversity, where incidentally, we fairly recently shared an entire series on body image on our own blog: The Naked Truth about Your Body. http://f-m-u.com/naked-truth-about-your-body/

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