Sam Allberry: God and the Truth about Your Body
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Sam AllberrySam Allberry is a pastor based in Maidenhead, UK. He is part of the global speaking team for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, and an editor for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including James For You, Why Bother With Church? and the bestselling Is God Anti-Gay?
What place do our bodies have in powerful, authentic spirituality? Author Sam Allberry explores the danger of undervaluing our bodies’ role in honoring God.
Sam Allberry: God and the Truth about Your Body
Dave: I’m going to ask you a question and see if you get the right answer. There's a right and wrong answer.
Dave: What do you think I think about most of the day?
Dave: Football? [Laughter] Seriously?
Ann: Is that not it?
Dave: [Laughter] Well, that's close; that might be it.
Ann: Your guitars.
Dave: What?! No!
Ann: Your motorcycle and Jesus.
Dave: It sounds like you’re just listing all the idols in my life. [Laughter]
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: It's shocking to me, but I think about my body a lot.
Ann: What?! Do you think about that? I know I do—like how I'm failing, and I'm getting older—but I wouldn't ever guess that you ever thought about that.
Dave: The older I get, the more you feel pains and aches. You don't walk as well—I don't—yes, I tried to get up on a surfboard; and that didn't go well because I can barely get off of the ground.
Ann: But you're in great shape.
Dave: I feel like I take care of my body, but I am shocked that I think about it as much as I do. I would love to say I think about spiritual life and Jesus, my emotional life, my mindset; but the body’s right up there. Probably, I guess I'm confessing too much.
Ann: I know; you are. I'm super surprised.
Dave: Well, you know, you learn things right here on FamilyLife Today, and we're going to learn a lot about our bodies today and why God actually cares about our bodies.
We have Sam Allberry back with us on FamilyLife Today. Sam, so glad to have you back with us. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Sam: Thanks for having me. It's always good to be with you.
Dave: You're/you're—you're smiling at our conversation—[Laughter]—what? What did you think when you heard us talking about this?
Sam: Yes; I was wondering if the comment—“I never would have guessed you think about your body,”—was meant to sound like a compliment or not. [Laughter]
Ann: It was a compliment, actually. [Laughter] Because if/I mean, our listeners can't see Dave; but he’s in really good shape. He's really healthy, and he's not self-consumed at all.
Sam: That’s good.
Ann: I feel like I worry more about the outer than he does, so that's why I was surprised. It's probably good to make that clear.
Dave: Yes; and it's interesting because, Sam, you just finished a book. We've had you on here before as an apologist and a speaker; and obviously, a writer. I mean, the last time we talked to you, it was the book, Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With?, which was a fascinating conversation. I love all the stuff you write about; you're so much deeper than me.
Ann: —and me.
Dave: —and me. We just love the way your mind thinks.
But this one, and first of all, I want to ask you why you wrote this book. The title is very interesting: What God Has to Say about Our Bodies: How the Gospel Is Good News for Our Physical Selves. So why in the world did you attack this issue? Why go after the body?
Sam: There are two reasons really; and really, they relate to the two halves of what I spend my time doing. One is apologetics. I was becoming aware that so many of the issues we are wrestling with and confused about in Western culture have to do with our bodies: “What does it mean to be male or female?” “What do we do with our sexuality?” “How do we cope with body image issues?” Those are kind of on the rise at the moment.
And then, similarly, the other half of my life, I'm a pastor; and was just finding that more and more pastoral issues, within the church, have to do with the body: how we cope with and think about age, physical frailties, sickness; again, eating disorders, body image stuff. And I, you know, I've been looking over the fence to see what our Catholic friends are up to; and they've been far more attentive to the body in its theological significance than we have been.
I figured this is an area where we've not taught as well as we should—and partly for my own edification—and partly, too, if it helps anybody else, I wanted to really dive into what the Bible says about our bodies. I knew that the Bible had lots to say about our bodies; I knew that there would be a book in there. But even so, I was really surprised at how much the Bible says about our bodies.
We so often default into “God's only interested in the sort of spiritual bits of me,” which we presume is the soul or the spirit, or something like that. And yet, the Bible is just full of ways in which our—it is significant that we are embodied—it matters in God's estimation, and it's relevant to our Christian life. So much of discipleship in the New Testament is spoken about in physical and bodily terms. So that was the main impetus for it.
Dave: Yes, it's good. I'm wondering the fact that we talked about—“I think about my body every day,”—is that pretty common? And it actually sounds like, “Well, that's not such a bad thing. It's actually a good thing, because God thinks about our body.” But is that that rare or do most of us think about our bodies quite often?
Sam: I think most of us do. I started working on this about five or six years ago, and it would come up in conversations kind of here and there. Then, as I've been talking about it more, I've/so many people—and most of my ministry, I'm talking to guys more than I'm talking to women—but so many guys have opened up to me about either stuff to do with body image, or stuff to do with not feeling like they’re enough of a man in some way and wanting to know: “How do I know if I am enough of a man?” and that sort of thing.
And then there's the sort of—again, the issues of we're all getting older and being affected by that and those things—you know, we can't ignore those things. They do tend to weigh on our minds. Some people are thinking a lot about their bodies, because we live in a very vain culture and how you look is often who you are. With all the attendant insecurities and anxieties that can go with that, I think a lot of us do spend a lot of time thinking about our bodies: sometimes in helpful, constructive ways as we reflect on what God says; sometimes we think about our bodies in ways that have really been prompted by our culture. That's why we need the good news of Scripture to kind of converse with us as we think about these things.
Ann: Well, take us through that, Sam; because I'm thinking of/you know, I'm dealing primarily with women. So often, the way we feel about ourselves is determined on how we feel about our bodies. I think there's this grappling with: “I shouldn't care about my physical body, in some respects, if I'm getting my total identity from that.” And yet, the God of the universe—the Holy Spirit, when we surrender our lives to Christ—resides in our body. Walk us through what you've learned; and “What are some of the things that you think, ‘Oh, this is what we need to know’?”
Sam: Again, what I've learned is that so many of us are having some kind of thought like the one you've just articulated. It is certainly not unique to women. Fifteen/twenty years ago, the men’s grooming part of a supermarket was pretty small; but it feels like now there's this whole aisle just on men’s grooming.
Ann: That’s true!
Sam: If nothing else, again, it's a reflection that we are/we're more self-conscious, as men, than we used to be. And so how—again, how we look weighs upon us—it's part of how we assess the way we fit into the world around us.
There's lots to think about with that; but the Bible shows us that there is so much more to us, obviously, than how we look. God famously said to Samuel when they were looking to see who the next king would be that the man looks on outward appearance, but God looks to the heart. He sees the inner person and not just the outer appearance, so we mustn’t think we are reduced to our image and to our look. But we obviously can't ignore that either—we are physical beings—and we mustn't, similarly, make our whole identity something that is unrelated to our bodies. That's a big issue today with discussions around gender identity.
But the key thing that I got from writing and thinking about this—which I certainly needed myself and I try to help others with it since as well—is just that idea that, if as Christians, we now belong to Jesus—and Paul says that we've been bought with a price: we're not our own; that our bodies now belong to Christ—that is such a liberating thing to know; because if my body belongs to Jesus, then the One my body has to please is Jesus. We know from the New Testament that the body that is pleasing to Jesus is the body that is offered to Jesus. So I don't have to have a body that is going to be on an advertising billboard or a body that's going to turn heads at the beach in order to have a body that is pleasing to my Lord. Jesus is just a far kinder master of our physical selves than our culture is. [Laughter]
Sam: Our culture is always pushing us to an ever-more unattainable standard of what we are supposed to look like, both as men and as women.
Dave: Well, you were quoting 1 Corinthians, where Paul talks about our body’s a temple of the Holy Spirit—Ann already mentioned that—and at the end of that, he says: “…so glorify God in your body.” How do we glorify God in our body? Because, often, people think that means I should look a certain physical way. I should glorify so much that I could be on the cover of muscle and fitness magazine, [Laughter] which is never going to happen for me. But you know, that could be a sort of a warped view.
But as you think about: “Okay, glorify God in your body,” often, like you said, we think: “It's soul; it's spirit.” No, he says “in your body.” So talk about that: “What would that mean?”
Sam: Well, the good news is presumably we can glorify God in our body. So whatever our body happens to be like, with all of its idiosyncrasies and foibles and all the rest of it, every single one of us has a body that can glorify God. We won't do that perfectly this side of the second coming of Christ; but we can, right now, with these bodies glorify God. And it isn't about appearance—I mean, the Bible has some things to say about appearance; mainly about not being kind of ostentatious and that kind of thing—but again, it's a body that is consecrated. Paul says just a few verses earlier that the God is for the body and the body is for the Lord.
Paul talks, in Romans 6, about offering the members of our bodies to be instruments of righteousness. I think that must mean that we actually almost do an inventory of our bodies and think:
- “Well, let's start with the feet. Where can I go today? Who can I bless? Who can I serve? ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news’; I could have beautiful feet today,”—not literally and physically, but figuratively.
- Or I think about my hands and: “What am I/what work am I going to do today and how?” My day might be sat at a laptop; it might be doing laundry; it might be washing up—but in all of those things—I could be doing that unto the Lord as a service to Him.
- Or you know, what I look at/how I look at the world around me: “Do I look upon other people with the eyes of Christ?” “Do I see, in the thronging crowds, sheep without a shepherd, who we should feel compassionate for? —or do I get irritated if the traffic’s heavy?”
So in all of these things, it's thinking/you know, it's using our bodies to serve the Lord, which we don't do perfectly. We do this in response to the grace shown to us through the fact that, actually, Jesus was the One who did perfectly honor God with His body in a way we never could and never do. But as we receive the fruits of His bodily obedience, actually, it gives us the desire to serve God with our bodies. We want our bodies to be pleasing to Jesus, because we now love Him. I mean—and the New Testament, again, gives us so many areas of life to think about in terms of our discipleship and our service to God—and the flesh is no small part of that.
Ann: I mean, that's really good. I listen to that and think, “Yes! That's what we were designed to do. That's what God created us to do: we're serving; we're loving; we're using our bodies to bring others to Him.”
Dave: It's interesting, Sam, when you were sort of talking about your feet and your eyes—you probably don't even know this, and it's sort of what Ann was joking about earlier when I said all I think about is football—but when I played college football, one of the things I would pray before the game, in the locker room, as a follower of Christ for my last two years of college, is I would literally pray through every part of my body: asking God to protect my feet, my ankles, my knees; because you’re playing a sort of a violent game, and you could get hurt. I literally, visually, walked from my feet up to my head and asked God to bless and protect each one.
But Sam, as you were talking, I thought I have not done that since, in terms of what you just said. It just hit me—as you were saying: “God, my feet are used by You to walk to somebody that needs you today,” “Use my feet today,” “Use my knees today,” “Use my eyes.”
Ann: —“…my voice.”
Dave: Anyway, I just thought that's a great daily routine for people to think: “Okay, your body does matter. It's not the only thing that matters, but it is important.” Offer each part of your body, each day, to God to say, “How do You want to use my body today?—my lips, my words, my eyes?”
I don't know, as I throw that out, is that something that you say, “Yes, that's a way to think: ‘That's a good theology of our body’”?
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Sam Allberry on FamilyLife Today. We'll hear Sam's response in just a minute. But first, let me just say we'd love to send you Sam's book, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies, when you make a donation of any amount this week to support the work of FamilyLife Today. You can do that at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call with your donation at 1-800-358-6329. That could be a one-time gift or a recurring monthly gift as well. Again, the number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, now let's get back to Dave and Ann's conversation with Sam Allberry.
Sam: I think that's what Paul is talking about there in Romans 6; it's thinking specifically: “How can I, with each part of who I am, be of use to the Lord and of service to others?”
Another aspect to this I haven't mentioned is stewardship, obviously, of our bodies. If our bodies belong to Jesus, they're not our own; and now, we're stewarding them on His behalf. There's ways to obsess about doing that in a way that actually can become quite unhealthy, and there's a way of being neglectful of our health entirely as well, and assuming it's just unspiritual.
But Paul talks about disciplining his body in 1 Corinthians 9. He talks about physical training being of some kind of usefulness/of some value. And in Ephesians 5, when he's talking to husbands about loving their wives, he talks about loving your wife as you love your own body. He just assumes that we will feed and care for our own bodies. Again, there's been a sort of part of the Christian world that is always sort of assuming that the body is just unspiritual and insignificant to our Christian life and, therefore, it doesn't matter if I'm healthy or unhealthy.
But I think part of stewardship is that we do try to look after our health as best we can, not fanatically. We want to steward these bodies well because they belong to Jesus; and if we steward them well, we can hopefully use them for more years to serve Him.
Ann: It's funny, too as you get older, you start thinking about that, like, “I need to be strong and healthy so that, as I get older, I can do the things with my kids/my grandkids that I want, and I can do ministry the way God has called me to.” I'm even thinking of like Romans 12:1,2—those are some of my favorite verses—and when Paul is saying, “Present your body as a living sacrifice,” that image is always in the forefront of my mind of: “I'm giving You”—like—“Lord, I'm laying down my body as a sacrifice.”
But talk, Sam, about: “How do we teach our kids?” I like this because I feel like, as a mom—when our world is so consumed with how we look, and the physical part of how we look, and “Is it pleasing to the rest of the world, to men or women?”—that's hard to kind of tell our kids: “No, this part is more important; that we're using our bodies to serve and to draw others to the kingdom.”
Here's what I used to think when I was younger; and I would read in Samuel, when it says that man looks at the outer body, but God looks at the heart. I was always like, “I know You love me, Jesus; and you think I'm fine. But the world out there, they don't.” And so even with our kids, like “Mom, I know you think I'm beautiful, but the world doesn't,” and “I look terrible.” So as you're teaching people, and in your congregations, how do we get that into our kids?
Sam: I just keep coming back to Psalm 30-something, where it says, “Those who look to the Lord are radiant.” I just keep coming back to that and thinking about how there's a way of just shining as a human person—not because you look amazing from a kind of worldly point of view—but just because you find Christ captivating. That's what makes us shine; that's where unnatural beauty is kind of turned up to the max.
We can say to kids what Jesus thinks of us is going to matter more than what other people think of us, and that's a good thing for us to try to show people. Again, Jesus so loves your body—He's made it a temple of His Spirit—God has come to dwell in your body. It's hard to pay a human body a bigger compliment than that. All that that amazing building was in Jerusalem to God's people then, Paul is saying, “Okay, your body is now a temple of the Holy Spirit; that is how much you matter to God. That's how much He wants to be with you.”
It does this—I mean, I need to hear that on repeat; because—
Ann: Me too.
Sam: —my heart doesn't naturally go there. [Laughter]
That can, over time, by the grace of God, begin to undo the verdicts of the world in terms of what most shapes us and frames the way we see the world around us. Those verdicts of other people can stay with us for years, and years, and years, and cause all kinds of damage and mayhem. Which is why we need to keep coming back on: “What does Jesus think about us?”
And we have to say, again, David can say, “I have been fearfully and wonderfully made.” He's saying that of his own fallen self; and so we can say to our kids, as we need to say to our own hearts, that we were not coughed up by evolution. We were not kind of here by accident; God has handcrafted each one of us. He came up with the idea of each one of us and made us. David says, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Each of us has a body—that is a reason for us to praise God—it may not feel that way much of the time/maybe even most of the time; these bodies can cause us pain, physically and psychologically, and lots of other ways. But I keep thinking about that word, “fearfully”: I've been “fearfully and wonderfully made,” which means, if we ever saw the attentiveness and care with which God makes a human being, I mean, we'd have/we'd have the chills, I think—we would be in awe of it; it would stun us/astonish us—and that's the care and divine attention with which each one of us has been made.
That doesn't mean our bodies are perfect. We don't have to pretend our bodies are perfect for them to have been fearfully and wonderfully made. The Bible shows us that they're not perfect, but they are God’s craftsmanship; so let's not demean and diminish what God esteems.
Ann: That's such a good reminder; because I mean, as you're talking, like, “Yes, yes; I need to be reminded of that every single day.”
I have a friend that I walk with, and she's my best friend for years; and we were talking about this. She has three daughters; I have three sons. And as they were growing up, the world put so much attention on the physical/the outward beauty that she made a comment—and it’s always stuck with me—she said, “You know what happens is we end up gazing at the world—of what they say beauty is—and then we glance at God. And what we have to do is we have to change that, where we're gazing into the eyes of Jesu—into the Word of what He says, and who He says we are, and the beauty and the care that He took to create us”—as you talked about in Psalm 139—“and then we can glance at our bodies.” We're not just gazing at the world and what they say, and our bodies look like; but we're gazing at God.
I love that you/what you said, too, of like the beauty that God created us in. He's applauding us every day—we're not—but He is.
Dave: And that's what hit me, Sam, when you mentioned Psalm 34—I opened it up, and it’s verse 5/it says—“Those who look to Him are radiant—
Dave: —“and their faces shall never be ashamed.” That was the same thought I had: is it's so easy to get consumed with body image—I'm looking at muscle fitness; I'm looking…—and I'm not looking at Him. And when I look at Him, I get His perspective on my body.
My body’s important; it's not the most important—it isn't all of me; it's a part of me—and I want to lay my body on the altar as a living sacrifice and allow Him to use me. I think that would be the encouragement for a listener/for a parent, who’s trying to help their kids understand this: “Spend more time looking at Him than you look in the mirror—both are important—but spend more time looking at Him, and watch Him bring that radiance to your soul as well as your body.
Man, that's good stuff, Sam. Thanks.
Sam: Yes; it's not how we look, it’s where we look, ultimately, that is going to make us beautiful.
Shelby: You've been listening to FamilyLife Today. If you know of anyone who could benefit from today's conversation with Sam Allberry, you can tell them about this station. Or you could share today's episode from wherever you get your podcasts as well. And while you're there, it’d really help us out if you'd rate and review us.
Now, for those of us who have preteens, who might be starting to have questions about their body, you should check out FamilyLife’s Passport2Purity®. It's a chance for you and your preteen to get away, just the two of you, and listen to solid teaching on how a young person can navigate the changes they're experiencing as they become a young adult. You can find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
How can you, as a parent, respond if your child is confused about gender? It's a big and important question. Well, the answer is not freaking out and overreacting, if that's what you were thinking. Sam will be back to talk more about just that tomorrow. We hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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