Author: Ron Graham


Your Body a Sacrifice
—Faith and the flesh

When Paul uses the expression, "from faith to faith" (Romans 1:15-18), one of the things he has in mind is that the faith in one's heart should develop into a faith lived out in one’s flesh.

"As you —through the weakness of your flesh— presented your members as slaves of uncleaness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness" (Romans 6:19).

The human body has fascinated artists, scientists and sports enthusiasts all down the centuries. But what interest has the fleshly body for Christians who are dedicated to the spiritual and eternal?

Paul tells us to present our members (the various parts of our physical body) as slaves of God's righteousness. He earlier said (verses 12-13) to offer the members of our mortal bodies as "instruments of righteousness".

1 Respecting our fleshly bodies

Our flesh is an asset

Some of us may consider our mortal bodies to be an evil burden. But we should regard them as "instruments of righteousness", as assets not liabilities.

The words translated "righteousness" and "holiness" (Romans 6:19) , are the same words elsewhere translated "justification" and "sanctification". Were our bodies essentially evil, they could not participate in holiness. So we must regard our bodies as a spiritual asset.

The flesh can be mastered

You may have noticed the phrase "lawlessness to lawlessness" (Romans 6:19) . Compare that with "faith to faith" (Romans 1:15-17). Don't slide down the sand dune of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, but struggle upward from faith to faith. Master the flesh by faith.

If our fleshly bodies can be slaves, then of course they can be mastered. When our bodies are given to enslavement in sin, then sin masters them. But when we present our mortal bodies to Christ as slaves under his righteousness, then he masters them and subjects them under holiness.

Our flesh is not naturally weak

The "weakness of your flesh" (Romans 6:19) is not an inbuilt weakness which the Creator or our first ancestor imparted to our bodies. It is a weakness imparted by our sinful environment, and our own personal sin. When sin has been reigning in our mortal bodies, it corrupts and weakens them. That weakness is not magically removed by our change of heart or the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we yield our bodies to God, the damage from sin remains, and takes time and effort to heal. This creates the problem we have all experienced, and which Paul vividly paints in Romans 7:14-24.

However, with the power of the gospel in our hearts, the process of restoration can begin. The spiral of "lawlessness to lawlessness" is broken by the Spirit. We begin to bring our bodies into the victorious righteousness of God "from faith to faith".

2 Keeping our fleshly desires natural

Lust does not originate in our flesh

Evil desires originate in our hearts. Paul describes those who gave their bodies over to vile passions —lesbianism and sodomy for instance. He says they exchanged the natural use of their bodies for what was against nature (Romans 1:24-27) . In Paul’s enlightened understanding of these matters, these “vile passions” were not natural desires in the bodies of these persons originally, but "uncleaness in the lusts of their hearts to dishonour their bodies". The source was the heart which believed satanic lies.

By the way, don't run away with the idea that this example discriminates against homosexuals. Paul does not think heterosexual fornication is any better. Sexual immorality, whatever form it takes, is perverted and unnatural. God, who is no respecter of persons, will condemn homosexual acts, but he will just as certainly condemn as fornicators the man who goes to bed with his neighbour’s wife or the unmarried boy and girl who lose their virginity in the back of a car.

Natural fleshly desires are good

The word "lusts" (Romans 6:12) suggests that the body's desires are evil. But this is true only when we have dishonoured our bodies and have let sin reign in them. God created our bodies to have noble desires.

For example, thirst can be corrupted into a lust for drunkeness. Libido can be corrupted into a lust for "strange flesh" . The desire to sleep can be turned into sloth. But thirst, libido, and the desire to sleep are not evil in themselves. It is the corruption and perversion of fleshly desires that is evil, not the desires our bodies naturally have. Our bodies are designed to serve God and to be instruments of faith.

3 Giving our bodies to God

Deeds of the flesh really matter

Through the centuries, various philosophies have arisen about the relationship between spirit and body. Some of these have dismissed the deeds of the flesh as irrelevant. But they won't be irrelevant on judgment day (Romans 2:6-9) . The judgment seat of Christ will be concerned with "the things done in the body whether they be good or bad" (2Corinthians 5:10).

Destiny of our flesh

Some people have so "spiritualised" Christian faith that they think God is not interested in (and may even be offended by) our physical or animal nature. We should not elevate our fleshly nature above the spiritual nature. But our flesh is part of the whole beautiful creation wrought by God's hand. God wants to save this creation from corruption (Romans 8:21) . God wants this corruptible to put on incorruption and this mortal to put on immortality (1Corinthians 15:37-38,53).

Out of a seed's death arises something glorious. This planet, and our own bodies are the seed of a new heavens and earth to be inhabited by us in glorious and immortal bodies. Our lowly bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies and our world will be destroyed to yield a heavenly world, and all creation groans for this destiny (Philippians 3:20-21, Romans 8:21-23).

Redemption of Our Bodies

The words "the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23) have a similar sense as the parallel expression "the redemption of the transgressions" (Hebrews 9:15) . The transgressions under the first covenant were forgiven provisionally, until the true sacrifice was made once and for all.

Animal sacrifices could not take away sin, yet they were effectual for a time through faith. Then the transgressions were redeemed in the sense that their forgiveness was finally purchased by Christ. In a parallel sense, God has accepted our mortal bodies provisionally as suitable for his kingdom until Christ transforms them into the likeness of his own glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21) .

Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but is deemed suitable for the time being, until the consummation when "this mortal shall put on immortality" (1Corinthians 15:50-53) . The fleshly body of each Christian is a purchased possession, made even now fit to be a temple for God (1Corinthians 6:19-20, Ephesians 1:14, Romans 8:11)

God desires our flesh

God wants people to stop dishonouring their bodies (Romans 2:24) . God says, "Present your body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1) . The dedication of our bodies to God's glory is a logical extension of our heartfelt faith.

As we said at the outset, when Paul uses the expression "From faith to faith" (Romans 1:16-17) , he has in mind the development of faith in one's heart to a faith lived out in the flesh. Your faith brings honour back to your body, and your body then glorifies God as a living sacrifice.