A couple of Sundays ago I preached on Christian Identity from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, in their commentary (p.158), write:
Ethicists of every stripe agree that identity, how a group or individual defines itself, is fundamental to their moral formation. A frequent summary of the logic of Paul’s ethics is the maxim ‘become what you are’.
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul teaches Christian Identity in the harsh reality of a fledgling church where pagan converts to Christianity are struggling to cast off the habits of their pagan world. It is part of Paul’s attempt at, in the words of Richard Hays, a conversion of the Corinthians’ imagination. The same appeals to a right conception of Christian Identity are applicable to all Christians today.
Paul’s insistence that the Corinthian Christians live holy lives flies in the face of the views of some in the church who are clinging to pagan views of the human person. These people say that what’s done in the body ultimately doesn’t matter, since the body is a transient feature; the body is incidental, and not essential, to being human. Paul summarises their view – and counters it:
You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.
As an aside, the NIV has the best translation here. Although there are no quote marks in the Greek, the section only makes sense if Paul is here quoting the Corinthians as marked above. Quote marks can be the only way to ensure a good translation – especially in 1 Corinthians, where Paul quotes the views of the Corinthians a number of times. The NASBs omission of quote-marks isn’t helpful. The ESV, earlier NIVs and NLTs have the quotes in the wrong place.
Pagan views that the body is dispensable to human identity are definitely not shared by Paul. The body is part of the human person. The Lord is for the body, pro-body. If we want to talk about soul and body, then these are equally as much a part of who we are. They are best thought of, not as two parts, but as two aspects of the same person. We are not spiritual beings temporarily inhabiting physical bodies. We are spiritual-physical beings. My body is no less the real me than my soul is. My body is no less important to me being me than my soul is. There is a fundamental link between the spiritual and the physical. Modern science emphasises the psycho-somatic unity of the human person. That would be closer to Paul’s view than the extreme dualistic view that is common in modern Christianity and which finds its roots in the philosophy of Plato. The Church has often given the misleading impression that God is about saving souls, but that our bodies are dispensable. That’s wrong. Salvation is as much about bodies as it is about souls.
Where do we see the fact that ‘the Lord is for the body’ demonstrated? The answer lies in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God raised Jesus from the dead – and he will raise us also. Salvation embraces our whole human ‘self’, body and soul. And, for Paul, because salvation embraces the whole person, the body as well as soul are also both involved in God’s work of sanctification, the outworking of our salvation. We see this in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul concludes his argument showing his hope of human resurrection in Christ, with these words:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
Our work for God in this world is not in vain because of the future hope of the resurrection. Paul believes that because our bodies will be raised in the resurrection, what we do with our bodies now is fundamentally important to our salvation. This is the background to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, and it’s why Paul finishes this whole section with the words:
Therefore, glorify God in your body.
One broader implication of the above is that the Christian life is not just about ‘spiritual disciplines’: going to church, reading the Bible, praying every night. It’s about our whole lives. It’s as much about the physical side of marriage as it is about the spiritual. It’s as much about what we do with our hands when they’re not together in prayer. It’s about what we do with the money that’s not in the plate on a Sunday.