Updated: May 30, 2022
The Incarnation helps us rightly value the human body.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ helps us to understand that God loves and values the human body.
Incarnation is best understood in its adjectival form: Incarnate. The word means, “embodied in flesh; given a bodily, especially a human, form.”
Specifically, in the Christian theological tradition, the Incarnation refers to the eternal second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, putting on a human body, thereby becoming both fully God and fully man. And, this is now His nature forevermore.
Numerous biblical texts make this point clear, but none so much as the opening words of John’s Gospel…
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5; 14).
A Broken Relationship with Our Bodies
Way back in Genesis 3, the Biblical story reveals that our first parents, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, thereby bringing sin into the world.
And not only did sin enter the world, it entered every part of the created realm. The fullness of God’s created realm broke because of sin.
And this includes the human body. In Genesis 2, Adam and Eve are naked and unashamed.
They are embodied souls, completely uncovered, and without shame.
-This really is an important aspect of God’s creative design for humanity. The body matters, and how our first Parents experienced their bodies before sin matters to us, and to our understanding of our own bodies. Listen to how Lutheran theologian John Kleinig describes it,”
“They are not ashamed of themselves and their nakedness; they delight in their nakedness, because they have nothing to hide from each other or God…they are quite at ease with their appearance, because they both are what they appear…They have, as it were, transparent bodies, bodies that disclose their minds and their souls perfectly without distortion and misrepresentation.” (pg. 35).
But sin and the fall brought such an experience to an end. Immediately following their sin, Adam and Eve fall into a broken relationship with their bodies. They realize their nakedness. They sense a need for cover. They realize that their nakedness says something negative about them now.
But it's not that their physical bodies somehow became bad in and of themselves. Genesis 3 seems to indicate that their experience in/of their bodies changed. No longer would the soul and the body be in harmony; they would be at odds.
-Most people have identity issues to some extent. Even the most attractive and physically fit people have body envy of someone else.
We all struggle, We all have complaints about our bodies.
Each of us are let down by our bodies in one way or another…and some of us have a severely complicated and complex relationship with our bodies.
That Brokenness Does Not Stay Hidden.
This broken relationship with our bodies manifests itself in a number of ways. Or, to say it differently, we all try to cover ourselves in different ways to minimize what we struggle with.
Referring again to Kleining, he writes, “People who are unhappy with their appearance often try to change how they look. They opt for two common kinds of bodily transformation . On the one hand, they dress up. They cover their body with the fig leaves (a reference to Gen. 3:7) of fashionable clothing and decorate it with beautiful jewelry. They improve its appearance with makeup, hairdos, and tattoos. They mask its natural smell with deodorant and perfume. All of that, of course, is rather harmless. On the other hand, some people decide to have cosmetic plastic surgery, not to correct deformities such as a cleft palate, but to improve their appearance. They undergo a physical makeover in order to become more sexually attractive or to appear younger than they actually are. Yet no matter how good these kinds of makeovers may make them feel, these operations cannot change them as persons. They don't make them beautiful people; they merely disguise their self-dissastisfaction.” (pg. 61).
-Isn't that last statement interesting. When we attempt to dress up our bodies with clothes or jewelry, cover them with tattoos, use too much makeup, obtain surgical procedures that alter the body…we’re really just trying to disguise and cover over our own deeply felt sense of dissatisfaction with ourselves.
Not every single example falls into this category, but just think about the daily routine of getting dressed. What tends to be our deciding factor for a shirt or pants? How we feel like it makes us look.
Because of sin, we all struggle with our bodies in one way or another. Here are some common ways we attempt to deal with our inner sense of brokenness…
Wearing too much makeup; refusing to be seen without makeup.
Wearing clothing that we feel is flattering, or, at least doesn’t highlight undesirable portions of our body.
Cosmetic procedures: Makeup; botox, eye/face lifts; having hair colored, or replaced.
Sometimes, our bodily insecurities manifest themselves in more serious, bodily-destructive ways such as…
Bulimia or anorexia.
Plastic surgery that seeks to bring the body in line with the feelings.
And, the newest manifestation of this sense of bodily brokenness is Transgenderism.
We each struggle in our bodies. Some people feel too fat, or unattractive. Some feel too skinny. Some can't stand their baldness. Some can’t stand the way their bodies are aging; some can’t stand their body's physical sexuality.
Sin has broken our relationship with our body in numerous ways.
But Why the Incarnation?
But how does thinking about Jesus’ incarnation help us with this issue? How does thinking about Jesus physically taking on a human body help us?
The Bible is really upfront about this: Jesus was physically born of a woman; He grew and matured like every other human; He got tired, hungry, and sleepy.
During His earthly ministry, most of His miracles were focused on the human body: Healing leprosy; restoring sight to the blind; causing the paralyzed to walk; restoring withered up hands; feeding hungry bellies; and raising the dead to life.
But, these miracles were never meant to be ends in and of themselves. They foreshadowed what Jesus would accomplish in His Own body on the cross. His earthly miracles gave but a taste of what heaven will be like...
But how does the Incarnation help us to better understand our own bodies and the struggles we have with them? Well, it helps us in a few ways…
First, the incarnation of Jesus helps us to understand that God desires to save sinners. Sinners in broken bodies. If this were not true, there would be no hope for any of our bodily struggles at all. But, as it is, God’s desire is that sinners be saved (1 Tim. 2). This is why Jesus took on flesh (incarnated).
Kleinig, again, observes, “God our Creator regards the human body so highly that He chose to take on a human body to rescue humankind from bodily corruption and spiritual ruin…” (63).
Second, the Incarnation helps us to see the value of the human body. Since the beginning, the Christian tradition has held to a dualistic understanding of humanity. That means that humans are not souls trapped in a body, nor are we just mechanically functioning bodies without souls. We are, as the Bible makes clear, both body and soul.
The fancy word for this is psychosomatic. The union of soul and body. In fact, our soul and body are so closely connected that they don’t work without each other.
Jesus did not come as a disembodied Spirit; nor did he come merely as a human body. He incarnated in fully human form. He was both body and soul.
“He did not just associate with [mankind] physically in order to identify Himself with them; He engaged with them physically to redeem them body-and-soul for life with God the Father.” (Kleining, 63).
Third, the Incarnation helps us to understand that our bodies are not just of value now, but they will have value in heaven. When Jesus took on human form, He did so forever. His humanity did not expire at the cross. His body was buried, and in three days time, He rose from the dead in His eternally perfected body.
And look at what the Apostles Paul says this teaches us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.”
For those who are in Christ Jesus by faith, the future holds the promise not only of spiritual salvation, but bodily healing and perfection.
Think about the promise of Revelation 21:3-5, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Heaven holds the promise of not only spiritual perfection, but bodily perfection as well. Many of the promises of Revelation 21 are bodily promises...
There’s so much more to consider, but I’ll bring this to a close saying: God greatly values the human body. It is His creation, after all. He made it; He upholds us; He informs it and tells us what it is and what it is for; and, He redeems it through the broken and resurrected body of His Own Son.
The Incarnation helps us see the deep and meaningful value of the human body.