Holiness in Body
Holiness in Body
Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 11
by William Klock
This morning we looked at what St. Paul had to say about our being the temple of the Holy Spirit. He was talking in a collective sense and addressing the problem of those who would tear that temple down, but the reason we’re the temple of the Holy Spirit collectively is because the Spirit dwells in each of us individually. Later in 1 Corinthians we’ll look at what that means for us individually when it comes to holiness, as Paul talks about the obligation we have to not defile the dwelling place of God’s Spirit; but I want to look at it tonight too, because it also fits into the subject of the pursuit of holiness.
You see, true holiness includes control over our physical bodies and appetites. As we pursue holiness, we need to remember that, as Paul says, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit – he lives in us. The reason for that is so that we can glorify God with our bodies. He enables us to overcome our natural inclination to sin so that we can do those things that are pleasing to him.
I think that if you look at church history, you can see that we’ve had our ups and downs in this area. Modern Christians, and especially those of us in the West, have been found wanting in the area of holiness of body. Gluttony and laziness, just to name two things, used to regarded by Christians as sin, but today we’re more inclined to see them as not much more than weaknesses. We don’t see them as sin anymore. In fact, we even joke about our overindulgences instead of crying out to God in confession and repentance.
We have to be careful, because there have also been times in the church when we took things too far the other way and considered our physical bodies and natural appetites to be sinful in and of themselves. Scripture never teaches that. God created us and he created us with needs. The problem is that if those natural appetites are left uncontrolled, our bodies become, as St. Paul says in Romans 6:13, “instruments for unrighteousness” when they should be “instruments for righteousness.” We can easily end up pursing the “cravings of sinful man” (1 John 2:16 NIV) instead of pursuing holiness. Pay attention to your daily activities in the next week or even the next few days and see just how often you eat and drink just to gratify physical desires or how often you lie in bed in the morning simply because you don’t “feel” like getting up when you should. Consider how often you give into immoral looks and thoughts just to satisfy your sin-tainted sex drive.
There’s an old book by Michael Quoist called The Christian Response. In that book Quiost says, “If your body makes all the decisions and gives all the orders, and if you obey, the physical can effectively destroy every other dimension of your personality. Your emotional life will be blunted and your spiritual life will be stifled and ultimately will become anaemic.” Consider what Susannah Wesley wrote back in the 18th Century: “Whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind – that thing is sin to you.”
St. Paul wrote a lot about the need to keep our natural appetites and desires under control. He even talked about his own body as his adversary and as the instrument through which appetites and lusts, if left unchecked, would war against his soul (1 Corinthians 9:27). He determined that his body and all its appetites would be his slave, not his master.
And he urges us to present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices, acceptable to God, and not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2). If there’s any place where we conform to the world in the modern Church, I think it’s probably in the way in which we, instead of presenting our bodies as holy sacrifices, pamper and indulge them in defiance of our better judgement and our Christian purpose in life.
We need ask ourselves if when we bow to our bodily appetites, are we doing it for God’s glory? That’s a weird thing to think about, because we don’t usually think about doing the things necessary for daily life as things that can be done for God’s glory. And yet think back to the prayer before meals that most of us probably know by heart from childhood: “Bless, O Father, thy gifts to our use and us to thy service; for Christ’s sake.” It’s not that we can’t take enjoyment in eating and meeting our physical needs, but the primary reason we take care of those needs is so that our physical bodies will be fit for God’s use. We sin when we abuse those gifts that god has given and indulge (or over indulge) ourselves in them strictly for our own pleasure.
I grew up in a place where there were a lot of Mormons and we used to make fun of them. One of their practices that made them the brunt of our jokes was their practice of abstinence from things like tobacco, alcohol, and even caffeinated drinks. When I say “our” jokes, I’m talking mostly about Christians. We’d shrug off their abstinence as legalistic or just one more group’s list of prohibitions, and while it would be right to say that the entire Mormon religion is rooted in legalism, we missed the point that their actions were a practical response to their belief that their bodies are the temple of God and they didn’t want to defile that temple. And that comes from a false religion. For us as Christians, our bodies truly are the temple of God. So how sad is it then that a false religion is more diligent in this area than we Christians are? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not endorsing the Mormon’s particular list of prohibitions. But we do need to ask ourselves if our consumption of food and drink is controlled by an awareness that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit.
This is an area of life where things tend to fall like dominos. If we overindulge ourselves at this point, we will always find it more difficult to mortify other sinful deeds of the body. The habit of always giving in to the desire for food or drink almost always extends into other areas of life. If we can’t say no to an indulgent appetite, we’ll be hard pressed to say no to lustful thoughts. There has to be an attitude of diligent obedience in every area if we’re to succeed in mortifying any one expression of sin. Thomas Boston wrote, “They that would keep themselves pure must have their bodies in subjection, and that may require, in some cases, a holy violence.”
Along with sins of the body like sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires, St. Paul also talks about greed. In fact in Colossians 3:5 he says that greed is idolatry. Now while greed does often manifest itself in it’s basic form – the sheer love of money for money’s sake – it more often crops up as materialism. Most of us aren’t obsessed with being filthy rich, but most of us do want all the nice things the world around us considers important.
Materialism wars against our souls in two ways. First, it makes us discontent and envious of others. Second, it leads us to pamper and indulge our bodies so that we end up becoming soft and lazy. And as we get soft and lazy in our bodies, we naturally tend to get soft and lazy spiritually. When St. Paul talked about making his body his slave, so that after having preached to others he himself would not be disqualified, he wasn’t thinking about physical disqualification, but about spiritual disqualification. He understood well that physical softness inevitably leads to spiritual softness. When the body is pampered and indulged, the instincts and passions of the body tend to get the upper hand and dominate our thoughts and actions. We tend to do not what we should do, but what we want to do, as we follow the cravings of our sinful nature.
There’s no place for laziness and indulgence of the body in a disciplined pursuit of holiness. We have to learn to say no to the body instead of continually giving in to its momentary desires. We tend to act according to our feelings. The trouble is, we don’t very often “feel” like doing what we should do. We don’t feel like getting out of bed to have our morning time with God, or doing Bible study, or praying, or doing anything else we should do. That’s why we have to take control of our bodies and make them our servants instead of our masters.
The place to start controlling the craving of our physical appetites is to reduce our exposure to temptation. Our sinful cravings are strengthened by temptation. When a temptation is presented to us our cravings seem to get new vigour and power. St. Paul had definite words of instruction for us here. In 2 Timothy 2:22 he says, “Flee the evil desires of youth” (NIV). Some temptations are best overcome by fleeing from them. But Paul also says in Romans 13:14, “Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” How often do you find yourself doing that? Not only allowing temptation to linger, but spending time day dreaming about how you’re going to go about indulging that temptation – planning the sin itself.
I like an example that Jerry Bridges gives of the need to do the opposite – how we plan and take measures to avoid temptation in the first place. He writes, “Sever years ago I realized I had developed a craving for ice cream. Now there is nothing wrong with ice cream in itself; it was just that I had indulged myself so much that it had become a craving. When I shared this problem with my wife, she stopped keeping ice cream in the freezer. She helped me stop making provision to fulfill that particular desire which, through overindulgence, had become sin for me.” He goes on with another example: “Several years ago I also canceled my subscription to a popular magazine because I noticed many of the articles tended to stimulate impure thoughts in my mind.”
A few years ago I was visiting with a friend who was also a priest. There was something I wanted to show him online, but he explained that he no longer had any kind of internet service. Yes it was hard to be out of touch and not to have something as basic and as essential to today’s life as email, but it was something he had to do in order to get rid of the temptation to look at pornography on the Web. Sometimes it takes drastic measures, like removing the ice cream from the freezer or cancelling your internet service, but if that’s what you need to do to avoid sin, then you need to do it.
Scripture tells us to flee temptation. It doesn’t say to ignore it, to nonchalantly turn your back on it, or to walk away from it – it says to fee – to run away from it. Run away from sin like you’d run way from a bear or a lion! And not only that, Scripture tells us to take positive steps to avoid it – and that means not day dreaming about how we might indulge our sinful desires. Proverbs 27:12 says, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”
Sometimes this means some serious thinking about our sinful desires and how they work against us and our pursuit of holiness. John Owen said, “To labour to be acquainted with the ways, wiles, methods, advantages, and occasions of the success of sin, is the beginning of warfare.” Consider beforehand. It’s amazing how often we walk into known areas of temptation without any plan or resolution as to how we’re going to react. If you have a weakness for sweets and you have to go to a pie social at church, it’s a good idea to plan ahead what you’re going to do. Sometimes it may mean not going. When I was in University, I used to go a couple of times a week with some friends to the video arcade at the Student Union. We invited a friend – a new Christian – from church to go one time and he said no – that he couldn’t hang around the rec centre. Before he was a Christian, that’s where he’d go to hook up with the “bad girls” that were always hanging out there. He was maturing in Christ, but that place was still too much of a temptation for him, so he decided to “flee,” to “make no provision for the flesh.” He was able to do that because he considered beforehand the possible consequences of going to a seemingly innocent video arcade.
Friends, God expects us to assume our responsibilities for keeping the sinful desires of the body under control. It’s true we can’t do it in our own strength. Our sinful desires, stimulated by all the temptations around us, are too strong for us. But even though we can’t do it ourselves, we can do it. As we set ourselves to the task in dependence on the Holy Spirit, we’ll see him at work in us. We will fail – and we’ll fail a lot – but as we persevere, we’ll be able to say with St. Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” and learning that lesson is part of our growth in Christ.