“Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The heart of the American spirit is a desire to be fully in control of our lives. We want to be able to be the ones who accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished. We want to go where we want to go, lay our hands on what we need to get by, and stay as long as we desire. We want to have no one in charge of us, but to be our own masters. From the standpoint of our culture, that kind of thing is presented as noble and good. It is the desirable end for all people to be striving to reach. But what if there is a hidden cost to this way of life? What if there is a whole underbelly of problems that can wreck the whole thing? What if there was a better way? I’ve started reading a book recently that seeks to pursue these very questions. I’m nowhere near finished with it, but it’s been rumbling around in my mind enough that I want to get some thoughts out on digital paper. This morning, let’s spend some time talking about a fairly new book from author Alan Noble, You Are Not Your Own.
When Paul was writing to the believers of ancient Corinth, one of the issues he had to address with them was their tendency to lean into the arguments of their culture that the things they did with and in their bodies really didn’t matter. The thinking of Plato was common across the Greco-Roman world, and one of the ideas that was central to his philosophy was that physical things were inferior to spiritual ones. Our bodies were prison cells for our spirits. Physical life was a temporary hurdle we had to patiently wait to clear until we could be free from them and finally join the spirit world. Because of this, things done in our bodies really didn’t matter.
One of the results of this kind of thinking leaking into the church was that the Corinthian believers were finding ways to justify all kinds of sinful behavior by simply claiming that it was their bodies participating in it and not their spirits. Thus, it really didn’t matter what they did. Paul wanted them abundantly clear on the fact that this was not at all consistent with the truth of the Gospel. God made us as bodies and spirits. Both are fundamental to our existence. One is not better than the other. Both are fully parts of who we are. This means that deeds done in the body affect the spirit. (Today, as our culture has swung this pendulum of error completely in the opposite direction, we need the reminder that spiritual abuse and neglect can have physical consequences.)
The way Paul made this point to them was to remind them that their bodies didn’t ultimately belong to themselves. As followers of Jesus, no part of them belonged to themselves. When they entrusted themselves into His hands, they became fully His. All of them. Their spirits and their bodies belonged to Christ. He had purchased them (at a high cost). This meant they needed to live like they were His. The context in which Paul made this point was focused fairly narrowly on sexual misdeeds. One of the common sins among members of the church in Corinth was to visit the nearby temple of Aphrodite to consort with one of the many temple prostitutes there. They were doing this and arguing that because it was just a deed done in the body, it didn’t really affect their spirit and so it didn’t get in the way of their relationship with God in Christ. Paul offered the necessary corrective.
Paul’s context here aside, the point is much more broadly applicable than just sexual sins (although it is certainly not less than fully applicable to sexual sins). If you are a follower of Jesus, you do not belong to yourself. You belong to God in Christ. He paid the price for you on the cross. This belonging to God, though, goes even beyond this. If you are a person, you belong to God. Why? Because He created you. God created the world and everything in it. All of it belongs to Him. Every single piece and part including all of your pieces and parts (and the whole which they collectively compose).
This idea is not a terribly welcome one to folks hearing it for the first time. It’s not particularly welcome among folks who have been living with it for many years as a follower of Jesus. We may not say that out loud, but our choices certainly reflect an ongoing internal tension with the idea. We want to belong to ourselves. We want to be our own masters. We want all of this because we think it will make us truly free. Only when no one owns me or has any claim on me or even has any meaningful authority over me which I have not granted will I be able to be my own person. That kind of thing is an easy sell. It always has been. It sounds really good. We don’t even have to dress it up very much. We’ll even gladly give God a place in our worlds. After all, He is God. But we’re the ones in charge.
There’s that word. It keeps creeping up on us whenever we start to get some movement down this path. But there’s a problem here. It’s not a problem to which we give much thought. But it is a much bigger problem than we imagine. If we belong to ourselves, we are responsible for ourselves. We are responsible for all of ourselves. That doesn’t just mean we are responsible for providing a place to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear. It goes way, way beyond that.
If we belong to ourselves, we are responsible for furnishing meaning for our lives. The purpose of our existence depends on us. How is that a problem, though? Isn’t that our goal? To define our very lives? Perhaps, but think a bit further down this line with me. If I am responsible for determining the purpose of my existence, while I can really shoot the moon here, if I don’t fulfill my purpose, or discover along the way that I have chosen the wrong purpose, that’s all on me. There’s no one else to blame. If I discover that I will not be able to achieve my purpose, that’s on me too. That’s a pretty heavy load to bear. I mean, sure, we can switch purposes from one thing to another, but that kind of psychological whiplash will take a much greater toll on us than we might imagine.
There’s more. If I am my own, it is up to me to determine what is right and what is wrong. And once again that doesn’t sound so bad until you give it a bit of thought. If I can choose what is right and what is wrong for me, and you are choosing what is right and what is wrong for you, if our respective definitions happen to clash, to whom can we turn in order to sort out our disagreements? The State? Again, perhaps, but every time we do that, we are giving the State a little more control over our lives and then we aren’t really in charge of ourselves any longer. The State is. In trying to be our own masters, we have wound up simply giving ourselves to another master…one which won’t be nearly as good at the job as God is.
We could go on here and Noble does, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you, and I need to keep reading more to find out where he goes next. The real point here was just to get some thoughts on paper, and to invite you to do some thinking with me. The world around us – not to mention everything within us – insists that we can and should be our own masters. There is greater freedom in being our own master than in allowing anyone else to do the job instead. When we belong to ourselves we are freer than the freest bird. Yet that freedom is never more than illusory. As soon as we start off down the road, things begin to fall apart. We discover that we weren’t made for the task of being our own master. We aren’t actually up to the challenge of bearing that weight. It will eventually crush us if we don’t give it away to someone else who is better suited for the job. Of course, that means choosing wisely because if the person or thing we choose isn’t up to the task either, we won’t have actually done ourselves any favors.
So then, to whom do you belong? To whom do you belong, really? If your confession and your lifestyle don’t match, you may want to get that taken care of. Until you do, you’ll only live in a slavery of one form or another. It won’t be at all the paradise you expected. There is a paradise, though. It will come for all of those who have chosen their Master wisely; for those who have learned to live with the truth that we are not our own. May this be a truth you come to know for yourself sooner rather than later.