I did it this morning. You probably did too. Squinted at myself in the mirror, disheveled hair and not-quite-clear skin, and rendered a verdict: too pimply, too wrinkly, too fair, too dark, too lumpy, too pointy. You and I, we may not have said it consciously, but, in a word, what we said was, “Ugly.”

We don’t say it consciously—ugly—but most of us live as if our bodies are unpleasant to look at, let alone live in. We judge ourselves not just as falling short, but as actively offensive. Offensive to ourselves, to others, to God. (That’s the definition of ugly, by the way: “unpleasant to look at; offensive.”)

What’s worse, we normalize this judgment, talking about it casually over coffee with girlfriends or putting a pious sheen on it by making it a prayer request. We want to lose weight, we need to eat more healthily, we want to feel better about ourselves. We need the strength, the motivation, the belief in ourselves to change. Help us, Jesus.

But Jesus isn’t going to help us reject our bodies. Those kinds of requests are the exact opposite of both why and how he came into history. It’s a part of the gospel that we’ve somewhat forgotten in our modern contexts, something foreign to us because we’re so far from the time Jesus lived and breathed and walked the earth.

God’s salvation work for us came in a body, taking on the very stuff we’re made of—flesh and bone, breath and dust. The radical work of Christ didn’t just reach down from on high to save our souls; he invaded the very material we’re made of, that we might have hope of redemption in the here and now (Colossians 1:27).

If that doesn’t blow your mind just a little, you’ve probably been viewing Scripture (and perhaps your whole life with God) through a cultural lens the Bible just doesn’t have. Our modern ways of thinking about salvation, and about our bodies, come to us through some ancient and not-so-ancient sources—none of which are based on God’s work in Christ.

Seeing Ourselves Through a Distorted Lens

The first of those lenses is actually a lens that the church fought and rejected more than 1,500 years ago: Gnosticism. A heresy that sprung up in the second and third centuries after Christ, Gnosticism purported that matter (the stuff our universe is made of) is inherently flawed and, to more ascetic factions, evil. Gnostics also believed in “special knowledge”—a revelation given to the elite of a particular group and not available to the majority of us. It’s a temptation all of us feel—we want to be the ones “in the know,” the ones that have something others don’t—but that kind of hierarchy puts up a barrier between people and Jesus, a barrier that Jesus never erected himself.

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Today, Gnosticism has come to mean any time we privilege the spiritual over the material. This may seem natural to us in some ways—if God is Spirit, as Scripture clearly says he is, why wouldn’t the spiritual be better, more holy, more pure than the physical? But that is not the dichotomy God set up. The Incarnation was a radical rearrangement of the story. God became flesh, and flesh became God.

Doesn’t it feel a bit radical to read that? I get the “God became flesh” part. That’s in the Bible. But that flesh became God? That one’s harder. If we narrow it down, it’s a little easier to swallow. Jesus’ flesh became God. But it’s more than that as well. Because the flesh that Christ had was real, human flesh, in him human flesh was made capable of complete union with God.

For the early church living in a time period not very far removed from the Jesus who walked and talked and laughed and sweat and wept with his disciples, this wasn’t as hard to swallow as it might be for us. But the farther we moved from an embodied experience of knowing Christ, the more apt people were to wiggle away from the radical truth of the redemption of our bodies. It just wasn’t comfortable.

The more modern lens we wear over our understanding of the gospel and God’s deep dedication to the goodness of our bodies is one given to us in a more contemporary era: the Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason). As moderns, we’ve been influenced by the thinkers and culture of this age more deeply than we often recognize. A lot of people can recite Descartes’ adage—I think, therefore I am—without realizing that most of us live as if our brains are what make us human.

But if our brains make us human, we could think our way into belief in God. I don’t know about you, but there are a lot of times I can’t think my way out of a paper bag! (I am a new mom, after all.) We’re human because of all of our parts—mind, soul, and body—which is why one of the foundational statements of the Christian faith, the Nicene Creed, includes the declaration, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” We just can’t be human without them.

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Loving Our Flawed Flesh

But what does any of this have to do with you or me peering at ourselves in the mirror this morning? In reality, everything.

Calling our bodies “ugly” misses the very point at the center of salvation. It distances us from both the goodness and the fallenness of our flesh, allowing us to minimize and marginalize not just our bodies but the way that God communicates to us through our bodies. It has relational consequences, too, because the way we treat our bodies reflects the way we see and treat the bodies of those around us, no matter how much we try to do otherwise.

The body is so powerful that it forms and shapes our views of ourselves, others, and our God. We can teach ourselves wrong things by the way we live out our embodied existence—that God will leave us if we aren’t interesting or that every impulse we feel is to be fed immediately, for example. Paul’s lament in Romans 7—“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate”—is ours too (verse 15). There are habits of flesh that lead us away from the very redemption that Christ’s embodied life, death, and resurrection brought to us.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we have to love everything about our bodies, effusively denying some very real struggles. Cancer, fibromyalgia, and broken bones aren’t things to adore. On a smaller scale, we don’t have to love our aching knees or our genetic tendency to gather extra weight around our thighs. But it does mean that we have to listen to our bodies—their glories as well as their aches—because our bodies are the place where Christ resides, and they’re meant to be given over to him as living sacrifices.

A Living Sacrifice

Paul tells us to offer God our bodies as “living sacrifices,” not because our bodies are worthless, or because we are to die to them, but because, in Christ, we are meant to have life abundant running in and through us (Romans 12:1). The word for “living” in this verse is a derivation of the word zoe, which refers to eternal or divine life, as opposed to the other Greek words for life: bios (physical life in general, or sometimes the works of our hands) or psuche (life of the soul).

There is a divine aspect to the sacrifice that we offer to God in our bodies. This act of giving our bodies over to God is imbued with God himself. He supports us, enabling us to give over our unruly bodies—not for destruction, but for redemption and wholeness. For the coming of the kingdom of God.

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Of Jesus it was said, “There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look” (Isaiah 53:2, The Message). We may feel a kinship with Christ when we pause to critique our own appearance, but he didn’t walk around with dust-covered sandals and aching muscles so that we could denigrate the very flesh that he redeemed by his death and resurrection. He came so that we could reach for the more that God has for us in relationship with him and with the stuff of our very selves.

When it comes to our bodies, I believe that it’s time to risk taking God at his Word when he says we are redeemed, not in part but the whole. It’s time to discover why he scooped earth to make man and breathed us into being with bone and blood. It’s time to listen to his murmurs along our muscles, his whispers in the wind, and his song of delight in our sexuality. It’s time to reach for resurrection, here and now.

Tara M. Owens is the author of Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone (IVP Books, February 2015). A spiritual director, author, and speaker living in Colorado Springs with her husband and young daughter, Tara is also the senior editor of Conversations Journal. She blogs at AnamCara.com, and you can follow her on Twitter at @t_owens.