I’ve listened to beautiful, godly women compare their diets and discuss the things they don’t like about their bodies more times than I can count. Even as believers who’ve placed our eternal hope in Jesus, we’re not immune to body image struggles. They’re part of our broken world—a world that is hyper-focused on physical bodies. We are bombarded on a daily basis with images and headlines that tell us what to look like, what to eat, and how to work out.
I struggled for years with an eating disorder. I’ve experienced firsthand the deep pain and destruction of poor body image and a longing for control—and the immense healing a relationship with Christ brings. I’ve gone through treatment, counseling, discipleship, and accountability. Through it all, the Word of God has brought me the most comfort and encouragement. I’ve learned my identity is rooted in Him. When we accept Christ, that changes everything—including body image.
Concerning Ourselves with What Matters Most
Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy, “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (4:8).
This verse always stands out to me. It’s been helpful whenever I think “I just ate [insert “bad” food here] so I better [insert strenuous exercise] to burn those calories,” or “I can’t believe I ate X. I should eat only ‘healthy’ foods for the rest of the day.” That sort of thinking is not the way God created us! That thinking tempts us and tricks us; it certainly doesn’t make us more like Christ.
Exercise is an amazing gift when it’s done with a joyful heart and a true approach to health. But when exercise impedes our holiness, it’s time to take a step back. Reading the Word and praying have to come before time at the gym. Physical fitness and clean eating are not number-one priorities in God’s book, despite what culture may have us believe. We don’t need to work out every day of the week, or sculpt six-pack abs or force ourselves to run a half-marathon when we don’t even enjoy running. Those actions aren’t what make us healthy.
God has intentionally created us with beautiful minds, bodies, and spirits. Physical training of the body can only go so far. I don’t know about you, but I don’t picture weight machines in heaven. Godliness, on the other hand, is with us forever.
I doubt Jesus spent much time meal prepping, pondering His next workout, or deciding what He was going to wear. He knew His Father would provide. He was concerned with His ministry and fulfilling the Father’s will. He wasn’t stressing about such relatively insignificant things as weight and clothing.
“I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? . . . For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:25–27, 32–34).
I love this picture Jesus paints for us. Life is more than food and the body more than clothing. God provides what we need. Indeed, He is the bread of life (John 6:35).
God Looks at the Heart
Over and over in Scripture, we see God using the small and the weak. He picks the most unexpected people and utilizes them to advance His kingdom. He’s not interested in the people who simply look good on the outside and seem successful by societal standards. He’s looking for the people who love Him with all their hearts.
Think of King David, whose line led to Jesus.
The LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have rejected him. Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)
One of David’s seven older brothers would have been the logical choice for king. Yet the Lord chose David, the youngest and smallest, who was out tending sheep. He picked the one no one took a second glance at.
Jesus Himself was described as unimpressive, the exact opposite of what the Israelities expected from their king. The prophet Isaiah tells us the Messiah
. . . had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa. 53:2–3).
We don’t have to look a certain way for God to see us or use us. What God cares about more than anything is our hearts. When I find myself tempted to restrict my food intake unhealthily or believe the lie that I am weak because I don’t adhere to a regular exercise routine, I try to remind myself of this verse. What is my heart motivation behind eating healthy and exercising? What drives me to do these things—godliness or something else like public perception, approval, physical beauty?
“Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you” (1 Cor. 3:16)? I pray I honor the Spirit within me by treating my body with love, kindness, and respect. I know that when I stand before God on judgment day, He won’t ask me about my dress size or how fast I can run a mile.
In God’s Image, Precious to Him
From the very first book of the Bible, we see that,
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27).
God created us in His image. The Creator of the universe, the almighty, all-knowing, and all-powerful Father, is perfect. He created us to reflect His image. He created us in a remarkable and wonderful way. He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs before we were born. Psalm 139 reminds us of how much the Father cares for us in the way He created us. Our bodies, our minds, and our personalities are all from God. They are not an accident. God designed us exactly as we are—what we view as flaws are precious in His eyes. That extra skin around the waist of your jeans, those strong and muscular calves, that thick and curly hair, those smile lines around your mouth and eyes—all are beautiful in His eyes.
God sees us as precious and beautiful, knit together perfectly. It’s time we see ourselves that way, too.