Exercise, Body Image, and God's Truth

Ladies, have you had a child? Do you notice that some things have changed? That which was once firm may be a little softer; for some, there are marks that will forever remind them of the nine months of carrying life. And I don't care what anyone says, your hips never return to their original position.

Even if you haven't had the joy of carrying a child, you don't have to live long to be bombarded by what the world believes is the ideal body image. There are even websites dedicated to obtaining the ideal body shape. There are facial measurements for what is considered beautiful. And then there's our own sinful craving for these often unrealistic but definitely worldly measures. If we don't hit them, we don't measure up. So we become fearful and strive for this beauty.

I've Been There

Let me tell you, I've seen it all and have experienced much of it as well. I was a part of the fitness industry off and on for nearly eight years. Each January, fitness facilities are flooded with new members and new participants in group fitness classes (where you would have found me teaching classes). I've seen the fitness addict, the disordered eater, and the constant scale watcher. And I've been her. I've had seasons when, if I didn't get in the gym, I would become discontent and fearful that I wouldn't be able to fit into my clothing. As a young girl, I struggled with eating issues—I never had a diagnosed eating disorder, but I was overly concerned with what went into my mouth. Scales were an enemy in college.

Like Adam in the Bible, we are dust and will return to dust. No amount of exercise can stop it.

Now as a mom of two and a writer who spends more time sitting than I have my whole life, I've experienced some serious body changes. My fears have ranged from failing to be attractive to my husband to not being able to fit into my clothing. I've feared not "getting it back." When it comes to body image, I've had to fight a fear of not measuring up to the standards of the world and the standards that I had placed on myself.

Seeing Exercise Through God's Eyes

Isn't it so true that often good things are turned bad because of our sinful hearts? In other words, exercise and a desire to be healthy and steward well the body God has given us are not bad. It's when these desires become idols and we begin to measure our worth and value against them that they turn into something bad. Caring for our bodies can be a way to honor God. God created us not to lay waste to our bodies through abuse but to use them for His glory and purposes. And though godliness is of supreme value, we know that physical training is of some value to the Lord. Paul helps us see the dichotomy when he writes, "For 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" (1 Tim. 4:8).

So we can assume that it's okay to pursue exercise as a goal for healthy living and, most importantly, for godly living. Exercise provides strength for service, it can be restorative, and it can be rejuvenating. But the fact that there is a need for exercise at all is another reminder that we live in a fallen world with fallen bodies.

Our bodies droop and change and grow tired. We try every experimental drug and various forms of exercise to prolong or prevent the inevitable. Botox and plastic surgery and a lifetime of marathons cannot prevent our inevitable fate. Like Adam in the Bible, we are dust and will return to dust ( Gen. 3:19). No amount of exercise can stop it.

The Good News

And while there is nothing on this earth to desire for all eternity, in God's kindness He doesn't leave us alone in our disintegration. We know that in time He will make all things new, and what was once rife with disease and pain will rise into glory with Christ. Paul connects the fall and our resurrection for us when he writes, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ" (1 Cor. 15:22–23).

Our fallen and imperfect bodies are yet another way we can look to Christ.

As if that weren't good news enough, Paul reminds us that not only will we be with Christ but also that we will be like Him: "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" (Phil. 3:20–21).

Yes! God will make it new. He will transform our bodies, the ones we are pulling and tucking and starving and beating to try to make beautiful. Yes, He will make our bodies beautiful, pure, and glorious when He returns. Our bodies will never die again. And most importantly, we will be without sin.

Our fallen and imperfect bodies are yet another way we can look to Christ. By His grace, we can take our eyes off ourselves and fix them squarely on Jesus. Our bodies are made for worship, and if the Lord has us live long enough, we may be left with bodies that are unable to do anything but worship.

Each ache and pain and droopy muscle that was once firm is another reminder that we have a Savior who is perfect in beauty, and He is coming to get us, to return us to our pre-fall state, and to raise us to a condition more glorious than we can imagine.

Adapted from Fear and Faith: Finding the Peace Your Heart Craves.

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About the Author

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of Fear and Faith: Finding the Peace Your Heart Craves (2015) and United: Captured by God's Vision for Diversity. She has spoken at numerous churches, seminaries, and conferences, including the True Woman Conference, The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference, and Southeastern Theological Seminary. She is the consultant on Women's Initiatives for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. Trillia is married to her best friend, Thern, and they live with their two children near Nashville, TN.

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