Formations 05.14.2023: Body vs. Spirit

Romans 8:1-16

Sometimes passages like this one from Paul encourage unhealthy perspectives. If we read this text at face value, we might develop mistrust of our bodies. A text like this seems to split human beings in two—the body versus the spirit. Paul speaks very negatively about “the flesh,” using the term thirteen times in verses 1-16 (see NRSV).

Reading this text, some people assume that our bodies are simply shells inhabited by our spirits as we live on the earth. That our bodies have base desires and lead us into sin. That our bodies tempt us and trick us, and we would do well to ignore our instincts and only listen to the Spirit within us. This kind of perspective makes sense as we read Paul’s words because we care about our souls, our spirits. We don’t want to die; we want “life and peace” (v. 6).

Many of us grew up in churches where we heard sermons about the evils of bodily desires. We were told to suppress them and to listen instead to the Holy Spirit. After all, our bodies will die but our spirits will live on. There was a huge focus on the afterlife.

Nothing is wrong with understanding that our bodies are temporary. It’s also good to look forward to everlasting life in the spirit with God, after our bodies die. But I think Paul is sometimes misinterpreted here. In 1 Corinthians 6, he goes into greater detail about the body and the spirit. Instead of pitting the two against each other, with the spirit coming out on top, he pictures them as an integrated whole. The reason we shouldn’t do whatever we want with our bodies is that the “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” within us (1 Cor 6:19).

This puts the physical body in a whole new light. It’s not just a vessel to carry us through this life. It’s an integrated part of who we are. It’s how we live and move and influence the world around us. It’s how we comfort and teach and support other people. It’s how we experience God’s creation. It helps us sense danger or safety. It’s how we experience love.

We can certainly be tempted by “the flesh” to do evil things, but we can also set our minds “on the things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5). When our minds are focused on Christ, our bodies follow suit. We can love the Lord our God with our whole being (see Lk 10:27).


• What kinds of messages have you heard in church or Bible study about the physical body?
• How can “the flesh” lead us into sin?
• What might be dangerous about suppressing our bodily instincts or not trusting our body’s signals?
• What does it mean to trust our bodies?
• How can we integrate our spirits and our bodies more fully so that we are whole people as we live on earth? Why is this important?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.


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