In addition to pointing us to the hope of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection, the physical body is an icon of God’s grace. Grace is a central and universal theme in the Christian message. In Ephesians 2:8–9, Paul conveys the heart of the gospel when he proclaims, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” But how does God convey the gift of grace?
The church has used different phrases to describe the various ways God conveys his sanctifying grace to us. One that is widely accepted across most Christian traditions is “means of grace.” A means of grace refers to all the ways in which God conveys his presence and grace to us. John Wesley defined “means of grace” as “outward signs, words or actions, employed by God, and appointed to this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey . . . prevenient, justifying or sanctifying grace.” Wesley suggests, for example, that God gives us the public reading of Scripture, receiving the Eucharist, the practice of prayer, obedience to God’s Word, fasting, denying oneself, and works of piety as different ways of promoting spiritual growth in our lives. Similar definitions can be found in other traditions.
While there is considerable variation in the ways Christian movements talk about how we grow and mature in our faith and produce spiritual fruit, the common theme that ties all the means of grace together is that they all happen in and through the body. We read Scripture with our eyes, we speak it with our mouths, and we hear it with our ears. We take the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist, into our bodies. We pray in and through our minds and bodies. We obey God’s Word and serve others (works of piety) through our bodies. The physical body is the means through which God conveys his grace into our lives, the channel through which God works his purposes in us.
So the second building block in a theology of the body celebrates that our physical bodies serve a redemptive purpose. They are the means through which God conveys his grace, as we engage in various practices, using our bodies in ways that honor God. God is also unfolding his plan of redemption through physical, bodily means—namely, the bodily incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the act of creation, God fashioned our bodies for a spectacular purpose: to point to the future incarnation and bodily resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Likewise, at the creation, God fashioned our bodies to be the perfect means for receiving and extending his grace. God’s grace is conveyed in and through our bodies.
This is an excerpt from Timothy Tennent’s new book, For the Body: Recovering a Theology of Gender, Sexuality, and the Human Body (Seedbed, Zondervan). Through these pages, you will:
- Understand why our bodies matter on a host of issues
- Discover a positive vision for human sexuality
- Be equipped to engage culture from a positive posture
The human body is an amazing gift, yet today, many people downplay its importance and fail to understand what Christianity teaches about our bodies and their God-given purposes. We misunderstand how the body was designed, its role in relating to others, and lack awareness of the dangers of objectifying the body, divorcing it from its intended purpose.
Also available are the Video Companion and Video Study Guide for participants. In these eight (30 minute) sessions, Timothy Tennent presents the core teachings of the larger book. The Video Study Guide includes condensed narrative from the video presentations, outlines of the videos, discussion questions, and recommended reading. Together, these resources will help groups engage with the material at a deeper level and challenge us to consider the implications of the Bible’s teaching on the human body for discipleship.