In local bookstores, you’ll find the books about Jesus shelved in the “spirituality” corner. But the real Jesus and his teachings cannot be confined in such a way. We often tend to speak about Jesus’ work on the cross in spiritual terms alone , and we tend to think about our eternal life as only a spiritual reality. But Jesus doesn’t follow our way of speaking and thinking.
When Jesus tells the crowd in John 6 not to “work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life,” he is not trying to turn their minds away from physical to spiritual, but from temporary to eternal (v. 27). Indeed, he discusses his provision of eternal life in terms that are uncomfortably physical. “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v. 51) Jesus goes on to tell us to eat his flesh and drink his blood – a metaphor that highlights the role of his actual human body and real spilled blood. Jesus says that the necessary means for our eternal life is a physical, material, human body given for us.
He also speaks of the eternal life that he gives us in intentionally physical terms. Four times in the passage Jesus promises to personally raise us up (v. 39,40,44,54). He ties our eternal life to physical resurrection. From “the last day” onward, we will enjoy life with Christ both physically and spiritually forever.
If the work Jesus has done on the cross to save us is both physical and spiritual, and the eternal future he has provided for us is both physical and spiritual, it naturally follows that we should think about discipleship and disciple-making it total ways as well. Here are just some of the implications of the physical side of total salvation:
We speak about the physical, too
Our kids and others we are teaching should not be stuck in a dichotomy where all they hear in the world is body and material, and all they hear at church or from us is soul and spirit. The world may neglect the spiritual, but we follow a total savior. Of course, in some church settings the physical is sometimes spoken about – on one main topic – sexual purity. And that is a needed topic that the Bible says much about. Honoring God by experiencing God’s sexual design in marriage as he has created it should be spoken about just as the Bible speaks about it – often! But the Bible also says much more about our bodies: that we should present them as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1), that we should present our members as instruments of righteousness to God (Rom 6:13), and that we should love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), just to list a few examples.
We physically serve
As we disciple others, we give them opportunities to physically serve, and we see the spiritual value in breaking a sweat to minister to people. As we follow Christ, we model this by doing the same. Perhaps it means mobilizing people to go and rake the widow’s leaves or mow her lawn. Perhaps it is a group of people volunteering to clean the local crisis pregnancy center for them. In whatever form it happens, we make sure that following Christ is more than only a mental exercise.
We feel the effects of ministry physically
Sometimes ministry opportunities come at the end of already full days of work. Sometimes we push ourselves to the limits. Sometimes we need to crash and rest. Jesus and the disciples did. We find them at times not having rested or not having eaten because they were busy ministering (Mk 6:31), and then they take some time to rest. There is a reason why we find Jesus napping in the back of a boat in a storm – he needed it! Like Jesus, we both push ourselves to the limits when needed and use rest as needed.
Paul also physically felt the effects of ministry – after suffering for Christ, he bore on his body marks of serving Christ! While most of us will not experience bodily injury for his sake, ultimately that is what our bodies are for – serving him.
We make sure technology does not replace physical
Sometimes when someone we know is going through a difficulty, instead of a text message to tell them we’re praying for them, we need to physically serve Christ by going to be where they are, so they can see our face, hear our voice, and so that we can pray for them in their presence. Technology can be a great tool, but we can’t use it to replace physical presence.
We pray as people with physical bodies
Just as it is appropriate to pray and thank Jesus for his hands and feet nailed to a cross for us, it is likewise appropriate to pray and ask him to use our hands and feet to accomplish his purposes. The truth is, our cities need our lips and tongues to proclaim the good news of Christ. They need our hands to serve them. The world needs our feet to go and bring good news. Our good news mission involves our bodies , and we pray accordingly.
These are just some of the implications of a total salvation. Jesus gave himself totally to save us, and to secure for us an eternal life that is both physical and spiritual. As his followers, we follow him totally – body and soul!