Holistic: The Relationship of Spirit and Body

Most expressions of American Christianity have roots in Pietism, which means that we’re good at expressing the importance of being made right with God, good at explaining the need to born again. This is our strength, and I’m glad because it’s step one, foundational for all eternity, and for all transformation. “We must be born again,” is how Jesus put it, which means that we must be born of the spirit.  The problem with Pietism, though, is that it often stopped right there, failing to address God’s desire for total wholeness, both of our personhood, and of our world.

I write a lot about the “wholeness” of our world that is coming with the full reign of Christ, and how we’re called to embody that wholeness as Christ followers.  But after exercising yesterday, eating a healthy meal last night, and then sleeping nine hours, I’m reminded that my body is the means by which I’ll make God visible (or misrepresent God through my own selfishness) in this world.  The body matters.  That’s why Paul prayed that we’d prosper, body, soul, and spirit.  We’re whole people. I hope I can unpack this a little bit more in coming weeks by addressing stewardship of the body and its relationship to the spirit and soul.

Here, for starters, is something to ponder:

All exercise is holistic I’m not advocating a list of “spirit exercises” and “body exercises,” making certain that we have one from each list, as if you’re working your abs, then your biceps, then your spirit.  This is folly.  Rather, I’m suggesting that we see that spiritual exercises ARE body exercises, and vice versa, because we’re whole people.  When I practice confession and forgiveness, and pray about my problems, and breath deeply while meditating on scripture or the character of Christ, several things happen:

1. I sleep better.  I’ve woken in the middle of the night before with some sort of care, and addressed the problem by praying and breathing deeply, thanking God on each exhale for his “peace,” or “wisdom,” or “provision,” or whatever it is that I need in the situation.  Not always, but most of the time, I drift back to sleep very quickly.

2. I digest my food better. Stress affects my appetite and digestion, so those spiritual habits that can help us bust stress will have the affect of strengthening the gut.

3. I have greater clarity in my thinking.

Similarly, when I’m stewarding my body through exercise and eating real food rather than fluff, certain things happen:

1. It’s easier to be present with people at 3PM meetings, fully there and paying attention

2. I enjoy getting up early enough to read my Bible and write in my prayer journal.

3. I whine less.

Increasingly, I’m able to see the integration of what for so many people are two different arenas of personhood.  Increasingly, I see that exercise is a spiritual matter, and prayer is a physical matter.  The separate bins are an illusion.

Yes, our bodies will grow old.  Yes, sometimes the crazy diseases of our fallen world can intrude in spite of our self-care.  But also – Yes, there are things we can do on both sides of this equation to function as whole people, and it starts by recognizing that there isn’t “body care” and “spirit care” – there’s just care, and stewardship, and it falls us to us invest in habits that will enable us to live out our days to fullest.

I welcome your thoughts…

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  • Laura

    A couple months ago I remember Richard mentioning that he would be posting a simple guide to Bible reading for people who want to start slow (i.e. one verse per day). I cannot find this when I search his blog. Do you have any ideas for how to find this on the blog?

  • Lamont

    “Most expressions of American Christianity have roots in Pietism, which means that we’re good at expressing the importance of being made right with God, good at explaining the need to born again. This is our strength, and I’m glad because it’s step one, foundational for all eternity, and for all transformation.”

    I agree with this statement, but, with that said, I will ask the following question, because its my experience that many Christians put the cart before the horse.
    Is a person born again because they believe, or, does a person believe because they are born again?

    Jn 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

    I think that the scripture is quite clear on this, but, we read it w/o actually engaging our minds when looking at the text. I say this because I think we “naturally” tend to judge scripture by our experience, instead of the other way around.
    Pietism emphasizes the “personal religious experience.”
    The difference between the two questions above does make a difference, since one is “Man” centered, and the other “God” centered. One of them is the True, and one is not!
    And, since “it is” the starting point, shouldn’t we carefully consider and desire the one that is true?
    Thank you for sharing. The benefits of a good life are their own reward. May they also be glorifying to God.

  • Lamont

    John 3:ff I s/h added the full context.
    Now there was a man of the Pharisees named(A) Nicodemus,(B) a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus[a](C) by night and said to him,(D) “Rabbi,(E) we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do(F) unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is(G) born(H) again[b] he cannot(I) see the kingdom of God.” 4Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born(J) of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6(K) That which is born of the flesh is(L) flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] 7(M) Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born(N) again.’ 8(O) The wind[e] blows(P) where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

  • raincitypastor

    don’t have time to go down the free will/predestination road today, but my answer to your question is “YES” – Jesus says “no man comes to me unless the Father draws him”, and he also says, in John 7, “if anyone is thirsty, come to me and drink” – can anyone come and drink, or is Jesus a liar, offering a bogus claim to the crowd, knowing full well that nobody can come w/o the Father drawing them? No, he’s not a liar. Anyone can come. But it’s also true that the only ones that will come will be those the Father draws.

    Not that it matters to God, but I’m OK with that kind of mystery of “fully human, fully divine”.

  • Lamont

    Your attempt find tension between Jn 6:44 and Jn 7:37 does not work on a few levels.

    A person could offer people a drink all day long. How does that make one a liar if nobody had the ability to come? It has nothing to do w/the sincere offer!

    God commands everyone to keep the Ten Commandments, yet, not a single human can keep them.
    In the Bible, “A Command, does not imply ability!”
    Neither does the offer in Jn 7:37.

    With that said…

    Jesus offers a call to drink to everyone (many are called few are chosen), because He knew that the ones Drawn by the Father, would, without fail, come to Him (Jn 6:44) because it had been granted to them by the Father! (6:65).
    (again, even if no one had the ability to come, would it nullify the offer, or make Jesus a big fat Liar!)

    The Bible does not, in one place, say: “No one can come to me unless…”
    Then in another place say: “Anyone has the ability to come to me…”

    If you know where that is I’d like to see it?

    I dont see a mystery where you say there is.
    I do appreciate that you took the time to respond!

    I know your time is precious!

    Soli Dei Gloria!

  • Lamont

    An example many arminians use (not unlike the one you tried to use above in John 7) to reject Gods freedom in election, is John 3:16, where we are told that “Whosoever will” may come. The word “whosoever” is a paraphrase and doesn’t aclearly explain the verse. But again, the word “Whosoever” does not imply ability either. It only states that anyone who does believe will have eternal life.

    The New Living Translation is the most acurate in its interpretation of this verse.

    John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.

    Hope you would carfeully consider my responses to your reply.
    Thanks again!

  • Lamont

    Hi Richard.
    I have prayed that your work in Germany is fruitful, and, that you’re given time to relax as well.
    I hope you will still remember when you find time, to take a look at my response to your reply on this post. I believe you have erred in your reply to my comments, and I believe that by acknowledging it, will clear up some of the misunderstandings you have in the interpretation of Gods word, especially concerning this topic.
    I remind you of a previous time in which you had made a similar mistake, and that you had stated back then that you were to busy to discuss it as well. http://richarddahlstrom.com/2009/11/03/and-the-importance-paradox-to-faith/#comment-131
    These are typical mistakes made by fellow Christians, by not carefully reading that passages they are sighting, and not paying attention to the context. They seem to be good arguments at first glance, but in actuallity, they are pre-texts. I would really appreciate a careful consideration of what I’ve pointed out.

    Thank you!

  • Lamont

    Thank you Richard.

    I appreciate the personal email. I was pretty excited that you took the time to write me personally! I’ll keep you in my prayers tonight before I go to bed (real soon! It’s 9:15 p.m.) Your obviously a blessing to those you teach both here at home and abroad! (Even though we have disagreements.)
    I am disapointed that you didn’t take responsibility for your comments.
    Not that they were offensive in any way whatsoever!
    They were not!
    It’s just… the position you hold in both cases (on paradox, and Holistic: The Relationship…) are untenable.

    Your attack on my response in “Holistic: The relationship of Spirit and body”

    was… nonsensical?

    So, you don’t really need to spend alot of time in study, you just need to admit it!

    Maybe you should re-read what you said, and my response to it?
    You wrote one response but were wrong on two accounts?

    As I’ve stated, Arminians make the same mistake on John 3:16. How ironic? Its one of the verses (one of “the Big Three”) they throw in Calvinists faces the most, thinking it proves their case. One of the others is 2 Peter 3:9 (the one you tried to use in “Paradox” http://richarddahlstrom.com/2009/11/03/and-the-importance-paradox-to-faith/#comment-131
    May the Lord Bless your travels!

    (Way past bed time!)


  • Lamont

    Here’s another prime example of scripture that shows election and mans “total inability” to come to God/Christ by the unaided will, yet, Christ still say’s “Come to Me…” Jesus Christ knows that the only ones that will “come” are the ones He has chosen to reveal the Father to Vs 27.
    And all this, before the foundation of the world Eph 1:4.

    Matt 11:25-30 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


  • Jonathan Foutz

    First off, thanks for this Richard. This issue has been on my mind a lot over the last couple of years and I’ve felt like I have been living with partial truths and foggy conceptions of exercise and body.
    There was a time when all I did was work out or think about working out or worry about how I hadn’t been working out. Then I would stop working out because the very thought of it stressed me out and dive back into binge eating, which was something that plagued me for most of my life up until the last couple years. I struggled with weight for most of my life. Food was my god and I followed her anywhere she would lead. Thankfully God has rescued me from that addiction and I don’t have any of those emotional ties to food that I once did.
    But I’ve seen in my own heart and in the lives of other Christians my own age the tendency to place all the emphasis on body. Women deal with this especially. How one looks – 1 or 2 pounds makes a huge difference – is the most important thing and can become an idol and has been an idol for me. There were periods where I didn’t work out because I knew what kind of spiritless, egotistical person came out when I lost a couple pounds and started to get noticed by girls. Even though I quit exercising, I knew deep down, and also because I started to physically feel worse, that God would have to reconcile this issue. I was lost in between narcissism and sloth.
    Over the last couple months I’ve been going to the gym here and there, when I really felt like it, but haven’t really made it part of my routine. After everything you said, I feel a lot better. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

    God Bless,