Collage of varius Gray's muscle pictures by Mi...Having explored transformation of the inner person, and, assuming that routine neighbor love is the goal, we can now look at how the body fits in. As the mechanism that delivers whatever is dominant in your head and heart, your body is the “outer man” that Paul talks about.

Speech patterns and tone of voice, for example, reflect the inner person. Eye movement and facial expressions can be compassionate and kind, or stab like daggers. I can use my hands and arms to deliver a comforting touch or a devastating blow.

Whether my shoulders are slumped or squared, or my gait is shuffling or springy, you can “read” me because outer posture generally manifests the inner stance. So you probably know when I’m experiencing destructive fear, anger, jealousy, or bitterness, as well as positive joy, peace, or hope.

Of course, I can expend tons of energy maintaining a poker face. Maybe I don’t want people to get too close or really know me, but whatever the reason, it’s possible to live a guarded, disguised sort of life-style. But it’s exhausting and prone to “leakage” because it’s contrary to God’s design.

Now if destructive feelings are dominant in me, I’m filled with ill will and thus prepared to lash out or manipulate others. Even before I act, my posture toward neighbors is already hostile, or perhaps lustful or uncaring, but certainly not kind or loving. This is the sin dwelling in my “members,” or body, ready to act at a moment’s notice. It’s all I have to draw on.

If I don’t gain control, this posture will govern my life and ruin relationships, and I’ll likely have no clue as to why. Instead of experiencing the power of surrender to God, I’ll resign myself to a crap-just-happens or I’m-worthless mentality.

Pre-Conditioning

Most of us have been pre-conditioned to obsess and worry how our bodies look, how our skin feels, or how our hair smells so we can get others to admire and respect us. We want people to think well of us so that they’ll treat us well. That isn’t necessarily sinful, but it does point back to the deep interplay between thoughts, body, and behavior.

It’s sinful when it causes people to bully and reject others for nothing more than physical features—too short, too tall, overweight, underweight, too dark, too pale, or otherwise below image standards. Particularly in Western culture, we’re conditioned to use our bodies to manipulate others and/or feed our own egos.

A body trained by thoughts, image, and social customs reacts automatically, good or bad. It can’t not react as trained—not long term. Thus, Christians who are filled with disgust can’t not look and act disgusted even when they claim to be filled with the love of Christ. With betraying accuracy, their bodies reveal an inability to speak the truth in love, or the tendency to perform righteous acts for show.

This is why Jesus emphasizes that the body is more than clothes, and life more than physical food (Mat. 6:25). James mentions, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.” (Jas. 3:9).

So you want to turn your body into an ally, not a traitor, in realigning with good will and well-being. You want to be ready to do good at a moment’s notice so that when you encounter obnoxious neighbors, they’re unable to manipulate you and trigger automatic payback.

The idea is to get the inner and outer persons back in synch with one another, i.e., restored to wholeness, and both in synch with God. Then you have something strong to draw on when you need it, and learning neighbor love isn’t some dreadful, impossible battle.

Practice

Good will and thinking are where you begin, but you can enlist your body to reinforce the new inner posture you’ve chosen. Like anything else, re-conditioning is awkward at first, but improves with practice. Here, then, are some small, but impactful ways to involve the physical in spiritual re-formation.

1. The next time you pray, experiment with body positions. It may sound trivial, but you can “re-enact” your inner surrender to God. So, if you perceive that as a bowed head, bow your head consciously, deliberately. Or, if you picture surrender as being awash in God’s presence, lift your face upward. Try spreading your arms to “bathe” in its power. (The collective Body has always employed this practice in prayerful worship.)

Kneel, or sit cross-legged on the floor. Clasp your hands or turn your palms up. Pace back and forth in animated conversation, or hang upside down like a bat in quiet meditation. There’s no “proper” position your body must be in other than one that enhances your personal posture toward God.

2. Instead of wolfing down your next meal, try this: Whether it’s scrambled eggs, spaghetti, or a hamburger, use a knife or fork to split the food in half. This simulates the great Exodus and parting of the Red Sea.

If you do this every so often, the benefits you’ll gain are: a visual representation of your new path; a reminder of Christ breaking the power of sin; a less hurried action that fosters patience; and maybe fewer stomach aches. Also, unless you like people looking at you as if you have a third eye, I suggest you practice this subtly if you’re in public. You’ll gain the added skill of not doing things for show.

3. To reinforce your decision to fill up, drink a bottle of water in a private “toast” with God. The water represents clarity—of vision, purpose, and direction. It may be corny, but, like #2 above, it’s just a variation of traditional Communion and serves the same purpose of bringing partnership with God to life. So, here’s to our new adventure, Lord! *clink*

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