Dallas Willard wrote in his book The Spirit of Disciplines, “Nothing is more apparent today than our inability to live as we know we should… But this is the age for spiritual heroes… A baseball player who expects to excel in the game without adequate exercise of his body is no more ridiculous than the Christian who hopes to be able to act in the manner of Christ when put to the test without the appropriate exercise in godly things.”

The traditional view is that the body (“flesh”) opposes the spirit. But it is the undisciplined body that does so. This leads to the familiar battle that is essentially negative and reactive: forcing the body not to sin. But since it is hard to not do what you want to do, it is not surprising that relying on sheer will power leads to a high defeat rate.

So what do we do while we are in sin-flawed earth? The real view is that the body should support the spirit. This leads to the lifestyle of spiritual disciplines, which James Bryan Smith has re-branded as soul training. The battle now becomes positive and proactive. Simply put, we do things not to earn brownie points and get blessings from God. If you are a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, you are already blessed.  Spiritual disciplines put you in the pathway of that blessing.

But behind it is a balanced theology of the body. Let me offer six basic principles.

Principle 1. A person is both body and soul.

I do not merely have a body; I am a body. Also, I do not have a soul; I am a soul. So what kind of a person is Nelson Dy? Observe how he treats his body and you’ll know. To view spiritual disciplines as benefitting only the soul while neglecting the body is an artificial dichotomy. In this paradigm, spiritual disciplines will not work; at least, not in the long run. Thus, a person may pray, go to church, and read his Bible all he wants. But if he doesn’t control his appetites (food, sex, wealth, power, and so on), he will still fail to be the person God wants him to be.

Principle 2.  The body affects the soul.

Bodily ailments affect spiritual appetites.  My spiritual mentor once said, “When I have a terrible cold, evangelism goes out the window.” It is also well-known that when we are fatigued or depressed, we are most prone to falling into temptation, whether it is physical (gorging on junk food), emotional (snapping at people), or spiritual (skipping our quiet time).

A more specific example is gluttony: we pay for our over-indulgence with food with weakened self-control and less sensitivity to God. This helps explain the usefulness of fasting. We need to move to the other end of the spectrum by doing the right things with our bodies. The reward is watching our soul flourish like a well-tended garden.

To be continued.

Photo credit:  https://joelkime.com/2017/03/22/do-you-need-a-spiritual-hiit-trainer/

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