The Renewal of the Body: When Shame and Weakness Give Way to Glory and Power

by Evan May October 6, 2021

Have you ever planted anything?

You break the ground. You open a hole in the earth. You fill the emptiness, laying seed to rest. It decomposes. It transforms. Death yields to new birth. And then a life that’s strikingly different — and yet the same — rises from the dirt.

It happens all the time. It’s a resurrection cycle God has planted in creation.

Our bodies long for it.

The Corinthians struggled to believe in it.

In response to some in the congregation who denied the bodily resurrection of the saints, Paul argues that the resurrection of Jesus has been proclaimed as central to the gospel from the beginning (1 Cor. 15:1–12). And we cannot separate his resurrection from the people who belong to him. He’s like the point of an arrow launched into the future; it will pull the tail forward with it.

The Corinthians could stomach the resurrection of Jesus but couldn’t choke down their own resurrection. Better that all the nasty things they’ve done in the body not show up with them in the afterlife. It’s an understandable reaction.

But Paul tells them they cannot separate their resurrection from Christ’s without doing damage to the faith. They cannot split this atom without disaster.

Granting the resurrection of believers, some questions remain. Paul anticipates an objection: “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come?’” (1 Corinthians 15:35, CSB).

How does it work? Explain to me exactly how this is possible. 

Naturalistic skepticism is not new.

While we might have questions about how scattered molecules are assembled again in the resurrection, believers living in first-century Greco-Roman culture had moral concerns. Is this the body that we’ll have forever? The one we’ve stained with sin? The one subject to sickness?

The Corinthians had trouble imagining how the resurrection of the body is possible — or even desirable. They suffered from a poor imagination.

We might as well. The American church has not always been clear on what awaits us. We’ve sung hymns that give the impression that our destiny is more floaty than earthy. But the Christian hope is not just to “fly away” from the body and set it aside forever. We are promised the renewal of the body.

Awareness of this renewal ought to impact how we feel about our bodies today, and what we anticipate for eternity.

Paul uses the metaphor of sowing and reaping to sanctify our imagination:

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” (1 Corinthians 15:42–43, ESV)

These are rich words. Consider them. Imagine with me.

From perishable to imperishable

We are sown in corruption. That’s the condition that touches a fallen creation. Everything corrupts. Everything grows stale and rotten. Everything disassembles into entropy. When you grasp it, it’s gone.

Good things move away from us. What we love breaks in our hands. We are broken.

This is what it means to be perishable.

Do you feel vulnerable? Overwhelmed? Frail? You are. Your spiritual great grandfather gave you his DNA.

Our bodies have an expiration date. Everything we are one day falls apart into dust. A cursed ground claims us again as dirt.

But what is planted corruptible comes out of the earth incorruptible. In the resurrection, we will never again be subject to injury or disease. The coronavirus cannot claim us. The human heart will never need to be shocked back into rhythm. A cancer cell will never again form in a body. It won’t hurt anymore.

Nothing will be lost. You’ll never feel like life has left you behind, like what you love has retreated from you. It will just be an indestructible joy — forever.

Anticipate imperishability.

From shame to glory

The body is sown in dishonor —it is subject to shame and shameful treatment.

Ever since Genesis 3, our bodies have been a source of shame. We hide. We don’t want our nakedness seen. We need to cover, to self-protect. We feel exposed — like someone could hurt us, or worse: see how we have hurt others.

We sense the label of what we have done, and the things that have been done to us. And we feel it in our bodies.

The trauma specialist Bessel van der Kolk describes this as “the body keeps the score.” Those who have struggled with PTSD know this.

If you’ve experienced a bad accident or suffered abuse, your body registers that awareness. It feels like you always carry it around with you. Certain settings and sounds trigger your senses and heighten your heart rate. Your body resonates with the tremors of the world around you. Telling you that it’s a dangerous place. In some cases announcing, “You should be ashamed.”

Jesus carried our shame. He bore our abuse. He shrouded his glory, veiling it — until the morning the light cut through the tomb.

And Paul says you will be glorious!

We will be, for the first time, what we were made to be. Comfortable in our skin. Content as image-bearers. A display of the delight of God in all he has made. Fit for eternity.

C.S. Lewis said that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to today may one day be a creature, which if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. This is what it means to be glorified.

From weakness to power

We are sown in weakness. We’re subject to infirmities and deformities. We lack the ability to do anything lasting. We’re described in the Bible as wasting away.

It is sobering when the weakness becomes visible.

My wife’s grandfather held the title of being the strongest man in his state. He died, weak in body and mind.

My own Pa Pa was always an image of power to me. He seemed omni-capable. Always in charge. In fact, he tended to make the people around him nervous. After he lost my grandmother and the Alzheimer’s began to set in, he shrank physically. We watched an illness stealing away all the capacities that were once so impressive.

For some, all it took was one bad fall to take your parents away from you. All that they had done, all that their life had meant, all the moments of strength they had shown — and one little stumbling sealed the end. It’s oppressively stupid. That’s when the weakness has its way.

During this pandemic, bodies have been intubated and dependent on ventilators to survive. Some have died alone in a hospital, weak, away from the people who loved them and knew all they’d accomplished.

For Christ’s people, it won’t always be this way! We will be raised in power. We will be the product of omnipotence.

How will this transform us and the ones we love? A son formed with an additional chromosome; an adopted daughter who was addicted to drugs in the womb and whose brain is still jumbled by the effects — what will they be when the weaknesses are gone? When the unopposed power of the Creator is in full force?

What will it look like when our weakness of will, our incompetencies, our laziness, give way to power?

That’s the resurrection.