I think it’s safe to say, and maybe even an understatement, that in our American culture we are obsessed with our image. A large piece of this is being obsessed with our bodies.
Beauty products and services, social media, fashion, working out, diets. Should I go on?
I'm guilty of this. Last Spring I made a commitment to get back into shape. My primary motivation was for health, but I also don't mind seeing a more slim and trim "Dad bod" when I look in the mirror and I admittedly get a little pep in my step when somebody compliments me on how I look "thinner" or "skinny". Jamie and I also did the Whole30 eating plan to start the year, and while my primary motivation was health, I also liked how it improved my image.
Not only are we obsessed with our own image, but also the image of others. We all are guilty of making judgments and assigning value to others based on appearances. We usually "judge a book by it’s cover".
In the Kingdom of America, some of the “covers” that have more value are: skinny and busty, well-dressed and well-groomed, and we also give more value to youth.
Since value is assigned based on image, we buy into it. We either conform to these image standards to increase our value, or ignore them and feel less valuable.
So as sons and daughters of the King that are living in the present and available Kingdom of God as well as trying to advance this Kingdom and its values, what would be different if we re-think our lives in light of this reality?
Should we accept these values regarding image that the Kingdom of America gives us? Should we live according to them?
When it comes to how we view ourselves and the value we assign to ourselves regarding image, there is a third option besides buying-in or ignoring and feeling less valuable. That option is to view ourselves the way God does, as fearfully and wonderfully made, in His image, and as his child. Through this lens we are valuable no matter what the cover looks like.
Now I know this third option might sound a little cliche, like the Sunday School answer, but do you understand how powerful this third option is? If we actually believe it, the result is freedom. It allows us to detach, rise above if you will, these cultural standards and values. This result of freedom and detachment is almost as if we are living according to different cultural norms... a different Kingdom. If we lived this way as Kingdom people, and people saw how we didn't buy in but instead lived free and detached from the cultural norms image assigns to our value, don't you think that would be attractive? The reality is that we are all affected by these cultural image standards and many of us are enslaved to them. Friends, this is one of the ways we can really live as peculiar people, according to the truth of this third option. It's the truth that sets us free. Lies enslave us.
Now when it comes to how we view others, two things seem very clear to me from the life of Jesus:
He didn’t judge a book by it's cover
He was always looking at the heart and soul when he interacted with people
The first one is obvious, just look at who he hung out with: fisherman, tax collectors, lepers, sinners, etc. The people that had it all together, the religious folks or “whitewashed tombs” as Jesus described them, didn’t really like this about Jesus. Why is that? It’s because he was ushering in different Kingdom values that opposed the current ones of the culture. For Jesus, the exterior appearances didn’t matter, the status didn’t matter. He was concerned with hearts and souls.
As for the looking at the hearts and souls of people, the woman at the well and the rich young ruler are the first two interactions that come to mind. With the woman at the well, he starts by ignoring the cultural barriers of interacting with a Samaritan woman. Then, he goes right for her core need and offers her living water. He lets her know in a loving way that the men she has been pursuing her entire life are not going to fulfill her. This interaction with Jesus sets her free.
Then with the rich young ruler, he does the same thing. Except this guy has tremendous value and status in the culture and he is just trying to gain some more validation from Jesus. I think he’s assuming that the question he lobs up to Jesus about how to gain eternal life is going to be answered with, “Come on Jimmy, you know you’re life is the model of what I’m looking for.” Instead, just like with the woman at the well, Jesus goes right for the heart as he knows that this young man’s value is completely wrapped up in the image he has created through acquiring wealth, stuff, and status. He asks him to sell everything because that is what this man needs to do in order to free himself from the false values he had been living up to in his culture. This poor guy had the wrong definition of what Good Life was. The bummer is that this rich young ruler doesn’t take Jesus up on the offer and the scriptures say that “he walked away sad.”
So assuming Jesus is living according to Kingdom values and is modeling for us how to live and how to interact with each other, one thing seems very clear:
We need to stop being obsessed with our image and the image of others.
Should we care for our bodies? Yes!
Are our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit? Yes!
Is our body, soul, heart, and mind all connected and important? Yes!
But, according to how Jesus lived, how he treated people, and what he taught, the heart and soul are primary. The inner life is most important.
They are connected, and the body is very important, but the heart and soul have primacy. In this last season of getting back in shape, one big learning for me was that running helps me deal with stress, gives me more energy, and I am much more emotionally healthy. This is an example of how connected we are. I'm not saying don't work out, or don't take care of your body, it's not either/or. It's a matter of priority, and I believe tending to our hearts and souls should come first. Why? Because that is what Jesus modeled and our heart is where we live from.
So as we live in America, we can choose to live according to the values of the Kingdom of America and give ourselves and others value based on image, or we can set that Kingdom aside and live according to the values of the Kingdom of God.
What could that look like practically? Here are a few ideas: (experiments for this week)
Develop a “workout routine” for your soul and not just your body.
Take some inventory of your own heart and soul: Are you like the woman at the well and finding life in something besides God? Are you like the rich young ruler that is worshipping something else besides God and finding your identity and value in a kingdom that is not the Kingdom of God?
Fast from social media for a month and think about the image you have been crafting on those platforms and what that image has been fulfilling in you.
Ask three of your closest friends this question in the next week: “What is going on in your heart and soul these days?”
We all take on values, beliefs, and habits from the culture and Kingdoms around us. Many times, we don’t even think through it, we just go with the flow.
Jesus’ invitation is to rethink our lives now that the Kingdom of God is available, let’s say yes to that invitation with intentionality, courage, and grace!