formation's chief training ground

I find myself increasingly allergic to Christian jargon. Not because I can’t guess at what the person might mean when they pray that we would be ‘covered by the blood of Jesus,’ for example, but because it feels lazy not to use plain language that comes from a place of understanding. Jargon feels like it so often masks a lack of understanding; we take a phrase that was once pregnant with multi-layered meaning and reduce it to an unexamined facsimile of theological truth. I fear that the stock phrases we bandy about have lost any of the punch they once had. Can’t we just say what we mean, in words that anyone could understand?

When our kids were young, I loved the way it forced me to find simple terms to explain the big and complex things in life. While it isn’t easy, I wonder if it is a sign of our true grasp of complex truths that we are able to explain them in ways a 6 year old can catch? Perhaps this is why I love the work of The Bible Project so much; those guys do a fantastic job of explaining deep concepts in simple ways.

Here’s another phrase we might hear: our bodies are the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit.’ That’s not something I would disagree with, it’s scriptural after all. But what does it mean? Taken more or less at face value, we use the phrase to express the belief that the Spirit of God dwells in us, in the way He was known to be present in the Old Testament temple. God used to stick around in a building, but since Pentecost He’s living in people.

The thing I don’t like about this unexamined version is that, while it’s true, it implies that our bodies are just incidental containers for spiritual things. As though the shell - one’s physical self - is simply a convenient resting place for the ‘true me’ - my psycho-spiritual self.

What if our bodies are more than that? Could it be that this flesh and blood is actually the principle training ground for our spiritual formation? 

When the writer of the book of Hebrews was trying to find a way to describe maturity in a follower of Jesus, he used body imagery. “Solid food,” he wrote, “belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” It strikes me that there are ways we practice using our five physical senses to tell the difference between what is good and life-giving, and what is evil or destructive.

Hebrews 5:14

"Solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who

by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."

When it comes to choosing between what is good and what is not, I tend to think of it as an exercise of the heart and mind. The reason this scripture packs such a punch for me is because it’s so clearly talking about my body. Do I know goodness when I see it? When I am watching Netflix, am I discerning between what represents and elevates the good life of the kingdom and what doesn’t? Can I hear the difference between what is good and what is not good? When I listen to the news, which I do most mornings, am I discerning where goodness is at work and where destruction is having its way? 

And then we get to the sense of smell, taste and touch. What does it mean to be mature disciples when it comes to smelling, tasting and touching?! Could it be that training a teenaged boy to notice when he smells not-so-good is part of discipling him in the good life of God?! When I smell trash or blocked drains in the street, do I connect that with what it means to be God’s people on earth, bringing about the kingdom in the places we live and work? Maybe the guys working the trash trucks (bin lorries to the Brits) do … I hope so!

What does it mean, then, to train my sense of taste to recognise what will bring life and what will bring destruction? To what extent can I practice tasting food that is going to do my body good, in such a way that when I taste processed or unhealthy food my good/evil detector starts blaring? And could this be part of what it means to become a mature believer?

Our sense of touch relates to pretty much all our physical interactions, it’s how we connect with the world around us. I’m pretty sure that when the church elder in his 60s reached out to grope my breast when I was 20 years old, he was not mature according to this measure. Like so many of us, he would say he believed the right things, he could even explain why he believed what he believed. But he had not trained his senses to discern the difference between what was good and what was not good, and to choose the good. 

Our bodies are more than just a container for our inner lives. They are the way we practice what it means to live the life Jesus has given us. Rather than being incidental to the real me, my body - together with my thinking, feeling and discerning aspects - is the real me. How might you and I engage with this truth today? Perhaps you want to consider the extent to which you recognise the goodness available to you through movement. Maybe you want to smell the fragrance of fresh flowers or cut grass on the breeze, and simply embrace the goodness of that moment. Or could you make yourself a large, colourful salad and eat it with a conscious awareness of the good it is doing you?

May we practice what it means to use our physical senses in the pursuit of that which is good!