Updated: Apr 6
God tells us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:6, Mark 12:33), which is a Hebrew way of saying that we’re to serve him with all of our bodies.
It means every part of our lives should be committed to God.
We interact with God in many ways:
But it’s easy to be unbalanced.
It’s easy to love God with our minds but not our actions.
It’s easy to serve God with new habits but not new hearts.
It’s easy to crave elating emotions or dazzling experiences without any commitment.
A balanced Christianity can be as rare as a rainbow in a snowstorm. That’s partly why there are so many factions of churches: some focus on the intellect, others on emotions, passions, rules, money, miracles, community, or self-improvement.
Balance is rare. But we need it.
The point of Christianity is to love others.
But this doesn’t mean the truth doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean feelings or desires are obsolete. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to experience God. Nor does it mean miracles are reserved only for Satan.
We need a balance of all our being to have a truly healthy Christianity.
How We Encounter God
Whether you’re using a phone, computer, tablet, or tv, there are settings that have to be balanced right, or your image will be distorted.
These settings include:
If just one is off, your background picture will be distorted. If brightness is turned up too high your screen will be white; if it’s turned down too low, it’ll be black.
It needs to be balanced.
If a few are off, a movie might look like dancing blobs of pink-and-green pixels.
If all the settings are off, the picture could look like a melting Picasso painting of a train wreck.
How we live out Christianity is like this:
There are multiple aspects
Each aspect has to be balanced, or
It’ll discolor our view of God
It’ll distort how we live for God
It’ll deform how we represent God
Now imagine every person has a series of settings that displays how they see and live out Christianity.
These settings include things like beliefs, emotions, desires, experiences, behaviors, relationships, and community.
Let’s take a look at the first one.
“If you don’t believe exactly how I do, then I can’t fellowship with you.”
Have you heard that kind of thinking? I have. Even from my lips, unfortunately.
This has perhaps been the most trendy way to live out Christianity:
Since the Jews of Jesus’ day (1st century)
More, when Platonism influenced the church (1st-5th century)
More, when the scientific revolution emerged (16th century)
We engage with God this way when we read the Bible or a book, hear a sermon or a lecture, and pray or talk about God. It includes everything that relates to God with abstract thought.
People think of this as doctrine, theology, or a worldview, but let’s call it BELIEFS.
What does it sound like when the BELIEFS setting on our Christianity is turned down too low? “Jesus is your truth, but he’s not my truth.”
This is the result of postmodernism (20th century), where truth is relative, which makes it irrelevant.
That’s a problem.
But there's another problem: for hundreds of years, and in 90% of the churches I’ve seen, the BELIEFS setting is turned up too high. Here, the main point of Christianity is to:
Have sound doctrine
Think the right things
Believe the right things
Have the right creeds
Go to most church websites and you’ll find a doctrinal section front and center with a statement of faith identifying their clique by their doctrinal niche.
Many churches won’t even let you join them if you don’t agree with their doctrinal statements. This gives the message, “We are what we believe”.
This is what happens when the BELIEFS setting is turned up too high: it corrupts Christianity—like being split into 10,000 irreconcilable clubs of churches who don’t get along.
To live out Jesus' calling of loving God by loving others, we need balance.
If truth doesn’t matter, it’s not important what we believe. We could believe Jesus is an incarnated alien here to rescue us to live on a spaceship.
But if truth is all that matters, then how we live is unimportant. The people who lean in this direction think things like, “We’re saved by faith so how I live is secondary at best”.
They think "good works" are new-age hippie jargon that endangers the purity of salvation by grace.
But they’ve warped grace to mean that Christianity is just believing a list of the right things (so Romans 6, 2 Pt. 3:14-15).
If our faith doesn’t reach higher than our beliefs, it’s worthless. The kind of faith Jesus calls us to reaches past our minds “to visit orphans and widows in their distress” (James. 1:26).
We need balance.
These are urges of the body or mind, including everything from food and sleep to feeling accepted and having a purpose.
What happens when someone’s DESIRES setting is turned up too high?
With desires at the center, they become hedonists who satisfy bodily cravings at the expense of anything, including following Jesus and loving others. They’re “like irrational animals, creatures of instinct” who take from others to consume because “their god is their belly” (2 Pet. 2:12, Phil. 3:19).
You don’t want the DESIRES setting turned too low either.
When Platonism influenced the church (creating hybrids of Christian Gnosticism in the 1st-4th century), one product was to despise and suppress human desires—especially of the body.
This movement is called monasticism, and entails living as a monk in isolation from society without recreation, sex, drinking, socializing, a “secular” job, talking, or any unnecessary food or rest.
No pleasures allowed.
This gives the message that our bodies don’t matter. Only the mind, or immaterial “soul” matters in Platonism, so a monk’s role was to be physically deprived and exclusively read the Bible and pray.
This thinking is still very alive today, not just in focusing on studying the Bible and praying, but in thinking that helping people in tangible ways doesn't matter.
These methods seem spiritual, and they “have indeed an appearance of wisdom…but they are of no value” (Co. 2:23, emphasis mine).
They're destructive. That's why Paul was outspoken about them.
Paul said teachings that forbid marriage and foods are demonic, “for everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanks (1 Tim. 4:1-4).
That’s a good Biblical theology on the body! After all, these things are God’s very good design for us (Gen. 1-2), and he knows how to be a healthy human more than any monk.
Desires are only bad when they’re unbalanced.
Our desires are actually designed to coordinate with our pursuit of loving others. From the Garden of Eden to the Jewish feasts, to the Lord’s supper—which was not a wafer, but a meal—it has long been God’s plan for people to gather over large meals to feast and celebrate his kindness.
In fact, when we eat together, chemicals are released in the brain that make us emotionally bond with others we're eating with.
Eating together helps us connect together.
Sex has become a dirty thing that doesn’t belong in church. So, it’s ignored and tacitly forbidden. That’s why so many young believers are confused about their sexuality. That’s why so many try to suppress their sexual urges, only to inevitably fall into lifetime habits of pornography, promiscuity, and dehumanizing depravity.
I have a news flash: Jesus invented sex!
It was his idea.
He loves it. And he smiles on us when we enjoy it onto his glory.
We need to be balanced. According to God's design. Or it will negatively impact our faith.
How Do Beliefs and Desires Work Together?
Desires are like the gas pedal that drive us forward, while our beliefs steer us in the direction we go.
Think of getting a sandwich.
You sense the desire as hunger which urges you to get food, then your beliefs inform you how to do this. If you believe a sandwich will satisfy you, and you believe there’s a sandwich in the fridge, then you’ll be driven to the fridge.
If the BELIEFS setting is unbalanced, it’ll steer our pursuit of good desires—like happiness and belonging—in the wrong direction.
When I was a child, I believed there was treasure at the end of every rainbow. One time my parents humored my pleas to drive to the end of a rainbow. The rainbow never got closer, and I was sad to learn that it was an optical allusion with no end.
And no treasure.
If you believe you’ll be most happy with wealth, then you’ll chase that illusion only to be disappointed when you get to the end of the rainbow with no happiness, then at the end of your life with no wealth either.
However, if we believe Jesus will resurrect our bodies to live in paradise forever, we’ll risk even death to follow him.
If we believe Jesus' way is the best way to live, we will daily take up our cross to sacrifice for others, and we’ll do it with joy—like Jesus who “for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).
With our desires and beliefs balanced, we can move forward to the next part of the process: emotions, experiences, behavior, relationships, then community, which we’ll look at in the next article in this series.