I wrote yesterday that Paul’s narrative of the human body from corruption to transformation is a subtext of Romans. It serves his analysis of the situation in the Roman church and supports his argument that no group has any basis to judge another. Because bodies have been hijacked by the cosmic power of Sin, ethnic distinctions based on bodily practices (e.g., those that constitute an ethnic identity) don’t fix the problem and therefore don’t give Jewish Christians any basis for boasting.
Human rebellion has resulted in human bodies being given over to dishonor (Rom. 1:24), and bodies being hijacked and dominated by Sin (Rom. 3:13-18).
God’s solution in Christ addresses precisely this problem.
[God sent] his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin; he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4).
Jesus took on our fallen condition, entering the human drama as a body hijacked and dominated by Sin (“sinful flesh”). In his death, he defeated the entity called “sin in the flesh,” so that all those who are in Christ can be empowered to glorify God as bodies—and as a corporate body.
In light of this, Paul then calls on the Roman church to present their bodies (plural) as a living sacrifice (singular) to God for proper embodied worship (Rom. 12:1-2). And this worship is a renewed set of corporate practices that embody the unity of the formerly divided groups in the Roman church (Rom. 12-15).
The narrative of the body finds climactic resolution in Rom. 15:5-7. Paul again makes reference to a body part in his climactic statement:
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice [literally, “tongue”] glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
Human bodies were hijacked by Sin and corrupted by dishonor. Embodied faithfulness to God glorifies God, as Paul notes with Abraham. For the Roman Christians, then, embodied practices of unity as a corporate body glorify God.
The implications of this for Christian theology and practice are pretty huge, but I’ll wait to draw those out in another post.