The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Why Hurting Your Body is Bad for Your Soul (The Trap of Self-Mortification)


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You are not your body. You are the soul inside your body. Your body is merely your soul’s earthsuit—an intelligent machine which allows your soul to operate in this physical dimension. When you die, God will raise your soul out of your body and transport you to an entirely different non-physical dimension called Heaven. It’s very important to realize your body is a temporary thing, and that it does not define who you are.

Your control over your body is very limited at best. Your earthsuit has a will of its own, just as a wild stallion does, and it cooperates with your commands only when it wants to. Sometimes, it runs amuck on you and does what you don’t want it to do. Now if a horse decides to run over a cliff, the man riding the horse has the option of throwing himself off of the beast before he is carried to his death. Unfortunately for you, God does not give you the option of leaving your body whenever it wants to run amuck on you. When your body wants to lust after some inappropriate thing, your soul is stuck inside listening to its repulsive panting. You can’t escape the dirty thoughts and the sordid imagery which demons pour into your mind, nor can you stop your body from responding to these things with great enthusiasm.

Your body only cares about pleasing itself, and it has no problems trashing anyone who tries to block its path. Your body is swift to fling out rude words, it enjoys laughing at crude humor, and it scoffs at the idea that these things are wrong. It is only your soul that groans with repulsion when you sin, because your soul is the only part of you that is aligned with God and wanting to do what is pleasing to Him. Your body couldn’t care less about what God wants, and it will instantly turn against God whenever He asks you to do something that puts your body in a position it doesn’t like. Stay a virgin until you’re married? Your body finds this plan highly repulsive. Don’t look at porn? Don’t envy? Don’t lie, cheat, and steal? Don’t gossip? What does your body want with any of these restrictive commands?

Your body finds God’s moral code to be utterly stifling, and it will rebel against Him at every opportunity. When one of your brothers at church starts telling you some juicy bit of gossip, your ears will perk, your pulse will quicken with excitement, and your emotions will thoroughly enjoy listening. When your soul intervenes and drags your body away from the party, your body will go into a huff—thoroughly annoyed that you rained on its parade. This is when demons pipe up to try and blur the line between soul and flesh and make you think that your soul actually wanted to stand around slandering your sister in Christ. Demons are always trying to make you take the blame for what your flesh is doing—and if you sincerely care about God, their game is extremely effective at dragging you down into guilt and shame. Suddenly you feel terrible for whatever it is your flesh was up to—lusting, slandering, lying—and you start down the road of confessing your sins and pleading with God for forgiveness. This is very convenient for demons, because they love to see you wallowing in shame. But why stop here? It would be far more satisfying if they could get you to add physical abuse to the mix.

Now the self-torture routine doesn’t work on all souls. Temperament and previous training play big roles in getting you to swallow the absolute rot that God wants you to physically injure yourself before He will be willing to accept you back into His good graces. If you have a history of humans physically abusing you, or if you were raised in certain denominations within the Church, then you are much easier to coax down this destructive road. Soon you’re beating yourself and starving yourself and calling yourself a despicable worm. What effect does all of this flesh abuse have on your soul? It only makes you feel worse. When we abuse ourselves in an effort to restore our relationship with God, we only end up feeling more insecure about our standing with Him. This isn’t hard to fathom, for when we attack ourselves on God’s behalf, we are teaching ourselves that He is a violent Father with a short temper who comes down hard every time we make a mistake. We are teaching ourselves that God demands absolute perfection from us, and that He totally discounts our internal motivations. Who can feel secure in the company of such a merciless Judge?

Now the souls who get sucked into this kind of self-abuse because they care immensely about pleasing God are trying to buy back His approval with pain. Yet once you are in a place where you sincerely care about pleasing God, there is no cause for punishment. God DELIGHTS in souls who sincerely care about pleasing Him. The fact that you are so distraught about the idea of letting Him down greatly blesses Him, and understanding this should bring great joy and comfort to your soul. But of course demons don’t want you to sit around feeling joyful and confident about God’s approval of you. They want you to live in a constant state of angst.

How do you keep a devoted Christian in a constant state of angst? Well, what does a devoted Christian find most upsetting? Displeasing God, of course. Once demons see that they can’t drag you down the path of rebellion, their next best option is to try and leverage your loyalty to God against you. By getting you to focus on your flesh’s raunchy desires, they can easily stress out your soul, because your soul craves righteousness.

Suppose a man was obsessed with cleanliness. He worked hard every day to keep his house immaculate. If you wanted to upset such a man, all you’d have to do is come into his house covered with mud. The man himself will be totally clean, yet being in the presence of dirt will make him feel extremely threatened—as if somehow your dirt could rub off on him. This is often how your soul reacts to your flesh. When you are aligned with God, your soul craves righteousness. Your soul is very obedient in the eyes of God, for it wants what He wants. The fact that your soul is trapped inside a body that is wallowing in immoral muck does not change the fact that your soul craves righteousness, yet demons are very good at deceiving you on this point. They get you to think that your soul is somehow responsible for what your flesh wants. When you sense that your flesh enjoys sinning, demons convince you that God blames your soul for having the same evil desires. Well, no, He doesn’t. God is not so blind that He can’t tell the difference between your soul and your flesh. There are many souls in this world who are greatly pleasing God, yet they are trapped in fallen earthsuits which are acting, well, fallen. There are other souls who are greatly displeasing God with their rebellious attitudes, yet they are managing to look very righteous on the outside. Is God so fooled by external behavior that He can’t tell His friends from His enemies? Of course not.

Suppose your friend comes up to you in clothes that are covered with mud. Would you then assume there is mud in his bloodstream as well? Of course not. You understand that the condition of a man’s clothes has nothing to do with the condition of his internal organs. In the same way, God knows that the desires of your flesh have nothing to do with the desires of your soul. Your soul has its own will, and it can oppose your flesh anytime it wants to. God’s pleasure with you is determined solely by how your soul is responding to Him.

Whenever you find yourself feeling repulsed by some sin and anxious at the thought of displeasing God, you need to recognize these things for what they are: clear indicators that your soul is in alignment with God. When we are in alignment with God, our souls are obeying Him by agreeing with what He is telling us and yearning to do right. Does God punish those who are obeying Him? Certainly not. So why are you punishing yourself for obeying God by intentionally wounding your body? What are you hoping to achieve? Your soul can’t be any more aligned with God than it already is, and it is impossible for your soul to always control your flesh. So when you punish your body in order to get back into a right relationship with God, it’s like you’re on the phone with your friend saying, “How can I restore communication with you?” Your friend is going to say, “What are you talking about? We’re talking on the phone right now. There’s no breach in our communication.”

You and God are never disconnected from each other. Your soul can go into rebellious little huffs and try to ignore His Presence, but He isn’t going anywhere. All that is ever required to get back into a good place with God is repentance, and repentance is a very simple matter of your soul changing its attitude towards God. When we are rebelling against God, our souls say to Him, “I don’t care what You want. I’m doing things my own way.” When we are in alignment with God, our souls say, “Pleasing You is what matters most to me. I want You to have Your way in my life, no matter what.”

Once you are saved, you should never be asking God to forgive you because He already has. At salvation, you received total forgiveness for all of your sins—past, present, and future—so to ask God to give you more forgiveness is just denying what He’s already done. God doesn’t want you to live in denial and keep rejecting His gifts. He wants you to receive everything He’s given you and rest in the peace that His grace brings. As a Christian, God will NEVER cast you out. Your sins have been fully atoned for.

The only way you can create problems between you and God is by willfully rebelling against Him. But here you must remember that rebellion is a SOUL ATTITUDE, not a flesh activity, or a flesh lust, or a flesh anything else. Rebellion is something that you can always fix INSTANTLY. There are no external behaviors required—you simply need to change your soul’s attitude towards God (see What it Means to be Aligned with God). When it comes to getting back into a right place with God, there is never any need for long drawn out theatrics, or a bunch of religious rituals. Repentance is something which takes one nanosecond to do. By the time you start praying a prayer of repentance in your mind, your soul has already gotten back into alignment with God. Your soul’s communication with God is a non-verbal, instant thing. Those thoughts you form in your brain are just delayed broadcasts of what your soul has already said to God, and because your brain is limited in its translation skills, you only ever hear a limited summary of what your soul said (see Wordless Prayer).

Tormenting your body has no spiritual value whatsoever. Your body cannot get between your soul and God, and your body is a beast whose nature you are powerless to change. Just as you can’t make a dog start acting like a fish by kicking and starving it, so also you can’t make your flesh change its natural cravings by torturing it. When you wound your flesh, you only make it scream all the louder. The more of a ruckus your flesh makes, the more distressed your soul will feel, and the harder it will be for you to focus on God. This is why God steers us away from self-abuse, self-mortification, and any form of spiritual discipline which involves intentionally tormenting our flesh. Sleeping on rocks, exposing ourselves to the elements, walking around in rough cloth with no shoes on our feet—these things are presented as signs of devotion, and ways to pursue higher levels of intimacy with God, when in reality they are just evidence of ignorance. It’s only when you don’t understand the difference between soul and flesh that you fall into these traps. And once you start whipping yourself for your sins, it’s easy to get sucked into a pride trip over it, and start thinking that your scars prove that you’re more dedicated than others. None of this is any good.

When you meet a friend for coffee, do you invite his car to come into the café as well? Of course not, and when God talks to you, He isn’t inviting your flesh to join the party. God didn’t die to save your earthsuit, because He isn’t in love with a physical machine. He’s in love with you—the soul that is dwelling inside your earthsuit. That is who He is talking to, that is who He is guiding, and that is who He wants to protect from the dangerous delusions that demons come up with.

If you are currently in a habit of injuring your flesh in order to feel right with God, you need to recognize that you are caught in a trap that is only going to increase your doubt and insecurity about God’s love for you. If you want to grow close to God, it is vital that you learn how to discern when you are in a good place with Him. He makes this very easy to do, so demons try to make it complicated. Because your confidence in God’s approval of you affects every area of your walk, demons are always looking for ways to erode that confidence, and they come up with some very clever deceptions. Education is the key to getting out of this trap—you need to get a better grasp on truth so that you can recognize when demons are trying to lead you down a wrong road. The articles below will walk you through some essential theology about how to deal with sin. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you understanding about these things. Ask Him to help you see yourself through His eyes and to show you how to treat yourself in a way that pleases Him. God loves you and He is for you. He treats soul and flesh as the separate things that they are and He does not demand physical solutions to spiritual problems.

Repentance Q&A
Escaping the Trap of Guilt
Pleasing God When You Can’t Control Your Flesh
Brain-Soul Mechanics: Why God Doesn’t Expect You to Have Pure Thoughts
Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy

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