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John Piper: Should Christians Cremate Their Loved Ones?

The Dignity of the Human Body

Two focuses of Scripture lead away from burning toward burying. One is the focus on the meaning and importance of the human body, now and in the life to come. The other is the meaning of fire as it relates to the human body, now and in the life to come.

First, biblical faith, unlike Greek religion, does not view the body as the prison of the soul. So the afterlife has never been viewed as the “immortality of the soul” finally liberated from its physical prison. Rather, Christianity has always viewed the body as essential to full humanity so that the life to come has primarily been seen as the resurrection of the body in glorious eternal life. Paul did not consider the intermediate bodiless state, between death and resurrection, as ideal (2 Corinthians 5:4).

The greatest thing that can be said about the human body is that the eternal Son of God was incarnate in a human body and will have one forever. He “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). This was an immeasurable elevation in history of the dignity and glory of the human body.

In this life Paul says, “The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13). He goes on to say even more amazing things about the body.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)

Note four stunning facts: 1) Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. 2) Christ died to purchase us, including the purchase of our bodies, for himself. 3) Therefore our bodies do not belong to us to use as we please, but rather as he pleases. 4) Therefore, we should use our bodies to put the glory of God on display.

  • Our body, God’s dwelling.
  • Our body, God’s purchase.
  • Our body, God’s possession.
  • Our body, God’s glory.

Paul said he hoped to magnify Christ “in my body whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). Glorifying God is what the body is for—in life and in death.

This blood-bought, God-owned temple of the Spirit is not destined for final destruction, but for resurrection glory. It is precisely the continuity between the Spirit-indwelt-body now and the Spirit-work at the last day which guarantees our resurrection:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

The body will never be discarded. It has been bought by the blood of Jesus!

All of this leads to a view of burial controlled by symbols which are true to the glory of the human body. Paul’s understanding of burial is that this was a picture of being “sown” in the ground like a seed that will sprout with wildly superior beauty at the resurrection, when the graves are opened at the coming of Christ.

What you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. … So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:37, 1 Corinthians 15.42–44″>42–44)

Burial—sowing the seed of the body—is the biblical picture of belief in the resurrection of the body.

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John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at DesiringGod.org. © Desiring God.