Question: Is there a difference between keeping the body under and bringing it into subjection, and if so, what is it (1 Corinthians 9: 27)?
Answer: 1 Corinthians 9: 27 reads, “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” From the context we see that the Apostle Paul uses the illustration of a racecourse. He was undoubtedly making reference to the Greek games which had contests that required strength and speed.
But the Apostle was using his strength in fighting a real battle. He recognized that there was a great battle going on between God and Satan, between righteousness and sin, that began when Satan became the adversary of God back in the Garden of Eden. Our first parents came into slavery to Satan, and later some angels fell. Now many are fighting, and some are thoroughly ignorant of whose side they are fighting for. The Apostle had enlisted under the banner of Christ, in opposition to Satan.
The Apostle also recognized that there was an inner battle raging, between the fallen flesh and the new heart, mind and will, fully consecrated to God. The man engaged in combat with an animal knows that the bruised and wounded animal seeks to kill him. Likewise, the Apostle knew that the fallen flesh strives to kill the new heart, mind and will. Therefore, the new heart, mind and will must see to it that it uses all its strength to gain the victory. But we are not alone in the battle, for the Lord has promised us grace sufficient for every time of need (2 Corinthians 12: 9). If we are overcome by our fallen flesh, it will be because we have not strength sufficient for the victory; for if we call upon the Lord He will sustain us.
But the Lord expects us to do our part in the battle, which is why the Apostle emphasizes the two things in our text that are so crucial to our overcoming – keeping the body under and bringing it into subjection. As to the first part of the question, yes, there is a difference between keeping the body under and bringing it into subjection. And as to the second part of the question: (1) we keep our body, our fallen flesh, under when we suppress its efforts to control us, when we detach our earthly affections from its objects and when we prove impenetrable to its attacks. This work requires the use of our seven chief graces – faith, hope, self-control, patience, piety, brotherly love and disinterested, unselfish love (2 Peter 1: 5-7); and (2) we bring our body into subjection when the new heart, mind and will, laying hold of and enslaving it to God’s will, makes it serve Truth, righteousness and holiness.