The gnostic impulse lies deep with us, close to the bone. But God, in His mercy, has placed the resurrection of Jesus Christ right at the center of our faith. This means that in order to give way fully to gnosticism, we have to abandon the faith in order to do so. And in the meantime, the saints are forced to deal wih all their peripheral gnosticisms as part of their on-going sanctification.
The gnostic impulse is this: whenever matter as such is disparaged over against that which is immaterial and “spiritual,” we are being tempted to gnosticism. Of course it would be foolish to reject that which is truly spiritual — the point has to do with how the word spiritual is rightly defined. When spiritual (as a term of praise) is assumed to be the opposite of material, we have a problem. But when the spiritual understood to be that which is in submission to the Word of God, we are on firmer ground.
The devil is a spirit, a prince of the powers of the air, but this does not make him spiritual. But a man who makes love to his wife, with a biblical understanding, shows that his carnal act is a spiritual act. A man who helps a non-Christian neighbor plant some shrubs has real dirt under his spiritual fingernails. But many Christians have a definition of what it means to be spiritual which requires them to try to become more like the devil. You believe there is one God? Good for you, and the demons do that. True spiritual knowledge is exhibited in what you do with matter — how you handle stuff.
When Jesus rose from the dead, He showed His disciples His resurrected flesh and His resurrected bones. A spirit does not have flesh and bone, as they well saw. When He appeared to them in the upper room, He went back and rummaged around in the fridge. A spirit does not eat. We therefore have, at the center of our faith, a stark, material fact. There He stood. Spirits don’t stand. There He walked, on the Mount of Olives, before He ascended.
The ramifications of this work outward, like ripples in water. When Christ appears we will become like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Our lowly bodies will be conformed to the image of His glorious body. This means, incidentally, that we shall have bodies. Forever and ever, bodies. We do not affirm, in any gnostic sense, the immortality of the soul. Our central hope is the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of the body, ten toes and all.
Of course, these bodies will be glorious, beyond our comprehending. But this glory is not ethereal, weightless. The word glory brings with it the connotation of weight, a material concept.
The ripples continue outward. Christians have a tendency to locate spiritual problems in stuff, and they do this in order to be able to exonerate themselves in the realm of the immaterial — their motives, their intentions, and so forth. This is what lies behind all crass legalisms about wine, tobacco, dancing, and so on. But the reverse is the truth. The sin lies in us, in the motives and intents of the heart, and in what we decide to do with the stuff out there. As for the wine, it is a good thing — the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains. Wine gladdens the heart of man, and when taken in faith at the Lord’s Table, it straightens out the heart of man.
Gnosticism plucks at our sleeve whenever we vaporize the kingdom of God. When we pray, “Thy kingdom stay, Thy will be done in heaven when we get there,” the problem is out in full force. Jesus told us to pray for the kingdom to come, as in come down here. He told us to pray that God’s will would be accomplished in places that have latitude and longitude coordinates. Blessed are the meek, He did not say, for they shall go to heaven when they die. This is quite true, and the Bible teaches it elsewhere, but it remains a fact that the meek will inherit the earth.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ remind us that God loves matter, and He has decided to declare it good for all time. The Incarnation was permanent. When God created the heavens and earth, He said regularly that it was good. We sometimes miss the fact that thousands of years later, He said it again. When Jesus took on a human body, and in the resurrection, when He took it on forever, God was looking at His creation, and He said that it was good. The ancient gnostics had a real problem with this, and they wanted to put distance between God and His creation, which they did with rank upon rank of intermediate sub-creators. This tendency is still with us, and we need to guard against it when we debate the time of creation. There can be no secret impulse to get God out of His workshop, so that other forces can do the dirty work. There is no dirty work in the making of dirt.
Consequently, meditation on the wonder of matter, and the glory which God has imparted to it, is truly a helpful and spiritual activity. In your next quiet time, I recommend pulling up a fistful of grass from your lawn to look at it. Then look at your hand. What is man?