Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Gnosticism and the Dichotomy of Spiritual and Physical Blessings

One of the things I've heard a few times now is that we, as Christians, are to address both the spiritual and physical needs of a person. We address their spiritual needs through the gospel, and we should also address their physical needs by giving them material necessities. After all, Christ restores both spiritual and physical worlds, not just the spiritual one.

I think this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel, one that I think is Gnostic in nature. What it essentially says is that salvation is of the spirit. Any spiritual salvation we offer to an unbeliever must be received by his repentance and faith, but salvation is not of the physical. That's just something restored through a different means. Hence, we can give the unbeliever the physical world that Christ inherited and is found now in the deposit/first fruits of His kingdom, since that has nothing to do with whether he receives the gospel.

I find this to be rather alarming. Creation is not restored outside of the reception of the gospel message. The unbeliever is not restored to the physical creation, nor is the physical creation restored to him outside of his receiving Christ as Lord. The physical needs he receives come from the common grace of his own nations/kingdoms that, according to the Bible, are passing away. They are not of Christ's kingdom that is both now and to come, and should not be given by the church to him then.

The entire restoration of creation has been funneled through the gospel and is applied only to those in Christ, not those outside of Him.

This is precisely why the unredeemed are removed from the created order in the end. They receive none of that physical inheritance--not now, not then. That's God's decision. That's God's plan. Everything is found in Christ, and everything is lost outside of Him.

I find the idea, then, that we are to address the unbeliever's physical needs in some other way than calling him to have faith in Jesus Christ as a very peculiar idea that simply is not biblical or loving in any way. It is a complete misunderstanding of the gospel and a lie.

It seems to convey the idea that Christ just secured spiritual stuff in His work, but physical stuff is secured through general creation that has nothing to do with Christ. Hence, the unbeliever can have it. We can convey to him that it belongs to him, even apart from his exercising any faith in Christ.

But what Christ inherited is wholistic. He has inherited all things, spiritual and physical. And that world to come exists today in the church and in its physical and spiritual resources. In order to obtain them, one must be united to Christ by faith. Apart from that faith, there is no claim to them, as there is no claim to the restored creation of the future, since that is Christ's, and only Christ's, inheritance.

So I do think that our Gnostic idea that we go to heaven for eternity has a negative effect upon how we see salvation, and therefore, what we think Christ has gained for us in His work. If we think He merely gained spiritual stuff for us, then the physical stuff is up for grabs. If we think that He gained all things for us, and those things now exist as both physical and spiritual resources that the church has today, then we understand that these things belong only to Christ and to those who are united to Him by faith.

The gospel addresses, however, the whole man, not just his spiritual needs, and this means that the unbeliever must have faith in that gospel to receive what Christ has inherited, both spiritual and physical blessings.

This is what I find as so odd about this adversarial attitude toward keeping kingdom resources distinct from general/governmental resources God has allotted governments through common grace. But if the social gospel has had the influence I believe it has, it is easy to see why everything is becoming blended together. Why would someone need faith to receive resources that belong to Christians and, therefore, Christ if there is no distinction between a man in Christ and a man outside of him. This is especially so when we talk about Christ's physical inheritance, where I think the social gospel has had the most influence. Why would a man need to receive Christ in faith in order to receive the physical world/blessings Christ has obtained through His obedience if there is no distinction, when it comes to whom those resources belong, between the man in Christ and the man outside of Him?

We address the whole need, spiritual and physical in Jesus Christ and His gospel, not apart from it. The person who offers spiritual needs in Jesus and physical needs apart from Him is simply offering the unbeliever a Gnostic gospel.

The idea that the gospel is offering spiritual blessings to the person, but not physical ones is simply a Gnostic misunderstanding of what Christ has inherited and what we are actually offering to unbelievers everywhere, which is the entire world through faith in Christ Jesus.

As Craig Blomberg sums up:

 "God's foremost desire for his fallen world is reconciliation: humans reconciled first of all to God, then to each other and ultimately to the entire cosmos. Thus God is in the process of fashioning what the Bible regularly calls a new creation. But biblical salvation is always holistic - involving body and soul, material and spiritual dimensions. And a major component of the material dimension is transformation in the way God's people utilize 'mammon' - material possessions. To the extent that the kingdom has been inaugurated from the cross of Christ onward, Christians individually and corporately are called to model that transformation, however imperfectly, as a foretaste of the perfect redemption that must ultimately await the age to come" (Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions, 246-47)

 And Peter said“Lookwe have left everything we own to follow you! Then Jesus said to them“I tell you the truth, there is no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of God’s kingdom who will not receive many times more in this age – and in the age to comeeternal life." (Luke 18:28-30)

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