In my last post, I shared the first reason why it is important to remember Jesus is fully human this Christmas season. The second reason is that we devalue the worth of God’s creation (including ourselves) if we forget his humanity. The incarnation is a constant reminder that God, more than anyone, values the physical world just as much as the spiritual world.
The Gnostics reject this idea. They believe that everything physical is evil, and so is not valuable to God. They believe all that matters is the spiritual realm. Christians with this Gnostic tendency today often say, “All that is important is God, His Word, and people’s souls. Everything else is going to burn.”
This view has at least seven implications that are hazardous to our physical and spiritual health. I will share three this week and the other four next week.
1. Christian Gnosticism focuses growth in Christ around only “spiritual” activities (prayer, bible study, church involvement). The body is nothing but a limitation. It gets in the way by needing food and shelter, and so we have to go to work instead of doing “spiritual” activities. It gets in the way by requiring we rest, so we are not able to do more “spiritual” things. They agree with Plato—“the body is the prison of the soul.”
But Jesus taking on a body and living a “spiritual” life through the body, rather than in spite of it, shows this approach to spiritual formation is simply false. No one has done more to show the important role the body plays in growth in Christ than Dallas Willard in his wonderful The Spirit of the Disciplines.
2. Christian Gnosticism leads us to reject many of the physical pleasures God gave us as good gifts (food, drink, sex, etc.), provided they are enjoyed in the appropriate context. A proper understanding of the goodness of all creation, including the physical realm, frees us to fully enjoy being incarnate, seeing even our bodies and their pleasures as blessings from the Lord. Jesus’ humanity reminds us of this.
3. Christian Gnosticism devalues our work, believing nothing we do in the physical realm has any spiritual significance. They divide work into two categories. Some work is “secular”—working as a merchant or a mason or a marketing executive. Because it is “of this world” it has no spiritual significance. It is “mundane” work (from the Latin work “mundi” which means “world.”) Other work is “sacred” or “spiritual,” such as being a missionary. It is holy, a calling, and deeply valued by God.
Following from this, for most of us, Sunday becomes the only important day for “spiritual” things. What we do the rest of the week, starting with “Monday” (again, from the Latin “mundi”) is not spiritually important. The only way to redeem our work Monday through Friday is to make enough money to give some to those doing “spiritual” work.
This is not very encouraging to the vast majority of Christians who have not had a “call” to “the ministry” yet are passionate, and very good at the work they spend many hours each week doing. We would all like to see our work as valuable to the Lord.
The good news is that Jesus coming as a human shows the fallacy in this Gnostic way of thinking. It indicates God values the physical and “mundane” just as much as the “spiritual.” As a result what we do in our physical bodies is “redeemed”—it can again be seen as “holy,” “sacred” and important to God. God calls the plumber, pilot and performing artist to their vocations just as much as the pastor.
This was a main theme of the Protestant Reformation. Our language of work now reflects this. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare” meaning “to call” and the word “profession” is grounded in the idea that through one’s work one is professing their allegiance to His Call and Lordship. We all have vocations and professions, meaning we all have work God has called us to do, and by doing it well, “as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23) we obey, serve and honor our Lord.
Next week I will share the other four ways the Christmas Story corrects our Gnostic tendencies and their harmful effects. (I realize the final two posts in this series will be after Christmas, but I just couldn't fit it all in before the 25th!)
Until then, grace and peace.