I was perusing one of a Christian writer’s books recently when I read this statement:
God created us to be spirit beings temporarily inhabiting a human body.
I seriously try not to be overly picky about words and give people the benefit of the doubt when they are trying to communicate. Therefore, I’m not going to name the author or the book because I respect much of what he has done and said. Just not the above sentence.
I want to be generous in communication, but this is a sentence and thought that I believe needs to be called out for what it is. And what it is is unChristian. Specifically it is Gnostic thought, one of the first, and still most continually dangerous, heresies that the church faced.
There is a lot to Gnostic thought but I will briefly summarize it with this statement: Spirit = good, matter = evil. There is much more to it than that, but you can usually use the spirit=good, matter=evil as a good rule of thumb for understanding Gnostic thought. Gnostic thought teaches that the goal is to free the divine spark/spiritual from the material emanation. Your goal is to escape the physical. It influences how you act and what you value.
Christian thought, on the other hand, is that God created the world and all that is in it as “very good“, and yes it and we have fallen, but Jesus has done all that is necessary for it and our redemption, and we are looking forward to the finalization of that redemption. Thus the Christian goal is to be a part of the redemption of God’s fallen creation.
Gnosticism was considered incredibly dangerous to true Christian faith by the early church (i.e. why it was labeled heresy) because the church knew Gnosticism would lead to a non-incarnate Christ and therefore a faith that was divorced from the real life around it. That is why it still matters that Christians today understand the difference. Knowing and understanding the difference shapes how we respond to life and the world.
Gnosticism leads to a faith that is merely spiritual and doesn’t affect this world because it is trying to escape this world. Christian faith is an incarnate faith (an en-fleshed faith) that is involved in the world as a part of God’s redemption. The Gnostic Jesus, from what are known as the Gnostic gospels, just talked about spiritual things that would lead to one escaping from the world. Gnostic Jesus makes you feel very spiritual but he doesn’t change anything. There is no need to change anything when you follow Gnostic Jesus because your only goal is to escape.
The REAL Jesus talked about the spiritual and physical in the same breath. He is God incarnate so how could He do otherwise? He preached a kingdom that fed and healed people.
The resurrected Jesus didn’t, and still doesn’t, preach a gospel of bodiless spirituality. Unfortunately many times evangelical Christianity does. Just look and listen and you will see a bunch of bodiless spirituality preached in the name of Christ. The horrible thing is that such teaching leads to a faith that has no impact on this world because it is just trying to escape this world. The message of the incarnate Jesus doesn’t. The incarnate Jesus doesn’t cause us to fly away, but instead He resurrects us to a transformed, redeemed, new heaven and new earth where the new Jerusalem comes down (Revelation 21).
We are not “spirit beings temporarily inhabiting a human body”, we are creatures who bear the Imago Dei who need to be redeemed and resurrected.