The New (Old) Lie

Irenaeus wrote “Against Heresies”, an early treatise defending Christianity against Gnosticism.

Well, now I’ve gone and gotten all uptight about something. Let’s rant.

I was recently watching a very popular network television show, and what I heard in it was nothing less than a very old lie told as if it was some new, empowering insight. There were two Christian high school students, one had interest in a girl, and was struggling to know how to deal with his sexual feelings toward her. His friend’s advice was that the Bible is outdated because it was written in a different time when things were easier. We should all be the sort of Christians that pray, and concerned abut being good people, but it is impossible to live up to those standards, so don’t even try. What really matters is our spirit. “We can be a new kind of Christian,” said the young man. Besides, the Bible says that tattoos are wrong too, and we basically ignore that one.

Well, there are lots of things wrong with this line of reasoning. The most obvious is the common tactic of the hedonist to quote the difficult, Israel-specific laws of the Old Testament and then use that as an excuse to disregard biblical morality wholesale. These are straw man arguments that show no understanding of how the Bible works, the purpose of the Old Testament Law, the relationships between the Old Testament and the New Testament, or the relationship between Law and Grace. These arguments are used, not because a person wants to understand truth, but because he wants to find an easy justification for disregarding historic Christian morality in his own life.

The argument that it is more difficult to be moral now is also mostly false. The challenges are different, and technology as certainly put too much within our easy grasp, but different does not necessarily equal more difficult. Perhaps moral living is in some ways more difficult than it was 100 years ago, but over the long look of history, temptations don’t really get harder, they just change their form. In New Testament times sexual immorality was highly prevalent, acceptable, and expected. With the ubiquitous presence of temple prostitution, it was also very public. The one exception I’m willing to grant for today being more difficult is that with so many people waiting into their late 20s or early 30s to get married, it is a long time for a Christian to fight the good fight. But you know what folks? Sex, as good as it is, does not give you the answers to big questions of life, but in our culture it has become the religion of seeking the next endorphin high. Always seeking, but never finding.

What is more troubling to me is the attitude that we can be a new kind of Christian that is “spiritual”, but doesn’t worry about morality. This sort of thinking permeates American Christianity, and it is poison. Grace is abused and used as a cover for just about anything. As I’ve said many times in public, and on this blog, Jesus sets a higher moral standard than the Law ever thought about setting, but he also provides the means of grace and forgiveness that the Law can not provide. It is to the point that I, and every pastor I know, assumes that when a couple comes to us for marriage they are already engaged sexually. Unmarried Christians I know tell me that dating is very difficult because so many Christians are willing to ignore sexual ethics in the name of an endorphin high and then have some easy excuse about why it is OK. Because, as the thinking goes, what really matters is that your spirit gets close to God. This is a very old lie, and it is a lie straight out of Hell. It is a lie that has been plaguing Christians since our beginning, and I for one am rather tired of it.

Not long after the founding of Christianity, a heretical movement called Gnosticism began to creep in. Foundational to Gnosticism was the notion of the duality of the person. In this system, there is a stark contrast between the physical and the spiritual. The “real” person is found in the spirit, and the body is just the shell that contains him, but the shell is not him. Gnostics taught that all physical things were not made by God directly, but by an evil being referred to as the demiurge. The demiurge is equated to the Yahweh of the Bible. Because all things physical were made by this evil being, they were inherently evil. Conversely, God made all things spiritual, and they are inherently good, but our good spirits are trapped in our evil bodies. The way of salvation is through enlightenment. This is where the Gnostics get their name, because the Greek word gnosis means knowledge. If a person gained enough spiritual knowledge, he could free his spirit from the trap of his body, and ascend to Heaven. A corollary of this belief in the utter evilness of the body was that it didn’t matter what you did with your body. You could indulge in anything because ultimately it only matters what you do with your spirit, and it is only your spirit that can be saved. (This is why the notion of bodily resurrection was laughable to the Greek philosopher’s of Paul’s day. See his interactions with the Stoics and Epicureans in Acts 17:16-34 paying particular attention to 17:32.)

For the Christian, the philosophy of man’s dualism is heresy. Proper Christian belief is that both the body and the spirit form the whole person. We are not just bodies, and we are not just spirits, we are both together in a complex dichotomy. When you go to a funeral and see the body in the casket, you are looking at the real person. The tragedy of the human experience is that through death our souls are ripped from our bodies and our real persons are left in an unnatural, separated state. We know this is true because in proper Christian belief, and promise from scripture, it is not just the spirit that is rescued, but the body as well. We call this resurrection. If God cared only about the spirit, we would not need resurrection, but God made our bodies, and those bodies are just as much “us” as are our spirits. Christianity is the faith that is not just some spiritual dream, it is physical, it is tangible, and it has ramifications for the here and the now. All things God made before the Fall, He declared to be good. Our bodies were not always broken, sick, and weak. They were meant for the higher purpose of glorifying our Maker.

Sexual morality matters, and the principles of this we find in scripture are not outdated because they speak to the nature of being authentically human. They speak to who and what we are, and the importance of recognizing that all parts of us were made to reflect the glory of our maker. God calls sex outside the boundaries of marriage “sin” because for humans the most intimate and vulnerable you can be with a person is through sex. God is Trinity. He is Three who are One. He views sex as the human and physical approximation of two becoming one. Sex is the most vivid way that humans emulate the essence of the God of relationship. Sex is profoundly Christian, and profoundly good because sex is about the nature of God. When we violate God’s standards for sexual morality, we are mocking the nature of God, violating the purpose for which we were made, and thereby harming ourselves. We are mocking his desire for humans to exist together in covenant loyalty with one another the way He has always been loyal to His creation and to his people.

The old Gnostic teaching that we can be “spiritual” while ignoring issues of personal morality is a lie. American Christianity is run through with this pseudo-Gnostic lie, and we are growing weaker for it. What we do with our bodies matters because what you do with your body affects your spirit, what you do with your spirit affects your body, and all of it reflects how you view your Creator as we spit on His grace and drive that nail into Jesus’ flesh.

End of Rant.

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2 thoughts on “The New (Old) Lie

  1. I just want to tell you that God uses your words to speak to me so much. Here you are “ranting” about sexual morality but God is using this to speak to me in a whole different area. In perfect timing too I might add.

  2. More pastors should have the courage to “rant!” Our culture is in a free-fall in all areas of character!

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