Gnostic dualism

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

Mark 12:30

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

When asked what the greatest commandment is Jesus responds that it is to love the Lord your God with your whole being. It was a holistic view of humanity that Jesus had. We are to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and body.

Likewise, when the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about sanctification, he expresses a holistic view of humanity. The process of sanctification, where the Holy Spirit transforms us into Christ-likeness, is supposed to happen in our spirit, soul, and body. We are whole people that need transformation in every part of us. We are spirit, soul (mind, will, emotions) and body.

In the early years of Christianity a heresy started to creep into the church called gnosticism. Gnosticism didn’t have a holistic view of humanity and instead was a kind of dualism. The idea was that our spirit is what mattered but that our body was disposable. So whether you used your body to sin or treated your body poorly didn’t really matter as long as your spirit was connected to God. As long as you began to discover the secret knowledge of spiritual enlightenment, that is what made you spiritual. Your body was just a shell to carry your spirit and the knowledge of the secret mysteries. This philosophy was denounced as a heresy in the church because it did not express the biblical understanding of humanity or God.

This kind of gnostic dualism is still creeping into the church today.

In more conservative evangelical wings of the church, it looks like an emphasis on “getting souls saved” or “winning people to Christ” while forgetting to care for people’s physical needs. There can be a tendency to downplay the importance of caring for the poor and helping people with material needs in favor of getting someone to confess Jesus as Lord. In some evangelical churches, working for a more just society and care for the marginalized is totally rejected. This is residue of gnostic dualism. A holistic and biblical approach to humanity and the gospel would emphasize the importance of both salvation and meeting people’s physical needs.

In more progressive and mainline Protestant wings of the church, this dualism looks like an emphasis on caring for people’s emotional needs while forgetting that Jesus wants to heal people’s physical body. There can be a tendency to downplay the reality that God still wants to heal people’s physical illnesses in favor of only caring about people’s emotional healing. In many progressive churches, the idea that God still supernaturally heals bodies from illness and injury is completely rejected. Healing in the church is exclusively an emotional category while physical care is left up to the medical community. This rejection of healing ministry for the body is rife with gnostic dualism. A holistic and biblical approach to humanity and the gospel would emphasize the importance of both physical and emotional healing.

And in typical fashion, progressives often point out the dualism of conservatives and can’t see their own. Likewise, conservatives often point out the dualism of progressives and can’t see their own. This lack of self-awareness mixed with a myopic view of others is how the enemy defeats the church.

Gnostic dualism in any form is not the true gospel. It is not how Jesus viewed humanity nor how the apostle Paul viewed humanity. The gospel addresses the whole person. The gospel sets us free from sin, heals our heart, and offers healing for the body. The Kingdom of God is interested in bringing new life, redemption, and restoration to the whole person, not just part of a person.

The Good News

We so often get lulled to sleep by a humanistic version of the gospel. This humanistic gospel puts me at the center. It tries to convince me that humanity is basically good and sin has been over-emphasized. It tries to make me believe Jesus’s main mission was teach me that I’m a good person. The picture we get from this false gospel is a person whose car is overrun with progressive bumper stickers on the back of their hybrid that proclaim peace, coexistence, and care for animals. All the while the owner of the car is sitting in a lotus position absorbing the goodness of the “Universe.” This is not the gospel at all.

It would be a shock to the system for some Christians to read the first few lines of the letter to the Galatians:

Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 1:1-5

This gospel of Jesus is not about good people realizing their potential by looking within. The gospel of Jesus is about people dead in their sin being resurrected by the power of Jesus because he himself died in our place and rose from the dead. It was a rescue mission and is a rescue mission. The age we live in is evil, and we all need rescuing from it by the grace of God. And for our rescue, all glory goes to God the Father, not to us.

We are not the main character in the history of humanity; Jesus is. This gospel does not center around us, but around Him. Because of His great sacrifice, we owe Him our complete allegiance as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our life now belongs entirely to Him. We were bought at a price, and it is our great honor that we now get to join Him, as sons and daughters, on this rescue mission. We’ve become our King’s ambassadors, announcing the mind-boggling news that God has reconciled the world to Himself, not holding our great sin against us.

If we want a picture for this, the true gospel, it is not an overly-stickered car with a lotus-sitting driver. A true picture of the true gospel could be found in Harriet Tubman, a woman who was completely oppressed and bound in slavery, who gets rescued, and then goes back into the belly of the beast to rescue others. Her freedom did not bring her to self-indulgence or self-absorption, but to a profound gratitude and sense of mission and responsibility for others like her who longed for freedom. This is the gospel.

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear the real gospel from all the counterfeits!