Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | April 30, 2006

Christ the God-man – Part II

Many may have heard in the past or recently in the news that many more gospel accounts were written besides the four that are included in the New Testament.  A couple of weeks ago “The Gospel of Judas” was in the news, which was an attempt to undermine the authenticity of the canonical Gospels.  These extra-biblical gospels were authored in large part by heretics known as the Gnostics.  Gnosticism finds its roots in Greek philosophy, which employed a radical dualism between the physical and spiritual realities.  As Christianity emerged and spread throughout the Greco-Roman world new converts tended to force their Gnostic worldview on the Christian faith. Another characteristic of Gnosticism was the belief that this special knowledge was privileged to only a select few.  Hence, most of these other “Gospels” were based on Christ pulling one of the disciples aside and revealing some secret knowledge that was not given to the rest of the group.  In the near future we will explore this concept further, however for today we will limit the examination to the dualistic beliefs of the Gnostics.

The dualistic worldview manifested itself in two very different ways among this heretical group.  Both groups viewed the physical as evil and the only good was found in the spiritual reality.  For some this was seen as a license to indulge in any type of sinful practice, which polluted the body such as perverse sexuality, extreme drunkenness, orgies and gluttony.  On the other hand, for some it resulted in a radical ascetic lifestyle, which employed rigorous anti-physical practices denying any good in sexual unions within marriage, severe dietary restrictions, and prohibitions on any pleasurable aspect of human life.  Both of these twisted views of reality have crept into and remained within the Church in less extreme forms known as anti-nomianism and legalism.  More common among contemporary Christians, however is the distorted view that everything in this world is evil and only spiritual things are good.

The testimony of Scripture, however refutes this false belief that the physical is evil and spiritual is good.  One of the most important doctrines to drive a nail in the coffin of this belief is the Incarnation.  The Scriptures reveal that the physical realm is not inherently evil, in the fact Incarnation consists of God Himself taking on flesh and walking among us.  God created all things good, even human beings, only in the fall was sin and evil introduced into the physical realm.  God the Son, however, reentered the physical realm and redeemed it by living a sinless life.  Certainly, if the physical realm was evil Christ would not have been able to achieve this redemption.  For example, Christ walked on dirt, He ate food, He blessed the institution of marriage, He drank wine, He washed the feet of His disciples, etc.  If these things were evil in and of themselves He could not have remained sinless. 

Today we continue our review of the virgin birth with a follow up question from our last one.  Question 36 of the Heidelberg Catechism states the following:

Q How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?

 A. He is our mediator, 1 and with his innocence and perfect holiness he removes from God’s sight my sin – mine since I was conceived. 2

1. 1 Timothy 2:5-6:  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time…  Hebrews 9:13-15:  For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from the dead works to serve the living God?  For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

2.  Romans 8:3-4:  For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirements of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 5:21:  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  Galatians 4:4-5:  But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoptions as sons. 1 Peter 1:18-19:  …knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

The Gnostic worldview is antithetical to the Christian worldview in attempting to categorize all physical reality as evil.  Christ’s coming into the physical world refutes this idea, His fulfillment of the Law and vicarious atonement relinquishes the need to pursue rigorous asceticism.  These forms of rigorous asceticism are just another attempt by sinful humanity to merit their way into eternal life.  Although, this movement is no longer a direct threat to Christianity there are still latent remnants of these ideals within some contemporary Christian thought.

Many contemporary conservative Christians have an enormous burden placed upon them to perform good works.  There are versions of Christianity that impose extra-biblical laws upon the person such as prohibitions on drinking, dancing, certain types of music and gambling.  We concede that many times these types of acts are abused and lead people into sin.  However, the Scriptures do not reveal absolute prohibitions against these acts when performed in moderation.  Furthermore, many contemporary conservative Christians also promote or impose high demands to perform ascetic acts (fasting, quiet times, volunteer work, dietary restrictions, etc) in order to progress in spiritual formation.  If you do not perform these types spiritual deeds you may be looked down upon.  It certainly is beneficial for Christians to engage in promoting spiritual formation, however we need to guard against the innate tendency to make these acts requirements for eternal life. 

As we've been learning in the last several entries it is Christ alone that we place our trust in for eternal life.  Although, good works are a necessary part of the Christian life they are performed our of gratitude of God's grace not to earn it.  Jesus paid it all and we can add nothing of our own to the equation.  Our righteousness apart from Christ is a filthy rag.  Those who think they can earn their salvation by presentiing these ascetic acts before God are mistaken.  To coin a phrase from Martin Luther, it's as if they are presenting dung on plates of gold.  In Christ, however we have been redeemed from our sin and misery.  In Christ we can enjoy God's creation and are not required to be isolation from the gifts of love, sex within marriage, food and drink.  This Lord's day thank God for your redemption and blessings of love, joy and hope that are ours in Him.

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