Thursday, February 12, 2015

Whaddaya know?

A few months ago someone shared a link on Facebook to an article about Watchman Nee, accusing him of Gnosticism. I seriously doubt Nee was a Gnostic, but I admit I haven't read all his stuff. So let's just acknowledge that it's an extreme accusation, but it's not impossible that there is a sliver of truth in it.

I sometimes suspect there are some troubling similarities between Gnosticism and some of the authors I read. It's quite true that Scripture speaks about "the flesh" in exclusively negative terms. As J. N. Darby said, "the flesh is always only bad". That's not some puritanical theology speaking: that's nothing more than what Scripture explicitly and repeatedly teaches.

But it's true that it's a pretty short road from the completely biblical truth that we are fallen creatures in a fallen creation, to the Gnostic notion that the material is bad and the spiritual is good. And the next step down that path is a sort of carnal lawlessness where the truth is abstract and spiritual, and not "real" at all.

And here's the painful part: I definitely see a lot of tendencies in myself and in others for all this stuff to get very abstract and not very practical. Scripture has an answer for that too, and it's a truth I don't think I understand very well: we are to "glorify God in our bodies" (1 Corinthians 6:20). So it's not that we have some sort of abstract faith, it's that our mortal, fallen bodies are the arena in which God desires to be glorified.

So here's the thing: there are two seeming opposite truths in Scripture. First, we are in "vile" bodies (Philippians 3:21). Our bodies are the home of sin that dwells in us (Romans 7:21–25), and our mortal bodies are "dead because of sin" (Romans 8:10). Second, the Holy Spirit will redeem those very same mortal bodies (Romans 8:11). We're looking forward to the Son of God coming from heaven to change our vile bodies (Philippians 3:21). In the meantime, it's in those same (unredeemed, vile) bodies that we're supposed to glorify God now (1 Corinthians 6:20).

I remember hearing a brother once mention that it's the will of God that we are stuck in mortal bodies with indwelling sin. I remember him saying it's a hard thing to accept, but it's true nonetheless. And the fact is that he is right: it's the plain teaching of Scripture that God is glorified by revealing Himself in fallen, sinful bodies (2 Corinthians 4:7–12).

So that brings me to the point: on the one hand, we are fallen creatures living in a fallen world, in fallen bodies. On the other hand, we're called to glorify God in them.

And here's the thing I keep thinking about… there's a cost to all this. 2 Corinthians 4 lays it out explicitly: the cost of the life of Christ revealed in our mortal bodies is "death works in us" (2 Corinthians 4:10). I've been meditating on this for the last six or seven months, and I'm wondering how it works in real life. I have some ideas, but I think we can save them for later.

I read a book recently, and it was helpful: True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer. It was interesting on many levels. One of the best things about this book is that Schaeffer insists on everything taking place in the real world. In fact, his explanation of Colossians 3 was enlightening: it means we should live like someone who has died, gone to Heaven, and was then raised from the dead. Think about that one for a while.

Yeah, there are a lot of points where Schaeffer and I disagree. But in the end, what Schaeffer does is so important: he brings the truth of the Pauline epistles into the "real world". I hate to admit it (I really, really hate to admit it), but I find that perspective a little lacking in a lot of the books tend to read.

1 comment:

Daryl Budd said...

Mark, do you suppose that some of your reticence toward the "practical" (and I suffer from this too) is a reaction to what I would describe as an over-emphasis in the evangelical world on the practical? Some churches out there literally spend 80 to 90 percent of their time teaching about how to have a better marriage, for example. I too, tend to gravitate toward more "deeper life" type of teaching, probably at the expense of the other.