So last week, I finally let the rubber hit the road about why I’m so up-in-arms about neo pseudo gnosticism. One of the chief problems I have with it is how it can derail and mess up the hope that we as Christians have for eternal life. There are other issues as well (which I’ll get to in a future post, I promise!), but this weakened form of an ancient heresy can be a dagger to the heart of the Christian faith.
You may think I’m being overly dramatic (and maybe I am, just a little) but I know that I’m not the only one who believes this way. No less a Christian thinker than the apostle Paul wrote about this very issue close to two thousand years ago.
Now he wasn’t dealing with neo pseudo gnosticism and the way it’s infected modern Christianity. Instead, Paul was dealing with a false teaching that some of his friends had listened to. But there’s an intersection between what we’ve been talking about and what Paul had to say that we should pay attention to. More specifically, we need to look at what Paul says about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
This is one of my favorite sections of the Bible and has been for years because it’s fifty-eight verses of pure, distilled hope. Paul wrote it because apparently, some of the Corinthian Christians were having some trouble wrapping their minds around this bedrock belief of Christianity, so Paul felt it necessary to go over the basics with them once again:
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Paul starts by reminding them about what might be called the beating heart of Christianity: Jesus died and rose. There are witnesses who saw the risen Christ, including Paul himself. This is what was taught to Paul. This is what he, in turn, taught to them (and not just him, other teachers too!).
The problem, however, is that some of the Corinthian Christians didn’t believe that a resurrection was possible. They scoffed at the idea of people being restored to life at some future point. Oh, sure, they would allow that Jesus rose from the dead, but He was the only one. Nobody else would. The rest of us would apparently leave our bodies behind at death and never need them again.
Sound familiar? They may not have called the belief neo pseudo gnosticism, but this idea that the physical world doesn’t matter is an old one. Even Paul himself had to speak out against it.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Paul lays it on the line. If there’s no resurrection, then Christ didn’t rise either. And if Christ didn’t rise, then we are in a lot of trouble. We’re wasting our time with our faith. We are liars about God. We don’t have any forgiveness for our sins. Those who die are gone. We’re pitiful.
I’ll put it even more bluntly: Christianity isn’t just believing that Jesus rose from the dead. Christianity is believing that one day, I will too.
This should make anyone who winks at neo pseudo gnosticism a little uncomfortable, because this is where that belief gets us. If you allow that belief into your faith, you’re essentially gutting the hope you have. It becomes a heartless form of Christianity.
And it’s not the type of Christianity that Paul preaches. No, his is full of heart and life and hope:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
Notice the connection that Paul makes: Christ’s resurrection is ours. Ours will be a continuation of His. They’re not two separate events, one in the past, one in the future. Instead, it’s an event that’s kind of on hold at the present time. But a day of resurrection is coming for all of us, when souls will be reunited with our bodies, which is the way it was supposed to be all along, before sin brought death into the picture.
Oh, and speaking of death, look at what Paul promises about it: it is the final enemy to be destroyed. It’s not a friend. It’s not a happy thing. It’s not a natural part of life. It’s the enemy, and it will be undone.
Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die,[a] but we will all be changed,in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
What more can I say? Paul will inevitably say it better. Believing in a “spiritual” end point, a bodiless eternity, goes against the Gospel that he proclaimed. It’s a heartless Christianity.
And he doesn’t just say this to the Corinthians. He brings it up a lot of times in his writing. But we’ll take a look at that next week.