Theme: Gnosticism Then and Now
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the importance of sound doctrine if the church is to function properly and be protected from false teaching.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 1:1-11
Yesterday we concluded by listing the first bad consequence of Gnosticism. We continue our study today by looking at the second consequence.
The second result is that there was no basis for ethics because what a person did with their body did not matter because the body was considered evil and would be split from the intellectual part of human beings in salvation. So as long as the mind is pure through Gnostic teaching, the body can do anything it wants. You can practice all kinds of immorality and then retreat into your little intellectual world and say, “Well, my mind at least is uncontaminated by what my body does.”
But we know that kind of thinking is completely false. There is a connection between the mind and body. What happens to the one does affect the other. Where do we learn this most clearly? We know it from what Jesus taught in the Bible. Jesus did not teach about the salvation only of the mind or soul alone, but a salvation that is by God’s grace, received by faith, that touches all of the person, including the body. True salvation from God causes both our thinking and our actions to be transformed.
This is what Paul is combatting against as he writes to Timothy, and yet we have modern forms of this same kind of thing. You have it in liberalism, with its denial of literal miracles such as the virgin birth, which is the biblical doctrine of how God became man. You also see it in neo-orthodoxy. I recall some years ago when John Gerstner was preaching at one of the Philadelphia Conferences on Reformed Theology. He told of something that happened during his student days, when he was doing a doctorate at Harvard University. At the time, Reinhold Niebuhr was preaching and receiving a hearing. The theological faculty at Harvard invited Niebuhr to come from New York to speak. The lecture hall was packed with students and others who came to hear this well-known theologian.
Niebuhr decided to preach about Jesus Christ. He preached that Jesus Christ was no mere man, and did so in a very powerful way that would have made Jonathan Edwards proud. After Niebuhr had concluded, there was a question and answer period. Some of the students stayed around to ask questions, and one of them stood up and said, “Dr. Niebuhr, you have made perfectly clear in your address tonight that Jesus Christ was no mere man. Do you mean to say by that that therefore Jesus Christ was God?”
Niebuhr replied that, no, he did not mean that because he certainly did not mean to teach that Jesus Christ was of the essence of God. Another student stood up and said, “Well then, Dr. Niebuhr, you have made it perfectly clear that Jesus Christ is no mere man, and you have made it perfectly clear that Jesus Christ is not God, at least in the traditional Christian sense. What do you mean when you use the word ‘God’ of Jesus?” as he had done in his address. Niebuhr replied that what he meant is that Jesus Christ is symbol.
Well, the students didn’t know what that meant, and Gerstner didn’t know what that meant. In fact, to this day Gerstner doesn’t know what that means, and neither do I or anybody who really thinks about it. It is a kind of teaching that seems to appeal to some people’s intellect but which is divorced from truth.
What is the second consequence of Gnosticism?
How do liberal forms of Christianity promote false teaching?
Prayer: Pray that your own church will remain faithful to biblical truth and not fall into any kind of false teaching.