God redeems creation: against Gnosticism

Not A Ladder But A Cross

R. Scott Clark | August 31, 2013

“17. Why must he also be true God?
That by the power of His Godhead He might bear in His manhood the burden of God’s wrath, and so obtain for and restore to us righteousness and life.”

Almost from the beginning of the history of the apostolic church there arose movements that, like the Evil One, sought to suggest that God had made a mistake in creation, that we were not created in righteousness and true holiness. Ever since that terrible conversation with the Evil One we have either been suggesting that God erred in creation or that the fall was really his fault or both.

It isn’t true. We were created in righteousness and true holiness. Scripture says that creation was “good.” The first two humans were good. That’s an important word, especially in the context of the creation narrative and in light of all that transpired. Good is a loaded term there. It carries a number of ideas within it. It means that there was no defect, that it was pleasing to God the way a beautiful piece of art is pleasing to its creator. Chief among the ideas embedded in “good,” however, are “righteous” and “holy.” By righteousness we mean to say that we were legally upright. We were in conformity to the law of God. We had not transgressed. We were liable to no punishment because we had committed no crime. By holiness we mean to say that we were created morally pure and good. We were without stain or pollution of any kind. On reflection it might seem surprising that we speak of holiness before the fall, since we tend to speak of holiness as a consequence of God’s work in us, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ, by the Spirit, after the fall. There was, however, holiness before the fall. Remember the creation narrative in Genesis 1. God set aside one day out of seven and called that day holy even before the fall. Even in a morally pure setting, before we had sinned, it was possible to set aside a day as distinct, as special, in order to point to a state of existence beyond our present state. More about that later.

We know from the creation narrative that the Sabbath day, the climax of the creation narrative, was holy. It was different. It was set apart. We know from the creation narrative that Adam and Even were holy. They were set apart. They were pure. They were not, however, glorified or in the consummate or final state. They were in a probationary state. They, and particularly Adam as the representative of all humanity (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15:45), had a test to pass. Should they pass that test, they would enter into the state of blessedness represented by the Sabbath and signified and sealed by the Tree of Life.

Within the apostolic period, however, there arose a dualist movement that taught that the created world was not inherently good. They taught that creation (the material world) as created was inherently corrupt and evil. They did what pagans and many misguided Christians have often done. In effect, without always admitting it, they blamed the Creator rather than the creature for the corruption of the original state. Implicit in the claim that the material, physical world is inherently corrupt is the idea either that God erred or that it is impossible for the material world to be good. Behind those notions is the assumption that humans live on a continuum with the spiritual world and that what we need is not salvation from sin and judgment but more being. In other words, what is really being said is that God held out on us, as it were. That, of course, is exactly what the Evil One said: “God knows that the moment you eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will be like him and he’s scared.” He was implying that God is a con artist and a liar.

We know, however, who is the con artist and the liar don’t we? This idea that the material world is inherently broken and evil was so pervasive some Christians, perhaps many, incorporated it into their thinking and began to say that Jesus’ humanity wasn’t real. It couldn’t have been.

  • Human nature is inherently evil.
  • Jesus was good
  • Ergo Jesus’ humanity couldn’t have been real.

The first premise is false and therefore the conclusion is wrong. Jesus’ humanity was and is true humanity. Our problem was not that were created badly. Our problem is far more mysterious and difficult to explain! We freely chose to sin. We voluntarily plunged ourselves into death and judgment.

The idea that the material world is evil was so pervasive that the Apostle John wrote 1 John against it. The error grew and by the middle of the Second Century (150 AD) it had developed into a full-blown heretical movement—the greatest of the ancient church—called Gnosticism. They developed a competing version of Christianity wherein salvation was not from sin but from creation and not by trusting in Jesus as our Mediator (substitute) but as one of many bringers of secret knowledge (Gnosticism) through which we could, for a fee, climb up a sort of cosmic ladder into a state of blessedness.

This very sort of teaching is widespread today. Peter Jones has been pointing it for a couple of decades. We have a Gnostic teachers in our town. They’re called “New Age” teachers but they teach almost exactly what the old Gnostics taught in the 2nd century. The Christian Science movement has been teaching Gnosticism for more than a century. More than a few evangelical Christians have incorporated Gnostic ideas into their theology. They’ve turned the faith from a public confession about public, historical truths and realities int o Gnostic secrets that divide the church into sects. They offer secret knowledge about how to climb the ladder into another state of being.

What was offered to us in the beginning was not that we would become competitors to God but that we would enter to a state of blessed communion with him, that we would be transformed by him and that, having passed the test, we would be utterly contented in him.

That future still exists. The way to such blessedness is not by overcoming our humanity but by embracing the truest human, Jesus, the Second Adam, the Mediator, the representative for all those who believe. When we disobeyed, we incurred a just death sentence. He paid that penalty for all who believe. When we trust him as our Substitute, we enter into communion with him through faith, worked by the Spirit. We begin to experience now, intermittently, in the church, in communion with other Christians, some of what will be. When we hear the gospel preached, when we see the sacraments administered, when we receive communion, we get a sense of what was intended and of what will be at the consummation.

God didn’t create this mess. We did. Grace means, however, that he entered into our sin and corruption, not by becoming a sinner, but by remaining righteous and holy, so that by the power of his resurrection, through union with Christ, we might be delivered from the fall and all its consequences. Don’t believe the lie. Creation is not inherently evil, even though sin has grotesquely deformed it. Heaven is not at the end of a ladder. It is on the other side of a cross.