“He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that ineverything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
One of the chronic distortions of the Christian faith is what is known as ‘gnosticism’. Hold on. Before your eyes glaze over at the term, you might do well to reflect on this: you have gnostic cells coursing through your bloodstream!
The gnostic world-view essentially divides the world between the material and spiritual. It is, essentially, the basic world view of popular religion. This view tends to separate soul from body, God from the messiness of the world,, spirit from matter, priests or pastors from laity, the sacred from the secular, church life from secular life. Space becomes more important than time. This creates the basic religious problem; how do I get out of the world and into fellowship with God? How do I become more spiritual?
The gnostic solution to this problem is to construct ladders by which we ascend out of the secular, the worldly, the material, the finite, toward the other-worldly, the spiritual, the infinite. Current expressions of this distortion take the form of setting up ladders of timeless Biblical principles which function as the spiritual ladders up which we are goaded to climb as we seek to become “more spiritual”. The amount of “Biblical Christianity” engaged in this project is staggering, especially when you consider how much of the New Testament takes aim at this distortion and tries to stamp it out.
The letter to the Colossians is a frontal assault on ladder climbing. I have quoted an essential portion of the letter above and highlighted some key terms. Notice how the expression, “all things” is repeated over and over. Paul is proclaiming to the Colossians that EVERYTHING has been created through Jesus Christ and EVERYTHING reconciled to Him. God is not throwing out the material. God has revealed Himself in the material. The word “image” in verse 15 is a translation of the Greek term ‘icon’. Jesus is the icon of God, a real flesh and blood God.
What this means for the Christian life, for Christian living, is that time is more important than space. We are not spiritual ‘Trekkies” boldly climbing cosmic ladders to places where no one has gone before. As much as, at times, we may want Scotty to ‘beam us up’, our business is to live, deep in the flesh, in the world, investing ourselves on the basis of grace in its’ problems and relishing its’ joys. The Christian recognizes that all things, material and spiritual, in heaven and earth, space and time, have been reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. The gospel, therefore, is not a summons to be more spiritual, it is a summons to be more human. It is not a movement of the vice of the material to the virtue of the spiritual.
Because Jesus is the fleshly icon of God, revealing Himself in the flesh to flesh, Christian faith and life do not stand naked in a formless cosmos before absolute, immutable rules. We are tied to the time-events of a God who is deeply rooted in the world; the events of exodus, the words of prophets, the womb of Mary, Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection. We have been reconciled to the spiritual through the material, by His blood.
Finally, Paul declares that in everything Christ is pre-eminent. This means that the imperatives to Christian living are always rooted in the indicatives of what God has done, what has already been accomplished on our behalf in Jesus Christ. The energies and resources of the Christian life, therefore, are not meant for spiritual ladder climbing. They are meant for the world. Therefore the Christian and the Church will be clothed in the slippage and ambiguity inherent in the Christ who comes in flesh, Word, water, bread and wine, flesh, cross and blood.
The Christian life is not the eighteen things you have to do before bedtime to become more spiritual. It is a life lived, a posture based upon the conviction that the grace of the Crucified God keeps our feet on the ground in the totality of life even as we await the final reconciliation of “all things, whether on earth or in heaven.”
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”