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A prominent end-time advocate writes that “the church is not in the business of taking anything away from Satan but the souls of men.” This person also believes that working to change culture and society is outside of God’s redemptive plan, believing that Satan has control of this world until Jesus returns and vanquishes him. In truth, Satan is a mere creature who was defeated at the cross.
If we “resist the devil he will flee from” us (James 4:7). Scripture tells us that Satan is defeated, disarmed, and spoiled (Col. 2:15; Rev. 12:7; Mark 3:27). He has “fallen” (Luke 10:18) and was “thrown down” (Rev. 12:9). He was “crushed” under the feet of the early Christians, and by implication, under the feet of all Christians throughout the ages (Rom. 16:20). He has lost “authority” over Christians (Col. 1:13). He has been “judged” (John 16:11). He cannot “touch” a Christian (1 John 5:18). His works have been destroyed (1 John 3:8). He has “nothing” (John 14:30). He must “flee” when “resisted” (James 4:7). He is “bound” (Mark 3:27; Luke 11:20). Finally, the gates of hell “shall not overpower” the advancing church of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 16:18). Surely Satan is alive, but he is not well on planet earth. It’s Jesus who has “all authority . . . in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). Christians need to quit giving credit to Satan for the world’s problems. The world doesn’t need him to sin and make a mess of things (James 1:14–16).
The idea that only the soul is important to God is the basis of Gnosticism. The Bible is clearly anti-Gnostic on this point:
Christ identified with the natural order. He was, as the New Testament teaches and the creeds confess, “fully man.” He assumed our nature and became flesh and blood. The early church’s insistence that He was “born of a virgin, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was dead and buried, and on the third day rose again” was directed against all Gnostic denials of the full humanity of Christ.
In addition, Gnostics engaged in speculative theology, even in the days of the apostles, based upon a higher form of knowledge not available to “ordinary” Christians. This resulted in “speculations respecting angels and spirits” and a false dualism “leading to asceticism on the one hand [rejecting this world], and to an immoral libertinism on the other hand [rejecting the law].” Today, we have an eschatological system that purports to know we are living in the last days, not by an appeal to the Bible but by having a special ability to read contemporary signs.
The Bible’s opposition to Gnosticism can be found in passages like Colossians 2:18–23 where Paul tells the Colossian Christians that “delighting in self-abasement and the worship of angels” is a fraudulent gospel (2:18). “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!’ (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (2:20–23).
For the Gnostic the material world is on a lower plane. Only “spiritual things” are useful and profitable. A Gnostic-like belief might forbid marriage while advocating “abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3). Godliness is defined as a retreat from the world and despising the things of the world. The Gnostics devised a dualistic cosmology to set against the teachings of the early Christian Church, which, they claimed, were only common deceptions, unsuited for the wise. The truth was esoteric. Only the properly initiated could appreciate it. It belonged to a secret tradition which had come down through certain mystery schools. The truth was, God could never become man. There were two separate realms—one spiritual, the other material. The spiritual realm, created by God, was all good; the material realm, created by the demiurge, all evil. Man needed to be saved, not from Original Sin, but from enslavement to matter. For this, he had to learn the mystical arts. Thus Gnosticism became a source for the occult tradition.
Certain strange inferences were derived from this bizarre worldview. Gnostic doctrine concluded that Jehovah of the Old Testament was actually Satan, thus, Satan ruled the physical world. The body also belonged to Satan. It was the prison of the soul. “The Gnostic secret is that the spirit is trapped in matter, and to free it, the world must be rejected.” Not only asceticism but escapism became a major tenet of the Gnostic gospel. If the physical world is evil, then man must do anything and everything to escape it.
Nothing is more frightening to the gnostic personality than the idea that this present world of decay, change, deficiency and death might have continuing significance. The gnostic hope is not that the clock will keep ticking, but that it will be mercifully stopped.
For the gnostic, life “must be escaped at any cost.” But if there can be no immediate material escape, then a spiritual escape must substitute. This escape can manifest itself in a variety of ways: mystical teachings, purging of earthly evils, and denial of earthly (material) responsibility. The true Gnostic escapes from the responsibilities of history. But for the Christian, history is the realm of decision making, and, therefore, is anti-Gnostic. If we are not responsible for history, then we are not responsible for decision making. But even a cursory reading of the Bible will show that our faith is to be lived out in the world so that “fruit,” good works, are manifested for the world to see and for Christians to judge (Matt. 7:15-23). No restrictions are placed on where this fruit is to mature.
One of the central issues that divided gnostics and orthodox Christians in the early Church was their understanding of the relationship between religion and politics. The Church Fathers accepted the political worldliness of the Jewish faith, contending that religion and politics are interconnected and inseparable. The early Puritans and even Jonathan Edwards, following classical Calvinism, would have been clearly orthodox in this regard. The world of politics, of human institutions, was for them an essential locus of God’s redemptive work.
God is concerned with the whole man. We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of the efforts of William Wilberforce who tirelessly worked to stop slavery based on the convictions of his Christian faith. Through his efforts, the Slave Trade Act was passed on March 25, 1807. If these modern-day Gnostics had been alive then, they would have scolded him for “focusing on the Leftist social gospel in hopes that this will clean up the world and make it perfect for Christ’s return.” Wilberforce was not trying to make the world perfect; he was working to free enslaved men, women, and children. I call this biblical Christianity.