Gnosticism: Confusing The Destination

In the introduction, I proposed that most Christians believe Jesus came so that they could go to heaven when in fact he came to bring heaven us. In the next 3 posts, I’d like to discuss 3 false teachings that I believe are to blame for the mix up.

The first is a teaching called Gnosticism.

What Gnosticism Is

Gnosticism was, one of the biggest false teachings that the early church had to fight against in the 2nd century.

Wikipedia Defines Gnosticism as the following:

Gnosticism (from Ancient Greek: γνωστικός gnostikos, “having knowledge”, from γνῶσις gnōsis, knowledge) is a modern term categorizing a collection of ancient religions whose adherents shunned the material world – which they viewed as created by the demiurge – and embraced the spiritual world.[1] Gnostic ideas influenced many ancient religions[2] that teach that gnosis (variously interpreted as knowledge, enlightenment, salvation, emancipation or ‘oneness with God’) may be reached by practicing philanthropy to the point of personal poverty, sexual abstinence (as far as possible for hearers, entirely for initiates) and diligently searching for wisdom by helping others.[3] However, practices varied among those who were Gnostic.

Although it gained wider influence in the 2nd century, it appears to have at least been taking root in the first century as Paul addresses this teaching in several places in his letter to Timothy (1 Timothy), one of his apostolic workers who was in Ephesus at the time.

The basic teaching of Gnosticism is this:

The physical is bad and the spiritual is good. The physical world is an illusion and was created by a lesser being (named demiurge) and our bodies are prisons for our spirits.

Jesus came from the supreme being who created the spiritual world to give us special knowledge so that we could break free from the physical world and our physical body and escape into the spiritual world.

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The Truth

This idea of ‘special knowledge’ finds it’s way all the way back to the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil in Genesis chapter 2, and  is the center of numerous cults, such as Free Masonry (where the G in their symbol comes from) or Illuminati (why you have the seeing eye on the top of your one dollar bill with 13 stairs).

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The apostle Paul had some pretty harsh words towards Gnosticism:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

The truth that refutes Gnosticism is actually in the very first verse of the bible:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1 ESV)

The same God created both the spiritual world (the heavens) and the physical world (the earth). And after created everything he declared it “very good.”

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31 ESV)

The physical world was made to be a visible expression of the invisible spiritual world in a way that we can tangibly experience, and God declared all that he made within the physical very good.

4 Christian Teachings That Gnosticism Twists

Although most Christians know that the same God created the physical and spiritual world, and would deny the tenants of Gnosticism, I believe that many are caught by the spirit of this teaching because it is an extremely deceptive teaching.

I once heard it said that “The Most Deceptive Lies Always Contain a Bit of Truth.” and this is very true in the case of Gnosticism.

What do I mean?

Well let me show you 4 areas of Christian teaching, that subtly twisted, sound very similar to Gnosticism:

1)Avoiding Materialism:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Their are numerous places in the Bible that urge believers to avoid materialism, which is essentially living like the physical world is all there is. If we do this, as Solomon warns, we will always be unsatisfied because we were created for more than just what we can see, taste, touch, feel, and smell.

Materialism has such a powerful pull on humanity that, in fact, it was one of the things that Jesus was tempted by Satan with in his 40 day fast in the wilderness. Jesus replied from Deuteronomy 8:3 that “man does not live be bread alone” (Mathew 4:4).

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On a surface level. however, this can sound very similar to the Gnostic teaching that the spiritual world is good and the physical is bad.

But notice Jesus says, by bread ALONE.  He wasn’t denying that we need to eat to live!  Nor did he embrace a worldview that we should view food and drink as mere means of survival.

Remember it was at a wedding that he performed his first miracle, changing water to wine, and he loved to eat and drink with others so much that he was accused by the Pharisees of being a “glutton and drunkard” (Luke 7:34).

Remember the analogy of air and water I used in the first part. It’s true that air is in fact more necessary for life than water, but we need both or else we will die, and it is in fact water that gives us more tangible satisfaction. God wants to be expressed in ways that are visible and tangible to finite human beings (and this can be done in an infinite number of ways!).

Paul calls the idea that we are to consider thinks like marriage, food, and material possessions, evil, to be “teaching of demons,” and instead insists that they are all gifts from God that should be received with Thanksgiving.

The physical acts as sort of a road map for us to understanding how to make sense of the spiritual world, so it is to lead us to praise and thanksgiving of the creator.

Living like there is only the spiritual world and not enjoying the gifts God has given us, is equally as errant as materialism and is a slap in the face to the Gift Giver.   You are really saying that you love the ‘idea of God’ but you don’t actually love God since you don’t like the tangible expressions of himself that he has given us.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

2)Denying Ourselves

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.(Galatians 5:14)

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mathew 16:24)

The next tricky area, is the Biblical idea of denying ourselves, or denying our flesh. This essentially means not acting out on the things that your physical body is craving, and the desires of your mind, will, and emotions.

On a surface level this can sound very similar to the Gnostic ideas that we should avoid all types of physical pleasures, such as eating and sex, and that the body is a mainly prison for our spirits. (Buddhism teaches a similar concept as well).

The reality, however, is that God created our physical senses, and that food, sex and other physical pleasures are gifts from him to be enjoyed (in their proper context).  He also gave us a sense of self (mind, will, and emotions) because he wanted people he could have real relationships with, not robots.

Why all of the commands then to deny ourselves and deny our physical desires?

The problem is that ever since our first parents ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, our vary DNA has been corrupted and our bodies are now physically crave sin. Our bodies lusts after sensuality and sexual immorality, twisting things that God created to be good and wanting to use them in evil ways that actually destroys ourselves.

Out mind, will, and emotions are diseased by sin.

For this reason Paul instructs us to “live by the Spirit” and not to “gratify the desires of the flesh,” and Jesus tells us to “deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.”

What this basically means is learning to live off of our less tangible, but in fact deeper spiritual desires instead of our physical desires, and we submit our mind, will, and emotions to be transformed by our spirit.

If we have the Spirit of God in us, we will still have these sinful cravings, but at a deeper level we will desire to use our body in Godly ways (which actually results in the greatest amount of physical pleasure) and by faith we are supposed to deny our physical desires and learn to live by our spiritual instincts.

But note this doesn’t mean the physical craving are inherently bad, or that thoughts emotions, and desires are inherently bad, they are just currently distorted.  Gnosticism’ goal is nothingness, but Christianity’s goal is newness and transformation.

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Mathew 16:35)

Furthermore, the hope for the Christian isn’t to escape this physical body and go into a purely spiritual state (although this happens temporarily once we die), the hope is to resurrect from the dead and to live in a new glorified body that is free from corruption where our physical and spiritual desires will be perfectly aligned. (1 Cor 15:42).

3)Living for the Eternal

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

There are numerous passages in the Bible that tell us not to live for this temporary world, but live for what is eternal, or even, what the above passage in 1 John says that “if we love the world the love of the Father is not in us.”

On the surface this sounds very similar to the Gnostic idea that the physical world is evil and an illusion and the goal is to escape this world and get into the spiritual world.

The truth is, that the world that we live in is in fact somewhat of an illusion.

It is supposed to show us God’s character and although you can still see God’s character all over the place, as a whole it does not reflect God’s character. Evil and injustice are in every facet of our society. Corrupt politicians and tyrants rule this world. War, poverty, sickness, are all around us.

Ever since we sinned the physical world has come under a curse and everything we see and experience is in some way dying and decaying.

Yet the hope of Christians, is not that we would escape the physical world and enter into a purely spiritual world, but the hope is a future restoration of the world that will no longer be under the curse of death and decay.

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)

What is temporary are things like evil, injustice, wars, poverty, sickness, decay, and even death!

God loves his creation and wants to save it not nuke it!

4)The Ruler Of This World

This bring me to my final point as to why Gnosticism is very deceptive.

Although the physical world was not created by a different being, it is in fact currently under the rule of a different being, who is in fact very evil.

His name is Satan! The Bible sometimes refers to him as “the prince of the power of the air.

Satan did not create anything however, he only twists what God created and uses it for evil purposes.

He is a created being, whose rule over this world is temporary and slipping away, and he is going to end up in hell for being behind the evil horrible lie of Gnosticism, among other things!

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