“and Ye shall be as gods” - Part 2 - Notes on Christian Legalism & Neo-Gnosticism

  1. There are 3 common denominators between legalism and gnosticism found in churches across America today:
    There should be some level of achievement on the part of the believer for the believer to be a genuine, true, Christian. The required achievement regularly orbits around two main principles: behavioral modification (legalism) or intellectual attainment (gnosticism). Within those two poles it may vary. It can be an attainment in virtues & character, experience, holiness,  intellect, or mental sacrifice. There stands a threshold to leap over whether  mystical, doctrinal, adventurous, or ascetic.
The diagnosis of fallen man's spiritual disease in Neo-Gnosticism and legalism is in essence the same. It denies (or at least ignores) the depravity of mankind and his  sinfulness. Paving the way for an enbetterment through a self-devised program. The problem of sinners only finds diagnosis at a behavioral plane, and may even be detected deeper at the level of the soul - discovering that they are "curved into themselves." But the deception of gnosticism is the premise that self-help can reverse the problem of man and self-heal. Self-healing is touted as the answer through disciplined practice — religious, ethical, experiential, meditative, mystical, & aesthetic. The premise is: “It can be done if you will it..." This the language of the law of gnosticism guised in Christianity’s religious law. When troubled men and women stove to change, held or mend themselves to be more as the higher perfected self that religion projects as successful - it is religious “legalism". What is really dangerous about the gnostic form of legalism is that it takes the sinner's accuser -- the law of Moses -- and proposes it as redeemer. But the first error is its diagnosis of the sinner's disease - that it is viable - It is too shallow. Biblical definition for that incurable problem of sin is the reality that no self-help can redeem man from his demise. "Dead in trespasses and sins” - Eph 2.1; at "enmity with God” - Rom 8.7 and "in bondage to sin” - Rom 7.24. How can the gnostic attainment and the legalistic endeavors transform a person? It's not just that the sinner needs transformation -- radical change -- but God has to change, change from being the sinner's judge, the sinner's own executor   the sinner's jail keeper - change to being his savior.

Neither legalism or gnosticism needs the cross and risen Christ - any spiritual guru or life coach will do.  Somebody else, some exemplary figure, role model, life coach or, trainer or some guru, can do the job that needs doing to get the sinner back on the wagon again. The line of "All you've got to do is...” states for the legalist or neo-gnostic  that Christ is really not necessary. Instead of the law's verbage “do and live," the Gospel's contrasting verb is "offer." It is the language of gift, the grammar of grace.

“and Ye shall be as gods” - Part 1 - Notes on Neo-Gnosticism Creeping into the Church

Christianity's foundational belief in salvation through God becoming flesh, and by his bodily resurrection securing the hope of the resurrection of our bodies; was blasphemous to Gnosticism, as it was an offense to the Jews & ridiculous for the Greeks who generally saw spirit as good, and matter as evil. Gnosticism emerged as a form of mystical Christian spirituality blended together with ancient Greek, Egyptian and Persian paganism.

It was one of the gravest of threats to the early Christian Church - It is a heresy that continues to threaten the foundational teaching of the church. It is encapsulated in Satan's lie in Gen 3, "You shall be as gods." It is called "Gnosticism." St. Paul called the Gnostic prophets "super-apostles” in 2 Cor 11.5 who apparently knew more than God - their message went beyond what was written in the Word of God and what was contained in the teaching of the apostles (1 Corinthians 4:6, 1 John 4:6). They speak of heavenly secrets and offer techniques for escaping mundane earthly life. "Timothy," the Apostle warned, "guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith” (1 Tm 6:20). "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor 10:5). These elitist-apostles had preached a different gospel with a different spirit. "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light" (2 Cor 11:13). 

The Apostles Paul and John spent much of the New Testament, especially the Gospel of John and the Epistles, teaching against the most dangerous heresy in church history. According to one of its early opponents, St. Clement of Alexandria, Gnosticism (from the Greek word gnosis, meaning "knowledge") consisted of the knowledge "of who we were or where we were placed, whither we hasten, from what we are redeemed, what birth is and what rebirth" (Excerpta ex Theodoto 78.2). Knowledge of these secrets was considered spirituality. The goal of this post will be to explain the roots and pull the mask off of Gnosticism creeping into American churches of all denominations and convictions.

All great moves of God in history eventually were accosted by the wiles of subtle and poisonous gnosticism. Though God was moving by His Sprit and Word, the spirit of gnosticism, which is of the devil himself; would be at work attempting to slip in alongside, like the mixed multitude that departed Egypt with the Hebrews for the promised land.

Gnosticism has its very ancient roots in world history and mankind’s religious culture. As a matter of a fact, gnostic roots lay the foundation of much of the occult and luciferianism. Gnosticism by nature is dualistic - you will notice the accent in the philosophy on “good” and “bad”.

There are 10 characteristics that may be noted about ancient Gnosticism. Note how these principles have made themselves comfortable in churches across America today.

  1. Gnostic syncretism - a belief in everything and anything for the purpose of avoiding a particular conviction in specific Biblical Truth. That is a tolerance, allowance as well as a syncretism of belief of any doctrine yet avoiding the Gospel of Grace; which is a stumbling block for the Jews and an offense to the Greek mindset (a prevalent mindset in our western society today). This syncretistic philosophy would assimilate and include other religious and pagan beliefs into the church for the sake of inclusion and acceptance of all people. 
  2. Individualistic and Subjective - These teachers and teachings were very mystical and elitist by nature. It is undeniable that the teaching is individualistic and subjective with an inward focus to the believer or follower. Meaning that the believer (the knower” or adherent of the gnostic teaching) had higher level of importance than God, the Object (that which is to be known). The path to knowing God was thru inward withdrawal, knowing of self, self-awareness and “being true to the heart”. The path of enlightenment and true knowledge was led along by the guardrails of the pursuit of personal happiness, personal rights, liberty and blessing. In fact, the self was the “indwelling of God”. This is also know as Greek Platonism. 
  3. God’s Nearness vs His distant Holiness & Sovereignty - God was near, so near that it negated God’s Holiness, His Self-Determination & Sovereignty. In gnostic writings the relationship between the self and “God” was described often as romantic, sentimental, a wooing, even erotic. Worship of this God from self could be characterized as almost a romance - words that were similar in the way to lovers exchange with other. This was considered sacred and very spiritual. 
  4. Spirit (being good) vs. Material (matter is evil) - We may know this philosophy better as “mind over matter”. The Greek (the western mind) and the gnostic worldview is “dualistic”, dichotomous - meaning that it divides the world into matter (bad) and spirit (good). This teaching states that evil people and their deeds, all suffering, sickness and disease including death are all associated with the evilness of the material world we live in. Thus matter is the source of all evil. The gnostic teaching on the fall of Adam and Eve in contrast to the Biblical account was that it was not a fall from innocence to disobedience but rather the transformation of  pure spirit beings to evil physical bodies of matter. Man did not fall on the inside. His mind and soul was still spiritual and perfect. It was his body that was fallen and now evil. Man was now a prisoner of his body trapped in a material world of limitations and imperfection. He was now separated from his true sprit home trapped in a dying body and he longed to escape to a new spiritual awareness from where he fell. This escape route was an inward path of discovering the soul and to worship a God outside of self and the soul was to be untrue to yourself and commit soul-suicude 
  5. Anti-Establishment by nature - Because of the gnostic view of the fall of man, mankind was now in-prisoned within the material walls of fallen flesh that was evil - that meant that anything limiting the freedom being sought for the sole interest of the self was bad. Institutions are viewed as spiritual enemies. They were seen as limiting, legalistic, depriving the self of it’s rights to discover itself and what it wants. Therefore the True God outside the subjective realm of the self as well as the outside Church, were enemies of the true self and soul. From the Gnostic point of view, the structure and discipline of the Church stifled the spirit. The Church and God were perceived as directing the soul-self away from the rightful inner experience - redirecting it to others and to formal cold structural authority, doctrines and traditions. The gnostic follower or believer was not a non-conformist overall, but they were disciplined in discovering and nurturing the individual experiences and concerns. They were ascetic in their belief in self awareness and serving that they forsook community feeling personal experience rather than doctrine form of corporate worship. 
  6. Hyper-Spiritual - Gnostic belief is that the occupation with self and it’s direct and uninhibited relationship with the Spirit therefore spiritual knowledge came through a mystical secret revelation and not by the means of material agents such aa a pastor-teacher, the printed Word of God, or systematic teaching from an outside teacher. Things such as church, fellowship with other Christians, water baptism, and other traditional forms of worship are not spiritual enough and are unnecessary. The outward forms of worship and teaching were for the unlearned, uninitiated, unspiritual people not educated in the secrets of the "higher spirituality”. This spiritual elitism was challenged by Jesus himself when he bypassed the pharisees and ministered to the common people preaching a Gospel of “whosoever will"
  7. Anti-History - Consistent with gnostic belief; that matter is evil, institutions are enemies of inward individualism, therefore the slow tedious process of time and its events with the details of life - are all unimportant and irrelevant. Because for the gnostic eternity is opposed to time. The gnostic follower will live in the experience of self for the now and ignore it’s reasons for consequences. Spirituality is to be timeless and the unspiritual details of life are a burden and a annoyance. The incarnation of Christ was a slap in the face for gnostics as he came from eternity and redeemed every moment in time - in the little mundane moments revealing the Higher Wisdom of God. In the Biblical account of creation God created the world and called it “good” not evil. God in His Plan used time and matter to reveal His Plan of Salvation for mankind. Contrary to gnostic belief, salvation does not take place by a supernatural spiritual sphere disconnected from mankind’s history. 
  8. Anti-Semitic - This may be surprising to the reader but gnosticism had an aversion to Judaic beliefs and traditions. This is because of the emphasis that the Hebrews had on blood sacrifices as a type of the incarnation of God in the form of "sinful flesh”. This flew in the face of gnostics who believed that salvation was through a (bloodless) descent into self and individual discovery - a self saving philosophy. The gnostics especially hated the discussion of a bloody violent death of The Savior of mankind. This produced a teaching that emerged in the 2nd century AD that viewed the Old Testament as to be rejected and unspiritual, not necessary for the gnostic believer. It was rejected based on the perception that God was an angry judge who created the world and placed pure spirit beings into physical bodies to be trapped. This teaching by Marcion held that the Old Testament was irrelevant but that the New Testament was opposite in that the Creator of the Old Testament was now a God of Love and a Redeemer. This was the Savior the Jews crucified and killed thus the anti-semetic views today of gnostics. 
  9. Anti-Male - Feminist by nature - gnosticism has two columns that everything is categories in due to its dualistic nature - “good” and “bad”. Because of the aversion of the gnostics to the God the Father figure of the Bible - and His wrathful anger, the male profile is in the “bad” column. Gnostics exalted the “divine feminine”. Femininity was characterized as “loving”, “nurturing”, “freedom”, “affirmation” & “intellectually developed” over men. The Greeks word for wisdom was in the feminine - “Sophia” therefore “Sophia” the goddess of wisdom became “God” for many Greek gnostics. Because of the primarily patriarchal and authoritarian characteristics of Christianity, gnostics placed the gender of God as not male, and maybe not even female but genderless “androgynous” or sexless so that the spirit of God would be free from the imprisonment of the male dominating gender that limited the free spirit. 
  10. Anti-Intellectual - Gnostics preferred a “heart knowledge” over “head-knowledge” - this was a dichotic definition that Christianity never had of knowledge. That being in the Bible the definition was the mind had a spirit and the heart of a man was not serrate from his mind. Thus gnostic knowledge and intellectualism was not intellectual as we would perceive to day but rather it was described as a heart felt knowledge aware of itself and it’s own desires eliminating any external objective knowledge. 

The Gnostic Savior - Satan in the Garden of Eden, there to set mankind free from the imprisioned bodies into redemption via an experience of self - wisdom and pleasing to the eye.

[Stay tuned for part two coming soon....]

The Pattern Among Fallen Pastors

I recently read this article by Garrett Kell and thought it worthy to repost here on my blog.

During my time in seminary I took a leadership course taught by the late, great Howard Hendricks. As we studied the life of David, Hendricks shared a study he conducted with a group of men in full-time ministry who had fallen into a morally disqualifying sin.
At the time, I had only been a Christian for a few years, but unfortunately the subject was all too relevant. During my early days I had witnessed several men whom I loved and respected fall into serious sinful compromise. At one point in those days, the falls came so frequently I felt as if I was on the spiritual beach of Normandy watching buddies’ lives get blown apart all around me.

Fallen Soldiers of Christ

The study examined 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure within a two-year period. As far as Hendricks could discern, these full-time clergy were born-again followers of Jesus. Though they shared a common salvation, these men also shared a common feat of devastation; they had all, within 24 months of each other, been involved in an adulterous relationship.
After interviewing each man, Hendricks compiled four common characteristics of their lives: 
  • None of the men was involved in any kind of real personal accountability. 
  • Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship.
  • More than 80 percent of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.
  • Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”
As I reflect on this study, four lessons come to mind. These are applicable for pastors, plumbers, stay-at-home moms, and anyone else who seeks to follow Christ.
1. Sin thrives in isolation.
Satan lives in the darkness and longs to keep us there. Lies live best in the darkness. That’s why when God calls us to himself, he calls us into the church.
God has created the church to be many things, including a community of people who help each other fight sin and love him. He calls us into relationships where we speak truth to one another (Eph. 4:1525), confess sins to one another (James 5:16), and love each other enough to chase after each other if we stray (Matt. 18:10-20Gal. 6:1-2James 5:19-20).
Who knows you? I mean, who really knows you? Who not only has permission, but is currently acting upon that permission to ask you penetrating questions? Are you answering those questions honestly, or are you hiding details and painting over your sin to guard your image? Do not hide from God’s gracious aid of loving relationships.
2. If you flirt with sin, you will fall into sin.
Sin’s slope is slippery. The longer you walk along the edge of the abyss, the more likely that your foot will slip. The men in the study put themselves in dangerous situations again and again. They ignored the words of Solomon, who warned his sons to “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8).
These men did not guard their hearts, or the hearts of the people they were supposed to be protecting. Instead, they became blinded by the deceitfulness of sin (Eph. 4:22Heb. 3:13) and were led into the ditch of destruction (Matt. 15:14).
What ways are you flirting with sin? What provisions are you making for the flesh with regard to lust (Rom. 13:14)? What guards have you stepped over? What details are you hiding? What e-mails are you deleting? What search histories are you erasing?
Sin is crouching at your door (Gen. 4:7), and the tempter is looking for an opportunity to pounce (1 Pet. 5:8). How are you making his aim easier?
Flee from sin, don’t flirt with it (Gen. 39:6-12Prov. 5-7, Rom. 6:12-132 Tim. 2:221 Pet. 2:11).
3. Pride blinds us to our weakness.
Many of us think this sort of serious sin would not happen to us, just as those fallen pastors thought. But 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Let us not forget that Samson, the strongest man in the Bible; Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible; and David, the man after God’s own heart, were all overcome by the temptations of sexual sin (Judg. 14-16; 1 Kings 11:1-82 Sam. 11-12Ps. 51). No one is above the temptation to sin in grievous ways. If you doubt, you are on your way to a great fall.
Beware! Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
4. Purity is cultivated by loving Jesus.
Somewhere along the line, each of the men in the study began to drift. Prayers became less passionate. The promises of God in his Word grew dusty. Love for Jesus became something spoken of in the past tense. The seduction of sin and enticement to sacrifice all to satisfy inner longings became too strong to resist.
But Christ is stronger. Hear these words of promise afresh:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14–16)
There is no sweeter assurance of help than Christ Jesus the Lord. He stands ready at God’s right hand to supply the grace and mercy we need.
Do not allow your hearts to grow cold toward the Lord who loves you so. Draw near to him daily, moment by moment, in hopeful expectation that he is better than any fleeting pleasure that might entice your heart. Do not seek him only in days of desperation, but seek him daily. Walk with him. Rekindle passion. Plead with him to help you. He is able to do it, and he delights to do it: 
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)
Come Lord Jesus, come.

True Transformation

The fallen religious flesh in every man desires transformation, even if the desire is sourced from the depths of it’s own despair and dissatisfaction. This transformation may take on many different forms in a myriad of ways. But true transformation’s catalyst is not human will or religious fervor - it is an act of Spirit & Word of Grace.

Transformation begins with the spirit of the mind being renewed - Eph 4.23. That prompts us to present our selves as a living sacrifice to God being transformed via the agency of spiritual mind renewal - Rom 12.2. When we are transformed we begin to prove or manifest the will of God which is quite invisible to the world, the flesh and the atmosphere. 

Transformation takes place at the Cross, a daily Cross we take up where we surrender all our issues, hurts, opinions, juxtapositioning, and self-righteousness at the foot of that Old Rugged Cross. There we exchange our self life with Christ’s life and we experience a quickening spiritually and deliverance from the chains of sin and our fallen nature. In this transformation the righteousness of God is revealed from as we progressively trust Him in His Plan from faith to faith - Rom 1.17. We then are co-conformed to the image of his Son by the action of the Cross that we take up - Rom 8.29

It is crucial we understand that transformation is an act of the Word of the Cross. Because the fallen flesh in all of us desires change and to be God-like but with the exception of a Cross. The flesh has an aversion to the Cross. Lucifer desired transformation and God-likeness but without denying his angelic self-determination. He desired to “ascend the sides of the north” to be “like the Most High”. Yet his transformation was not through the catalyst of losing his own will but through his own self-determination. This led to deception and to his downfall - Is 14.14

Satan has transformed himself into an angel of light - 2 Cor 11.14. He has done so without a cross and this is the spirit of anti-chirst because it it denies the purpose and mission of Christ coming in the flesh - 1 Jn 4.1,3. Satan has his ministers of “righteousness” today in the world system who have transformed themselves into ministers of righteousness without the agency of the co-crucifixion with Christ - 2 Cor 11.15. These ministers do things in the name of Christ, they perform miracles, lead many people into deception and they themselves are slaves in bondage with no true freedom. They have an appearance of God-likeness yet deny the power of Christ - 2 Tim 3.5. In the end they will be rejected by Christ as He will say - "depart from me I never knew you” - Mat 25.41. Why? Because they refused the transformation power of the Cross of Calvary and mind renewal. They were disqualified due to the self-determination of the flesh - the flesh has one agenda, self preservation and self-exaltation and that is in direct opposition to God’s beneficial authority in this world. 

God’s transformational power is real. It is changing peoples lives today. Our ultimate purpose in this life is to be conformed (co-transformation in the Greek) into the the image of Jesus Christ. This is critical as we live in a evil world that desperately needs to see Christ and His transformational grace, love and truth.