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Gnosticism Alive and Well Today

By David A. DePra

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God: he that knows God hears us; he that is not of God hears not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1-6)

This warning by the apostle John speaks directly to the relationship of Jesus Christ to flesh and blood.  It speaks to the fact that HE became a flesh and blood human being, but it also speaks to the fact the since the ascension, Jesus continues to come and indwell flesh and blood human beings.  This relationship between Christ and flesh and blood is so vital, and so important, that John states that on that issue alone we are able to, "test the spirits," to see whether they are of God.

It is not hard to see why this issue is so important.  Christianity is CHRIST IN US.  And all Christian teaching, fellowship, and ministry, is to be an edification of Christ in us, or the outcome of Christ in us.  Thus, once we misrepresent Christ in us -- misrepresent the fact, the means, and the results of Christ in us -- we are misrepresenting Christianity itself.

This is, in essence, what John is saying.  He is saying, "Any spirit which denies that Jesus is come in the flesh cannot be of God."  Thus, any teaching, doctrine, person, or spirit, which is a misrepresentation of what it means for Christ to come and dwell in flesh and blood human beings, is not of God.  It is, in fact, of the antichrist.

It may seem as if such warnings could not possibly have application for us today.  But this warning of John has a greater application today than ever.  If there is one thing that has been distorted for the last two-thousand years, it is the reality of Christ in us.  

Gnosticism

In first century, there was a pagan, Greek philosophy and religion which we have come to call, "Gnosticism."  John doesn't call it that in this passage, because it wasn't called that back then.  But the heresy of GNOSTICISM is essentially what John is warning against.

The Gnostics believed that the entire physical or material world was evil. This included the physical makeup of human beings that too, was evil. Consequently, the god of Gnosticism would have nothing to do with the material world.

Here we see the reason for the warning of John.  Gnostic philosophy could not accept the notion that God would become man.  Indeed, that is about the LAST thing the Gnostic god would do.  Gnostics would absolutely deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.  But that is not where the problem ends.  It is only where it begins.  For if God could have nothing to do with the flesh and blood world, He certainly could not come to indwell flesh and blood human beings.  Thus, Gnosticism was a denial of the very definition of Christianity:  Christ in us.

Of course, pagan Gnosticism was not Christianity -- not even close.  But Christianity arose in a culture influenced by Gnosticism, and so it wasn't before long that Gnostic philosophy began invading the church.  People began to take the gospel of Jesus Christ and apply Gnostic philosophy to it.  Or, to turn it around, Christians began to buy into what amounted to Gnostic teaching, but packaged with Christian terms.  Thus, the Jesus who emerged from this error was not God become man.  Rather, He was God who just appeared to BE a man.  

A Jesus who did not come in the flesh, but just appeared to be a man, could not BEAR the sin of the world.  He could not really die and be raised.  But just as important would be the ramifications of those facts.  If Jesus did not bear our sin, then we are still in sin -- still in Adam.  Thus, all of our Christianity must be adjusted to account for that.  And if Jesus did not come in the flesh -- because God would never have anything to do with flesh and blood -- then most certainly, Jesus does not come in INDWELL US.  So again, the very definition of Christianity is skewed and misrepresented.  And you would have to come up with alternatives for Christian living, victory over sin, and the means of our salvation, which could fit into the foundation you have built upon Gnosticism.

So when we read John's warning, we need to see that he is not merely warning Christians about a wrong doctrine.  He is warning them about a false Christianity, based on another Jesus.  He is warning them about any revelation that suggests that Jesus Christ did not come as a man -- and furthermore -- he is warning them about any revelation that skews the meaning of this for US.  

We MUST see this.  If we don't, we will never grasp the meaning of John's warning.  The foundation of Christianity is Jesus Christ come in the flesh -- God becoming man and doing a redemptive work.  But the impact of this upon us is CHRIST come in us -- Christ in us, the hope of glory.  Thus, what Jesus Christ personally did as a finished work, and then what that finished work means for us, are both embodied in what the Holy Spirit will teach:  The Holy Spirit will always confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh -- His flesh then, and indwell our body now.

Now, if all you think that is at issue here is a doctrine, you may not think this is any big deal.  But there is more than a doctrine at issue.  At stake here is the Truth and reality of Jesus Christ in us.  The work of the Holy Spirit in this age is ALWAYS Christ in us.  The work of the enemy is to deny this, hinder it, misrepresent what it means, and to lead Christians away from it.

The enemy is always going to attack the reality of Christ in us.  He is always going to redefine it, misrepresent it, or substitute for it.  In the first century, he used Gnosticism.  Today, he continues his work through other means.

False Christianity 

 The apostle John was not worried about Christians abandoning Jesus Christ and becoming Gnostics.  Rather, he was worried about Jesus Christ being presented in Gnostic terms.

For example, when Gnosticism began to influence the church, the false teachers did not say, "Jesus is not God.  He is not your Savior."  No.  In fact, they proclaimed Jesus as Savior.  But then they completely REDEFINED what that means.  They said,  "Jesus is Savior, but He never really became a man.  He just looked like one."  And then they would add, "Therefore, Christ in not in you."  

Now, that was bad enough.  But it was not the whole ugly picture.  For once you begin to state such errors, you must explain how you are saved.  You must adjust all of your Christian teaching to fit a faulty foundation.  I mean, if Christianity is not CHRIST IN US, then what is it?  

 This presented a problem. Gnostic teaching had to maintain Christ as Savior to deceive people.  So what could the enemy offer as a substitute for Christ in us, the hope of glory?

We find the answer once we look at the term, "Gnosticism."  It represents what is admittedly a very complicated system, with many versions and shades of philosophical belief.  But the term, "Gnosticism," gives away the fundamental idea. "Gnosticism," comes from the Greek word, "gnosis," which means, "knowledge," or, "knowing."  Gnosticism is therefore a religion based on KNOWLEDGE.  In Christianity, it became "salvation through knowledge," -- i.e., faith in my factual knowledge about Jesus Christ.

Here we see the key.  Christianity is CHRIST IN US.  But Gnosticism is intellectual knowledge in us -- our knowledge about Christ that we have generated from ourselves.  While Christianity was a revelation of Jesus Christ that is given into us in the form of a Person -- coming to us from outside -- Gnosticism is a knowledge mustered up from myself, coming from within, and is not the indwelling of an actual person.  It is simply me thinking I know facts, doctrines, and teachings ABOUT a person.  And of course, in this case, what I think I know is error.

This is actually an incredibly SUBTLE deception.  Of course!  It would have to be extremely subtle to infiltrate the first century church.  It would have to be error that uses Christian terms, and which offers a substitute for CHRIST IN US that seems to be right.  Otherwise, it would not work as a tool in the hands of the enemy.

So it is.  Today the same error of Gnosticism is alive and well.  Gnosticism is faith in my knowledge -- faith in my knowledge ABOUT Jesus Christ, rather than faith in Christ Himself.  When I walk in this error, my focus is not on my relationship with the indwelling Christ, it is rather upon doctrines about Him.  Christianity is no longer about the indwelling of a Person -- Christianity is no longer, "Christ in us."  Rather, Christianity becomes an indwelling of facts and doctrines ABOUT Christ.  

There are thousands of people in churches today who believe facts about Jesus, but who have no knowledge of the Person -- no experience of the living Christ within them.  Their faith is in those facts -- they mistake doctrines about the Person for the actual indwelling OF that Person.  This is Gnosticism.  Christianity is NOT faith in the facts about Jesus -- although we need those facts, and need to believe those facts!  But Christianity is CHRIST IN US.  The ploy of the enemy is to blur the line between the two.

Christian Gnosticism

The enemy of our souls is not concerned about using the right terms.  He is satisfied that we buy into whatever hinders our faith, and whatever keeps us from the Truth.  Therefore, you will never meet anyone who is a Christian deceived by Gnosticism who says, "Jesus has not come in the flesh."  No.  But what does happen is that all the while we proclaim that Jesus did become a man, and all the while we shout that Jesus does indwell us, we are blinded to what that really MEANS.  We are blinded to the impact of Christ in us.  Thus, in the end, it won't help us if we believe the doctrine of Christ in us.  What does matter is whether Christ IS in us, and whether we are living in all that his MEANS in the plan and purpose of God.

We have already mentioned one way in which you and I could deny that Jesus is come in the flesh.  We could substitute for CHRIST IN US with knowledge about Christ.  We could live lives completely focused on teachings, doctrines, theology, academics, and credentials, instead of upon resurrection life.

  This is done all the time.  One example:  Today, ministry is not the life of Christ in a person, flowing through them -- ministry is not Jesus come in the flesh as a witness and minister to others.  Rather, ministry is the product of education at a seminary.  Few churches seem to realize that the most important credential for ministry is the spiritual impact that a pastor has on a congregation.  Is Christ in him, ministering through him, reproducing and multiplying the life of Christ in others?  Instead, the goal is to find a pastor who has credentials, who can grow a church, and keep everyone happy.  This may not seem like Gnosticism, but it is, indirectly, a denial of CHRIST IN US.  It is a substitute FOR CHRIST with other issues.

Another way to deny that Jesus is come in the flesh is to neglect the centrality and power of the Cross.  Paul writes in Romans, "If Christ be in you, you body is dead because of sin, but your spirit is alive because of righteousness." The point is, if Christ is in us, we are under the power of the Cross. The work of the Cross will put to death all that is of the old order, so that the life of Christ may be made manifest through us. Well, I could loudly proclaim that Christ is in me, yet so redefine what that means so as to make the work of the Cross unnecessary. This is done all the time by Christians.

Once I deny the necessity of the work of the Cross in the life of the believer, I am really denying the ramifications of CHRIST IN US for the work of the Cross is the result of Christ in us. Thus, if I fashion my Christian teaching to sidestep this work of the Cross, and offer Christians a shortcut to resurrection life WITHOUT this death, then I am denying Christ in us. I may not think so. I may preach Christ in us.  But what good is it if I teach that Christ is in us, if I deny everything it MEANS? Or distort what it means?

Another form of Gnosticism is the gospel of self-esteem.  This false teaching suggests that Christ has come to make you a better person. The gospel of self-esteem suggests that when the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us, that He simply ENHANCES US, and affirms us, and begins to turn us into something wonderful.  Lost is the Truth that the only thing good about any of us, in the end, is going to be Christ in us.  Thus, rather than enhance or affirm us, Christ in us will result in US being set completely aside.

It is amazing that people cannot see that once we realize Jesus is come in our flesh, and indwells us, that the impact is going to be drastic.  Everything about us that is not in harmony with Christ in us must either be adjusted or be crucified.  Christ in us is going to do a work in us that will clash with everything about our self-interest and  temporal goals.  Thus, the gospel of self-esteem is a denial of the Truth that Jesus is come in the flesh what that really MEANS -- and I don't care whether the right words are used or not.

Can we see that if we deny what Christ in us MEANS, and if we deny the impact and ramifications of Christ in us, that we are turning the Truth of Christ in us into error? -- into something less?  Sure.  We are actually saying that Jesus is not come in the flesh -- that is, His life in us is something other than what it really is.

I heard Kenneth Copeland the other day on television saying that because Jesus Christ is in us, we are heirs to everything that Jesus will inherit. He was RIGHT on that point. But then he went on to turn this Truth into a big error. He said that Christ in us gives us the right to lay claim to wealth, and really to everything Christ can lay claim to.

  Can we see the problem here? The man is using the FACT that Christ is in us as license to get from God want he wants. The Truth is, if Christ is in us, then BY DEFINITION this means we are not our own, but bought with a price. It means, BY DEFINITION, that Jesus Christ is OUR PERSONAL LORD and that the only right we have is to give up our rights to Him. In other words, we must submit ourselves to the Cross.

Notice what the Bible says:

The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Rom 8:16-17)

Salvation is one thing. Inheritance is another. You and I, if Christ is in us, have all the potential to inherit everything God gave Christ. But only as we enter into His will, and come under His Lordship, shall we have any capacity as to how to live in that inheritance. But hey, it is always easier to quote only the first half of a verse.

As is the case with so many today, Copeland took a Truth of the Bible Christ in us and unwittingly turned it into Gnosticism. He preached CHRIST IN US but made it mean something that actually denies everything Christ in us means: The work of the Cross, the fellowship of His sufferings, and the power of His resurrection.

What we say CHRIST IN US means is either an affirmation that Jesus is come in the flesh, or a denial of that Truth.  Anyone can make the statement, "Jesus is come in the flesh."  Anyone can say, "Jesus is Lord."  But what do we MEAN by that?  What we mean is really the essence of what we are teaching.

When John says, "Every spirit that confesses that Jesus is come in the flesh is of God," he is addressing more than just the words.  He is talking about the entire revelation and picture that is being taught.  Any spirit that is of God is going to rightly represent the relationship that Jesus Christ has with flesh and blood.  The Truth will always rightly represent Christianity as CHRIST IN US, and everything this means.

If there is one thing the enemy wants to do, it is to distort the reality of CHRIST IN US. For within the reality of that one Truth and what it means for flesh and blood human beings is the purpose of God in His people. This is precisely what John is able to say that it is the very spirit of anti-Christ that would confess, in one way or another, that, "Jesus is not come in the flesh."

Life Within Us

John the apostle continually harped on the reality of Christ in us. He did this because the church of the latter first century had begun to stray from CHRIST WITHIN over to intellectual teachings and philosophy ABOUT Christ. Teachings are necessary, if they are Biblical.  But not as a substitute for the life within but rather as an explanation of it.

John, in fact, ends his epistle by telling us that the very evidence of Christianity is NOT a theological argument, or secret knowledge, or the philosophy of man. The evidence is CHRIST IN US.

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:9-13)

Christianity will evermore be CHRIST IN US. Christian doctrine will point us to Him as our life, and teach us how to live with Him. God would have us beware of any teaching that waters down this Truth and suggests that Jesus is anywhere else other than in our very beings by His Holy Spirit and which diminishes the ramifications of the life of Christ in us.

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