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Christianity vs. Gnosticism
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. (I John 4:1-3)
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27)
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you. (Gal. 4:19)
A number of the epistles in the NT were written to combat legalism, or in the case of John’s writings, Gnosticism. But God doesn’t waste space. Gnosticism was nothing more than the first century manifestation of the spirit of antichrist. That same spirit of antichrist is being manifested today under other names and forms. Yet the underlying error – the underlying denial of Jesus Christ – is exactly the same. This is why it is important for us to understand the heresy of Gnosticism. Doing so will expose how the enemy seeks to blind people to the reality Jesus Christ who dwells in us, in favor of a substitute.
Now, before proceeding, we need to grasp that last statement: The enemy seeks to blind people to the reality of Christianity, which is CHRIST IN US, the hope of glory. (Col. 1:27) This has always been the goal of Satan – John warns, “Any spirit which does not confess Jesus having come in the flesh – i.e., Christ in us – is not of God, but this is the spirit of antichrist.” Note that John does not mention any particular error. He simply says that any Spirit that does not confess – meaning reveal to us or do the work in us – of Jesus having come in the flesh, is not of God. In other words, regardless of HOW we are blinded to the reality of Christ, the fact that we are blinded is evidence of the work of the enemy. The Spirit of God will always reveal Christ, form Christ in us, and edify us in Christ. Where that is NOT happening, the spirit of antichrist is at work.
The Bible states that Satan often comes as an angel, or messenger, of LIGHT. Light illuminates, or seems to bring clarity. Light will seem to provide ANSWERS – and often when Satan is at work among Christian people, those answers will appear to provide LIGHT FROM GOD. It is silly to suppose that Satan is going to be able to deceive anyone by exposing himself for who he is. No. Satan will appear as an messenger or conveyance of LIGHT – masquerade as the Spirit of God, or even as another Jesus.
Now, you will note that an angel of light is, in fact, a substitute for the real. And once the substitute for light and truth is offered and accepted, people will generally stop seeking the real thing. Thus, it is a common ploy for Satan to blind people to Christ BY USING a substitute that appeals to them; makes sense to them; offers them something that they desire.
Think of this in religious terms in a Christian context – rather than in simple material terms. Satan can lead people astray with money and material goods, to be sure. But what Satan really wants to do is offer a Christ, and Christianity, that is error, but that appeals to them. If we do not know Jesus Christ then we will be more likely to accept a Christ that is created in our own image – mirrors our own needs and lusts. This can be in either a positive or negative way. Professing Christians can be led to believe error because they want to get something from God, or because they are afraid of Him. Satan knows how to tailor deception to our internal makeup – to our particular version of the flesh.
But again, the only way in which we will ever be able to discern error is if we know the Truth Himself. ALL discernment is the byproduct of knowing Jesus Christ. Yet if we are blinded to Him, we may be subject to our own bias, fears, hopes, lusts, ambitions, and brain power. Satan will jump on those.
Gnosticism was not an exception, especially in the first century Greek world. The Greeks made supposed wisdom, philosophy, and reasoning central. All of this was, of course, mingled with the occult. They worshipped false gods. And during the first century many of the Greek converts tried to carry over Gnostic teaching into their relationship with Christ.
The Gnostics believed that each person through natural birth had a spark of light and life in them. Thus, to them, salvation was a matter of coming into the knowledge of this inward capacity. Thus, we have the term, “Gnostic,” or, “knowledge.” Of course, in the NT, we find a, “Christianized,” version of Gnosticism that had invaded the church, and against which John and Paul write.
This teaching of Gnosticism, that man has within himself, the essentials for salvation, is a denial of Jesus Christ – it is a denial of the very definition of Christianity. Christianity, at the core, is, “Christ in you.” (Col. 1:27) John states the same Truth in his first epistle. He says that the Spirit of God will always confess, “Jesus having come in the flesh” (I John 4:1-4) – i.e., the Spirit of God will always reveal Christ in us. This is exactly the same Truth. But the Gnostic heresy denied this Truth by saying that, no, we do not receive all that God has for man through the indwelling of His Son. Rather, they taught that man already have what he needs for life and light within ourselves through birth into the Adam race. Thus, rather than teach that Christ IS our life, and that Christ IS our light, the Gnostics would say that Jesus merely came to bring out those capacities that are already within us. And as we came into the knowledge and experience of these inbred capacities, we come into salvation.
The bottom line on Gnosticism – the form that corrupted the Christian church -- is that there is something within the Adam race upon which Jesus Christ came to build; that Jesus merely came to bring out capacities already in us. The application could be to salvation, or really, on any level.
So note the contrast: Gnosticism taught that Jesus came to bring out a life that is already in me. Christianity teaches that Christ comes from the outside of me into me -- and becomes my life.
Is Jesus Christ my life? My source for all things? Or does God want to find something in ME? This is the question. Christianity, as corrupted by the Gnostic heresy, is not, “Christ in you,” or, “Jesus having come in the flesh.” No. We don’t receive by grace in Jesus Christ all that God has to give – i.e., the Person of Christ within us is not the SOURCE of all life and light. Rather, under the Gnostic heresy, man himself is the source – oh yes, because, “God put in there,” through natural birth, but nevertheless, man himself already has all that he needs. Again – the Gnostics taught that Christ is not our life, and not our light – rather, the Gnostic Christ is One who came to bring into our knowledge those capacities from out of US.
Once we realize that this was the heresy that had corrupted the Christian church, it becomes clear as to why John continually brings to the fore, not only who Jesus IS, but the fact that Christianity is, “Jesus having come in the flesh.” John records Jesus saying, “I AM…the Life…the Light…the Truth.” He says, “God is light.” In other words, life and light are not already in man. Only if we receive – from the outside of us INTO us from above – the One who IS the Life and who IS the Light, are we born anew. We are utterly barren otherwise. John brings the church back to the PERSON OF JESUS as the embodiment of all that God has to give to His people.
Gnosticism denied the Cross because if the Adam race already has within the necessities for salvation then the Adam race does not have to end at the Cross. We don’t need a new creation in Christ – rather, we need Jesus to simply tap into the latent life and light in us. Neither do we need Jesus Christ to come to dwell in us and to be unto us all that we need – Jesus need only be a facilitator – an luminary who brings us into the knowledge of ourselves. Indeed, Gnosticism denied that God would never dirty Himself by dwelling within a flesh and blood human being – thus, John’s declaration that the Spirit of God will always confess, “Jesus having come in the flesh.”
Now, all of this is quite interesting, and to some, perhaps nothing more than a history lesson. But God did not inspire warnings and teachings against such heresy – knowing that such error would fade away by the end of the apostolic age. The heresies of Satan take on many names and forms throughout the ages, but in the end, the spiritual principles behind them are constant. Satan always seeks to blind people to the reality of, “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” and to offer something else as a substitute for their Christianity. And most often, that something else is man himself. Satan wants to offer a Christianity that is based upon something IN US – Jesus merely facilitating what is in us. In the first century, that heresy was called Gnosticism. Today it is called by other names.
All in Christ
When is the last time you heard a sermon on, “Christ in us, the hope of glory”? When is the last time that you were in a church, or in a group, that focused upon the Person of Jesus Christ – and the forming of Jesus Christ in you? Paul said, “I travail until Christ be formed in you.” (Gal. 4:19) Today we barely talk about this reality. Today the reality of Jesus Christ having come in the flesh – Christ in us – is rarely mentioned, and if it is, it is rarely mentioned as the very core of Christianity. Yet John specifically states that any spirit that does NOT confess this great core Truth is NOT of God. Do we think he meant, “confess it once in awhile as an aside.”? No. He was talking about the confessing it as the overall governing Truth of our life in Christ. The question is whether we believe this and take it seriously.
Paul wrote Colossians in part to combat Gnosticism. In that epistle, especially in chapters 2 and 3, he continually emphasizes that ALL that God has for man is found in Christ, and NOTHING that God has for man if found outside of Him. Paul says, again and again, “In Him…by Him…through Him…because of Him.” He writes this because the error of Gnosticism suggested that there is that spark of light and life in US – meaning that ALL was not in Christ and needed to be received IN HIM. Today many of us continue to accept that lie – maybe not in words, and maybe not in the same form. But if we have built our Christianity in any way upon ourselves we are under this same deception.
How many of us realize that if ALL is in Christ then NOTHING is in us? That we are here talking, not merely about seeing the principle, but of actually coming to where Jesus Christ IS our life? That will cost us OUR life – our natural man. Therefore, rather than build upon US, Jesus came to put us to death IN HIMSELF, that we might be raised with Him in newness of life – meaning raised with Christ as our life. Again, Gnosticism taught that Jesus came to bring out of US the real life that has always been in us. Christianity teaches that we receive Christ from above into us from the outside -- and then once Christ is in us, He is our life.
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