Sunday, May 27, 2007

Are you a modern-day Gnostic? Maybe you know one?

As I was studying 1 John this morning I was recalling the historical context behind John’s writing of this letter. The main issue of the day which he was addressing was Gnosticism: the belief that the spirit is entirely good and the flesh (matter) is entirely evil. One of the results of this heresy is licentiousness. That is, that since the flesh is evil, anything done in the flesh is of no eternal consequence. It is only what we believe in our minds and in the “spirit” that has eternal ramifications. Therefore, the sin of the flesh is not really that bad and isn’t an indication of one’s salvation.

While I am sure the following parallel has already been made, it just jumped out at me and I had to write. I submit that there is a prevalence of Gnosticism today in the modern church and in the emerging church. That is, the belief that the sins we commit in the flesh are not really that considerable and do not significantly negatively impact our relationship with God or our eternity. The thought that while the sins of the flesh are not optimal, they are not eternally momentous, is supported with the idea that what really matters is what we “believe” in our minds and “feel” in our hearts.

What are the signs that the modern church and emerging church embrace aspects of Gnosticism? Principally, many churches teach that salvation is really only about belief (the mind & spirit) and not about our lives in totality (including the actions of the flesh). “It would be nice if your lifestyle changed, but it is not really that important”. Also, many modern churches only teach justification and collapse sanctification into justification, and thus effectively remove a biblical element of our salvation. And finally, many modern churches disregard the predominant teaching of the New Testament that faith is not just in the mind (a thought); rather it is an entire life lived for God which produces “good works”. No, the good works don’t save us. Only Christ saves us. However, the good works are an indication that we have in fact given our lives to Christ and that he truly lives in us. We were created, in Christ, for good works.

While what we believe is very important, what we do is also extremely important (and is actually the truest measure of what we truly believe). For instance, do we repent or do we continue sinning (in the flesh)? John discusses this in chapter 3, verse 6 when he writes that “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” In other words, when you are convicted of sin in your life by the Holy Spirit, you will repent and fight with the power given us by Christ to put this sin to death. You must repent – turn from the old, sinful ways and turn to God. John says that it is like we never knew Jesus as our savior if we continue to sin (or don’t battle/resist it) after we have been convicted of its presence in our lives. What we do in the flesh matters that much. It is an indication of our heart and whether we have ever truly submitted our lives to Christ and actually died to self.

John continues in verse 9 with “No one who is born of God will continue to sin because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because God’s seed remains in him”. Is John talking about immediate sinlessness? I submit that he is talking about a life that is not characterized by sin. He is talking about, in Christ, doing serious battle against sin so that it is no longer a normal aspect of your life. In a nutshell, it is no longer “when” you sin, but “if” you sin. If we are comfortable allowing sin to remain in our lives after being made aware of its presence, then we are basically remaining in the sin rather than remaining in him (Christ).

Gnostics do not think this is possible – put sin to death and repent of sin as it is revealed in our lives. They are forgetting that when we are in Christ it is as though we died with him and were raised with him in newness of life having victory over sin and death. This newness of life starts immediately and the victory over sin is immediately available and should begin to produce results. This is what John is talking about. What we do in the flesh, in and with our bodies, matters. It displays our hearts and is a gauge of whether we have truly submitted to Christ, accepted him as savior, and remain only in him.


Wonders for Oyarsa said...

Another very common gnostic element in modern evangelical Christianity is the focus on "going to Heaven when you die" as the hope of the Christian. People say things like "putting aside this old tent (the body) and leaving this place for good (the world). When someone dies, we say that they've gone home, that all is well with them now.

The traditional Christian vision couldn't be more different. We hope not in some non-physical disembodied heaven, but for the resurrection of our bodies in God's new creation. Whatever happens to the soul after death (something which the Bible says almost nothing about) the biblical vision is one of creation being set right, and the sons of God resurrected from the dead.

I've written a thing or to on this here.

Winnie said...

Thank you for your insight I was studying 2 Peter and I was trying to understand the background in which Peter wrote this letter...Reading about Gnostic I wondered if that wasn't what some churches practiced and this article gave me a better insight! Thank you very much