A Gnostic is one who believes in Gnosticism. Gnosticism is a heretical set of beliefs that arose during the second century and it is based on the concept of achieving secret or mystical knowledge for the purpose of salvation. The term "Gnosticism" comes from the Greek word gnosis, which refers to knowledge or knowing. While the Bible promises salvation by grace through faith for all who place their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord (Ephesians 2:8–9), Gnosticism teaches that salvation is for those who are enlightened and arrived at the proper knowledge of their own spiritual condition, known as gnosis.
Gnosticism completely separates the spiritual and the physical world. Gnostics believe that a perfect God exists exclusively in the spirit realm and is unknowable to us. In contrast, the world and all the matter within it is seen as inherently evil. They believe that a lesser god created the universe and messed it up, which is the reason for all the pain and imperfection in the world. However, this lesser god somehow mixed in a spark of the actual God's spirit when creating mankind. Therefore, human beings are trapped in their bodies but carry the spark (or pneuma) of God within them.
According to The New Bible Dictionary, Gnostics believed that they needed to be enlightened in order to be made aware of their spiritual condition. Many Gnostic systems thought this enlightenment came from a divine figure appearing from the spiritual world in disguise. This divine figure is often thought of as the Christian Jesus, though certainly not an accurate depiction of the true Jesus of the Bible. The Gnostic concept of salvation is being made aware of the existence of his inner God-spark and from that knowledge being able to escape from the material world to the spiritual.
While the biblical Jesus offers salvation freely by grace through faith in Him alone (Acts 4:12), a search for self-redemption is the message of the Gnostic Jesus. It is up to man to find his inner pneuma to be freed of his material body and reach God at the point of death. While Gnostics believed that the heart is pure, this is in direct contradiction to Jeremiah 17:9, which says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" A more modern atheistic view of Gnosticism places man himself as his own deity with a responsibility to help improve the flawed world with his own wisdom. Rather than searching our own hearts, which are sure to deceive, we should search God's Word and seek Him for the wisdom we need, testing the wisdom of self or others against the wisdom within His word so that we can "hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Christianity and Gnosticism are inherently opposed, but if we are not careful, a Gnostic mentality can slip into our Christian thinking (1 Peter 5:8). It is good to pursue goodness, as the Gnostics do, but the difference lies in the motive and purpose behind that pursuit. Gnosticism is man-centered, and even if it claims to seek God, it also claims to not need God's help in order to do this. Gnostics are wise in their own eyes (Isaiah 5:21), but as Christians we are warned against this: "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil" (Proverbs 3:7). Our energy, motivation, and wisdom come from Christ. We are to ask Him for wisdom, realizing that the depths of the wisdom we need cannot be found without Him (Proverbs 1:7; James 1:5).
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