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