Getting confused about Legalism and Gnoticism


#1

The Bible says it is dangerous to be too much into legalism. Because Chrisitians are saved by Faith and not by the law. But then there is the belief that allowing Gnoticism (telling Christians they have a "license to sin) is also dangerous. So being too perfectionistic about sin is wrong; being at the point where you don't care about the law or Christ's teachings is also wrong. What is the right way to live? What is the right balance of living righteously without being obsessive to the point of being legalistic?


#2

I cannot address your question fully, but I want to point out that gnosticism is not exactly as you imagine it.

Gnosis is knowledge. Very early in Christian history the term gnostic could apply to some otherwise very orthodox persons, but essentially in the sense that they were 'well catechized' and 'knowledgable' about things of the faith. Many CAF regulars would probably fall into that category today, I think some have a very sophisticated knowledge of the Christian faith.

The error we think of as gnosticism is very broad-based and variable, essentially that one can be saved by 'special knowledge'. In other words, according to gnostics it might be said that it is what one knows (or believes) more than how one behaves and decides that ultimately saves a person.

Of course, there is a lot more to it than that, but each gnostic teacher would build upon the ideas of one or more predecessors, developing and elaborating on the teachings. So it had a tendency to morph. This is a lot like philosophy, which is elaborated with new thought from one teacher or another. One can study under different teachers and form one's own opinion.

It is true that some gnostics did believe that what one did with his body was not ultimately important, because they saw the body as a trap for the soul, and basically evil. I think that led some people to become promiscuous.

There was a common tendency to believe that some (but not all) humans had a 'divine spark' inside of them, which was trapped in the mud so to say, and had to be released to be saved. If someone possessed this divine element a way could be found (with the right teacher) to release it and one could 'return' to become a part of God once again. I think this has Platonic elements to it.

Gnostic heretics tended to have ideas which could not be traced back to the Apostles and were very limited in distribution. Some thought that there were special trials one had to go through after death, but if the right things were said, one could get past them.

Another thing was that some factions tended to have multiple lessor gods and demi-gods. Some believed that the Old Testament god Jahweh was actually an evil god who made an evil world, and that Christ came from a hidden 'good god' to save us from his evil world with these special hints and clues to salvation, passed on to a select few.

This brief explanation does not do justice to the subject, I think it can be seen that the whole idea of what gnostics believed cannot be generalized in a simple few lines.


#3

God gave laws for us to live by, its when we live by those laws to earn merit then it becomes legalism. So the laws of God should be a way of life for those of us in Christ, not something we do to earn merit, since we are saved by grace through faith. I'm sure the other members here have different views or more learned Catholic views or are more Catholic than me.;)


#4

Thanks for telling me more about Gnoticism. I think I misunderstood it qute a bit. I didn't realize that there was "a magical" quality about that belief as well. Makes sense why we need to avoid it.


#5

[quote="Jesusismyfriend, post:4, topic:282141"]
Thanks for telling me more about Gnoticism. I think I misunderstood it qute a bit. I didn't realize that there was "a magical" quality about that belief as well. Makes sense why we need to avoid it.

[/quote]

The term you're looking for is "antinomianism".


#6

I am not sure. I think I had the word right. It was relating to a person being saved by mere knowledge, and the belief was that you had a bad body an a perfect spirit, so you could more or less do whatever you want.
The reason I brought it up was because I was wondering if forms of it still exist today. Some churches I've been to tell you about coming to the "saving knowledge" of Christ. This confuses me. Is what they are talking about just a knowledge or a real belief? Is this a form of Gnoticism or true Christianity? And is being too legalistic (which would be more the opposite of Gnoticism; merely following rules without salvation, believing salvation comes through just works; not faith) dangerous as well? How can you avoid this? A lot of people have accepted Christ genuinely but get stuck on the "rules" more than God. This seems bad to me, but what can one do to not fall into either lie?


#7

[quote="Jesusismyfriend, post:6, topic:282141"]
I am not sure. I think I had the word right. It was relating to a person being saved by mere knowledge, and the belief was that you had a bad body an a perfect spirit, so you could more or less do whatever you want.
The reason I brought it up was because I was wondering if forms of it still exist today. Some churches I've been to tell you about coming to the "saving knowledge" of Christ. This confuses me. Is what they are talking about just a knowledge or a real belief? Is this a form of Gnoticism or true Christianity?

[/quote]

Ahh, I see what you're saying.

What made me believe you were thinking of antinomianism (i.e., the doctrine that true faith matters to the point of rendering good works unnecessary) was this part of your first post: "But then there is the belief that allowing Gnoticism (telling Christians they have a "license to sin) is also dangerous. So... being at the point where you don't care about the law or Christ's teachings is... wrong."

And there's a book I've read about--by Philip J. Lee, a Presbyterian pastor--entitled "Against the Protestant Gnostics"--published quite a while ago, in 1993. As I understand it, Lee argues that swathes of modern-day North American evangelicalism have degenerated into Gnostickized Christianity. If/when I get to read the work, I shall pass along any "special knowledge" he provides ;)

And is being too legalistic (which would be more the opposite of Gnoticism; merely following rules without salvation, believing salvation comes through just works; not faith) dangerous as well?

Yes. Psychologically and spiritually. Look up the term scrupulosity.

How can you avoid this? A lot of people have accepted Christ genuinely but get stuck on the "rules" more than God.

I hope other posters can jump in to address this issue.


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