Gnosticism Part 2: Asceticism

In Colossians, Paul warned the believers at that little church to beware the philosophies of the day which were encroaching upon them. Though never named, scholars indicate that the philosophy was Gnosticism. Gnosticism itself is an amorphous amalgam of various elements of many false religions, man-made traditions, and human philosophies. John Ritenbaugh in Forerunner Commentary says, "Here is the earliest indication of Gnosticism as a religion—or at least a philosophy, a way of life that eventually became a religion. ... Gnosticism was ascetic and exclusivist, and it relied heavily on magic."

Ritenbaugh meant exclusivist in that Gnostics claimed the way to salvation was delivered exclusively and uniquely to them, that they alone possessed the higher knowledge which would aid them in their paths to attaining heaven.

Ralphie, upon learning the secret knowledge
is just a crummy commercial
Paul spends time reminding the Colossian believers that man's philosophy always has a disappointing end, especially when the message is presented as 'the secret that will finally fulfill you', as Gnostics claim. In part 1, I brought up the movie character in A Christmas Story, Ralphie, and his disappointment in the Little Orphan Annie decoder ring's secret message when he finally deciphered it. "A crummy Ovaltine commercial!" he muttered bitterly. John MacArthur has a more eloquent discussion of the emptiness of man's philosophies:

"Philosophy is empty deceit. It doesn't give you what you expect. The word "deceit" is interesting in the Bible. One of the words that's used in II Peter 2 is "guile" or "deceit". The original meaning of the word is fish hook. And the interesting thing about a fish hook is that it is not what a fish expects. What you see is not what you get in that circumstance. And he's saying that philosophy is the same thing. It's a baited hook. You think it's going to be wonderful ‑‑ it turns out to be deceiving." (source, sermon, Philosophy or Christ?)

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right):
detail from The School of Athens
by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509
Paul said in Colossians 2:8 that they should not be taken captive by 'philosophy and vain deceit'. The same notion is seconded in 2 Timothy 3:6, where weak-willed women laden with sins are taken captive by men who are always learning but never able to come to knowledge of the truth, captive here meaning hooked on a false doctrine and led away to destruction, as a fish taking the bait. Little Ralphie was hooked for sure, eagerly spending time and money to decode the message that he was sure to bring fulfillment/joy/peace/happiness, when at the end he discovered something about man's empty and vain ways.

Secret knowledge is the main component to Gnosticism, but asceticism is also a part of it. Paul referred to the element of Gnostic asceticism in Colossians 2:21-23.

"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

Man tries to attain higher wisdom and a deeper spirituality by doing certain works. Man also tries to attain higher wisdom by refraining from doing certain other things. In other words, abstinence. The works and the refraining of works are all listed out according to man's philosophies, and are therefore not holy nor profitable to the body of believers nor do they glorify the holy name of Jesus, as Paul indicated in verse 23.

Wikipedia defines Asceticism from the Greek: "áskēsis, "exercise" or "training", describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals. Many religious traditions (e.g. Buddhism, Jainism, the Christian desert fathers) include practices that involve restraint with respect to actions of body, speech, and mind. The founders and earliest practitioners of these religions lived extremely austere lifestyles, refraining from sensual pleasures and the accumulation of material wealth. They practiced asceticism not as a rejection of the enjoyment of life, or because the practices themselves are virtuous, but as an aid in the pursuit of salvation or liberation."

Gnostics believed matter was bad, therefore the body was evil and only the spirit was good. They believed in a strict separation of the two. That is why they deny Christ in the flesh, saying that He would never deign to incarnate into a fleshly body. In Gnostic asceticism we see both ends of the spectrum in their treatment of the body. Some Gnostics proposed that severe treatment of the body through rigorous denial of certain things was the way to deal with evil of the flesh. Others said that since flesh was evil but they had already attained the higher knowledge of the spirit, and since the two were separate, they could do anything they wanted in the body. They were libertines.

Wiki also states of Gnosticism: "Evidence in the source texts indicates Gnostic moral behaviour as being generally ascetic in basis, expressed most fluently in their sexual and dietary practice."

This is not to say that abstinence from certain things is bad. This is the evil genius of Gnostic asceticism. Paul warned the single people to abstain from sexual relations and warned the married people to abstain from relations with others not their spouse. (1 Corinthians 7:1-8). Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18 about fasting, stating "when you fast", not 'if' you fast, indicating that the activity is good and profitable, an activity that is welcomed by the Lord.

However, Gnostic ascetics went beyond scripture with their abstinence, and actually used it as a weapon of holiness that positioned themselves above others.

Colossian Christians were affected by an ascetic form of Gnosticism that included "ordinances" (KJV) or "regulations" (NKJV) that are not found in God's Word but were the commandments and doctrines of men (Colossians 2:20-23), as well as demons, the "basic principles of the world." (Colossians 2:8). [source]

CARM says "Asceticism is a lifestyle that denies worldly pleasures in order to gain spiritual benefit. There are different degrees of asceticism from casual to severe."

Jentezen Franklin is a Gnostic Ascetic. He claims to have secret knowledge about fasting that if you perform, you will receive a spiritual benefit, such as "experience spiritual renewal and direction for your life . . . restoration of relationship . . . healing . . . release from bondages . . . and so much more!"

He is what modern Gnostic Asceticism looks like. Mr Franklin made up the Daniel Fast and wrote about fasting in his book "Fasting: Opening the door to a deeper, more intimate, more powerful relationship with God." He said in his book:

"When I feel myself growing dry spiritually, when I don’t sense that cutting-edge anointing, or when I need a fresh encounter with God, fasting is the secret key that unlocks heaven’s door and slams shut the gates of hell. The discipline of fasting releases the anointing, the favor, and the blessing of God in the life of a Christian." [more here]

Franklin's Daniel Fast lists certain ingredients and foods that one may eat or not eat during the 21 days. It is based on the fast that Daniel asked the Babylonian overseer to allow Daniel to undertake, so that he would not defile his body with meats sacrificed to idols and could remain within God's commandments.

If you read part 1, you know that the word "secret' is often thrown around by Gnostics, who, you'll remember, are the only ones in the know. So, according to Franklin, fasting is a secret key? How is that so, when Jesus talked about fasting in his most famous sermon in the entire bible, (Matthew 6) well-known and available for all to see, and the Holy Spirit to inspire understanding of? Or is the information about fasting from a man-made doctrine is what's the secret, a secret that Mr Franklin will now reveal? It is the latter.

Release is also another buzz word. Because Gnostics claim they have the knowledge unto salvation, thus the path to heavenly power is contained within us, so all it takes it this practice, that discipline, that knowledge to release what is already inside us. A Gnostic will tell you how, if you buy their book...  

Manifest is another buzz word. Once the discipline is concluded, the power we release will be made manifest.

However, the truth is we have no power, we are weak. Only God has power. (2 Cor 13:4; 1 Cor 1:25; Eph 3:7). We can do nothing apart from God! (John 15:5)

So let's boil this down into plain language. Say I am a Gnostic seeking after the secrets Mr Franklin writes about. For 21 days I refrain from eating white pasta, potato chips, and hot dogs. According to Mr Franklin, on day 21, I will now have unlocked the heaven's door. Silly, isn't it?! Especially since heaven's door was opened to me the moment I repented and Jesus forgave me! Heaven is not locked to a born again believer! It is that insidious subtlety that pollutes the faith. May the Lord repay Mr Franklin for scaring the brethren like that! (2 Timothy 4:14, Hebrews 10:30).

So of course nothing man can do will unleash the power of heaven, but if you were hooked into the Daniel Fast or another kind of Gnostic, ascetic practice and your "power" was not "released" nor made "manifest," maybe you wondered if you had done it wrong. Maybe you were jealous of all the other, more successful people who claimed to have grown close to God. Maybe you just felt left out, and wondered how or what you could have done to 'ascend' on the higher, holier paths that others seemed to have attained. That's Gnosticism's subtlety in using ascetic practices as a weapon, and that is why it is wrong. For Paul wrote-

"The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him." (Romans 14:3)

Lest you think I took a tiny portion of his man-made ascetic fasting discipline out of context, let's look at some more. On Rick Warren's ministry page, Mr Franklin is speaking of the Daniel Fast again. He discussed reasons for starting this fast. He said that it is good to begin it in January, "after overeating at holiday season, after Christmas, people are looking for more discipline in their life." Franklin says that Jesus said seek the kingdom first, and this means the first of the year. He said starting the fast at "the beginning of January is good, after getting through all the ball games and the parties." But Paul said in Colossians 2:16

"Let no man disturb you about food or about drink or in the distinctions of feasts and beginnings of months and Sabbaths,"

And Paul said as far as indulgence goes, (or holiday over-indulgence) in Colossians 2:23, "These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." In other words, will an ascetic fast stop you from overindulging at 4th of July? Or a family reunion? Or the Next Christmas? No? So does that mean the power of heaven was not released through your practice nor made manifest in the world? Did God fail? Or did you? How defeating it is to be on that hamster wheel!

Daniel Grabbe wrote, "This third [Gnostic] heresy is easily seen in the antinomianism (literally, "against law") of the Gnostics, who may not have been against every law, but were certainly against any law—any standard of conduct or requirement of righteousness—that impinged upon their standard of conduct. Thus the ascetic Gnostics who grieved the Christians in Colossae held to manmade regulations of "do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" (Colossians 2:20-21), while rejecting the command to "rejoice" with food and drink during the God-ordained festivals."

Look how big this church is.
They must have done the Daniel Fast!

Mr Franklin further stated, when his church does the Daniel Fast in January, "the church explodes numerically. Numbers go straight up through the roof. ... Every year we've done this our church has grown and grown and grown, and we do it corporately."

In attempting to meld man-made ascetic practices with holiness, Mr Franklin uses numbers to try and cement the success of his Daniel Plan. But Paul said in Colossians 18 and 19 in part:

"Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism ... and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God." In other words, a private, individual, Holy Spirit inspired growth of a person who then increases in fruits for the benefit of the body. Everyone wants to seem holy by doing a fast or completing some such ascetic dicipline, but that does not mean the church is growing disciple by disciple. It likely means the opposite.

Mr Franklin even goes so far as to say if you read his plan of asceticism contained in the Fasting book "I believe [you will] even hear the voice of God speaking through the words to you in a personal way..."

But the writer of Hebrews 1:1-2 said, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe."

Mr Franklin is really saying that 'In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us through me, in my fasting book.'

Live a crucified life, but not an ascetic one. Brothers and sisters, fast as the Holy Spirit prompts you for the purpose of glorifying God, not as an antidote to holiday overindulgence, church growth or releasing personal power. Develop abstinence in the various things according to the bible's outlines, not according to people who make up lists of approved foods and then claim if you adhere to them you will unlock heaven! Denial of the flesh is good, because in the flesh is sin, (Galatians 5:24; Romans 8:13-14) but not according to man-made philosophies, but only according to the Spirit.

Paul said to the Colossians, "For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." (Colossians 1:9)

Note: In listing the buzzwords, understand that the words themselves are neutral. It is only using them in context of a Gnostic sermon or ascetic practice that one should have their antenna raised and investigate further, using the bible as your barometer. For example, fasting to commit something to God is good. Fasting to get a blessing or release power is bad.

Ascetic Buzzwords: release, power, seed, spiritual formation, fasting, consciousness, transformation, spiritual therapy

Note: as above.

Ascetic Practices: yoga, contemplative meditation or centering prayer, labyrinth walking, fasting, Lectio Divina
Gnosticism series:

Part 1: Secret Knowledge
Part 2: Asceticism
Part 3: Depreciation of Jesus
Part 4: Ceremonies & Rituals
Part 5: Worship of Angels
Part 6: Human Traditions 


  1. Fasting to get a blessing or release power is bad.

    I'm confused by the above statement in Part 2 of the Gnostics series. Matt. 17 v 20,21 explains how Jesus's disciples questioned why they were not able to cast the demon out of the boy and He replied that it requires prayer and fasting. It appears prayer, fasting, and faith are all tightly woven and needed in order to increase our alignment with God's will and I would further surmise that if we are not aligned with God's will we should not expect our prayers/fasts to be answered. So I would say we should all consider our personal motives before fasting. In other words if we're fasting for the sole purpose of personal (material) gain then you may be fasting for a while with no progress. Now I'm confused because In my current line of thinking If I was looking to, for example be set free from some form of fleshly bondage (Let's say bouts of frequent anger) I would look to prayer and fasting in order to help me accomplish that. Isn't fasting a method of decreasing self in order for Christ to increase? Matt 6:16-18 tells us how to fast and speaks of a reward....the reward for me and the purpose of a fast would be for me (flesh) to decrease and for Jesus to increase. Now I would consider that a blessing and power being released. Power through obedience to God. Now if I were fasting for a financial breakthrough in order to buy the new Aston Martin Zagato (My current favorite car) I would not expect money from heaven even if I proclaimed my motive to be so I can spread the Gospel faster:)

    1. You're exactly right. It is all about motivations, and the balance of power. Ascetic fasting is motivated by the expectation of receiving a blessing, using God as a change purse or vending machine because they believe the spiritual activity itself is causal as an immutable law. On the other hand, fasting to submit to His will, means appealing to Him in His holy power and is perfectly wonderful.

      If you fasted with the expectation that JUST BECAUSE you fasted, this somehow bound God to release to you some kind of heavenly power or Godly blessing, that is bad. On the other hand, fasting, praying giving or other disciplines done in heartfelt submission to Him may indeed deliver a blessing, and that is good.

      For example, Paul prayed (and perhaps fasted) three times to God for release from the thorn in His side. Ascetic fasting would be "Hey God, I'm fasting to show you that when I'm done, you have to release me from that bondage because you promised good things if I served you." However, God did not release Paul from his thorn, even though Paul was obedient, prayed and served the Lord with all His strength, soul, and mind.

      A second thing to remember is the Gnostics use spiritual ascetic disciplines as a kind of public intimidation against saints. (For example, the subtle threat in Franklin's statement that fasting is the secret key that unlocks heaven, intimating that if you do NOT fast the door to heaven remains locked to you). Private fasting or other spiritual disciplines like giving or praying is vertical to God alone and private.

  2. Hi Elizabeth
    Enjoying your post - I have recently also been led of the Holy Spirit to study and teach the book of Colossians with the view of exposing modern day Gnosticism.

    I believe the comment of "these kind come out only by prayer and fasting" is considered by most scholars to be an addition to Scripture. It is not to be found in the best texts.

    Also Paul's thorn in the flesh was persons not physical illness as some claim (in my opinion).

    Keep up the great work and bless you for being a Berean.
    We need to hear the truth. The Church is asleep.

    Doug C

    1. Hi Doug,

      Thanks! I agree, my personal belief is that it is a messenger of satan buffeting Paul, i.e a demon or demons.

      Thank you for the information about the verse that only those come out by prayer and fasting may indeed be an addition.

      The church is sleeping, so sad, isn't it?!

  3. fasting weakens my flesh ,sometimes needed in my life, when my flesh is weak my spirit man soars, never the less it is not working ,sacrificing to get God to owe me!

  4. Colossians was not about Gnosticism, Colossians was written because believers of the Pharisee sect were trying to get gentiles to keep the oral traditions of the Fathers, the Mishnah as we know it today.

    The 2nd chapter of Colossians proves this in that it mentions the traditions of men twice, and the Colossians were being judged on how they ate, how they drank, how they kept the feasts, sabbath, and new moon.

    The Colossians did/keet these things but not according to the Oral Laws that Pharisees believed were just as important as the written law.

    Just read the Mishnah if you want to know the oral laws about eating, drinking, feasts, sabbaths, and new moons that the Colossians were being told they must keep.

    Again, it wasn't Gnosticism that the early church had to deal with it was the sect of the Pharisees and their belief that the Oral Law was just as necessary as the written law.

    Kevin McMillen
    Morgantown, WV

    1. Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for the information. You're right, Colossians was not about Gnosticism. It was written for the purpose of presenting Christ as the supreme answer to all of man's age-old problems. One of those was Gnosticism- that men could be wise and gain divine knowledge through rituals, feasts, and other divination methods. Paul was combating it in many of his letters, including Colossians.

      Gnosticism was a persistent and pervasive problem for the Apostles, according to my understanding. The book of 1 John was written specifically to combat an incipient Gnosticism and to give his and future readers methods to test and to confirm the validity of their professions of faith.

      I'd have to have furhter information that Colossians was *not* about a refutation of Gnosticism - here is Bible Gateway on the matter:

      "More specifically, the heresy taking root in Colosse was a form of gnosticism, which taught (among other things) that humans could transcend evil and the corruptions of the world through asceticism and their own strength of will. Gnostics believed that they could essentially ignore the world and follow their own desires and impulses. Paul wrote to the Colossian church to warn them away from error and reiterate the importance of the Christian ethic."

      Thanks again for your input. I'll study on it further


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