Gnosticism Part 6, Reliance on Human Wisdom and Traditions

What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Is there more to life than this? Is there life after death?

These are the eternal questions that man has asked almost from the beginning. That's because God set eternity in our hearts.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Barnes Notes explains, "God has placed in the inborn constitution of man the capability of conceiving of eternity, the struggle to apprehend the everlasting, the longing after an eternal life."

This is part 6 looking at the origins of Gnosticism and its impact on today's church, I will examine the sixth element that Zondervan's NIV bible lists as the main components of the philosophy/religion: reliance on man's wisdom and traditions. Though Gnosticism encompasses a wide range of beliefs, there are 6 main elements that Paul refutes in Colossians-

1. secret knowledge, (refuted in Col 1:27; 2:3)
2. asceticism, (Col 2:18)
3. depreciation of Christ (lowering Him in name and in glory), (Col 2:18b)
4. strict rule-keeping, ceremonies, or rituals (Col 2:23)
5. worship of angels, (Col 2:18)
6. and reliance on human wisdom and traditions (Col 2:20b-22)

Paul wrote in Colossians 2:20b-22:
"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— 21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?"

It is the fact that we ask the eternal questions that unites us as humans. We all feel the need to ask, to find out, to search for meaning above and beyond ourselves. Every human on earth lives in a creation that God made. That He made it is evident. (Romans 1:20). It is the individual's response to His creation that makes the difference in our eternity.
Romans 1:18-19 discusses the wrath of God against those who see what He has plainly made evident in creation but have suppressed it. However, those who suppress the fact that God revealed Himself plainly, still seek the answers to the eternal questions. So they make up philosophies to satisfy the longing. This is aptly demonstrated in the modern Gnostic's own words. From

"All religious traditions acknowledge that the world is imperfect. Where they differ is in the explanations which they offer to account for this imperfection and in what they suggest might be done about it. Gnostics have their own -- perhaps quite startling -- view of these matters: they hold that the world is flawed because it was created in a flawed manner."

The truth is, the world is imperfect because man is imperfect, sinful, as a matter of fact. It was made perfectly and God declared it very good. (Genesis 1:31). Man brought imperfection and thus introduced sin into God's perfect creation. (Genesis 3:14-19.) But when a religion or a philosophy suppresses that fact, people seek that answer elsewhere as to why things are so messed up. Since they do not understand that they themselves are imperfect, they decide the world must be the problem.

That is why the Gnostics' philosophies are so appealing to man. It is why Gnostic human wisdom and traditions are so readily absorbed by those who suppress the truth of God. It releases them from responsibility. Or they think it does. Yet all humans sin (Romans 3:23) and all will stand before God to give an account. (2 Cor 5:10, Job 34:11, Matthew 16:27...)

Reliance on human wisdom and philosophy is a tremendously appealing method to attempt to find answers to life's problems. Buddha certainly thought so.

A gnostic belief system with its reliance on human traditions is like trying not to drown by hanging onto a rock.

Mark Fairley is part of the Fuel Project. He finished the "Know Your Enemy" series recently and has begun a second series called "Stay Free". In the Enemy series, he explored the coming New World Order from a Christian perspective. He looked at the rise of false religions from the Fall to the current time. In his sequel Stay Free series he looks at morality and how society cannot survive without Christ.

In this 13-minute part, the series looks at the rise of Phariseeism. These were the worst of the worst as far as applying rules and traditions to human wisdom, which are no substitute for God. Indeed, even if one does not substitute tradition for God, man-made rules are not even helpful alongside true faith, as Paul wrote in Colossians 2 and as the narrator demonstrates. Reliance on human tradition and rules will only ever get you tangled up:

Stay Free (Part 18 - The Rise of the Pharisees)

John MacArthur preached on this verse in a sermon titled Philosophy or Christ?

Paul said there were two inadequate sources for wisdom, philosophy and vain deceit. (Col 2:8)

"Two inadequate sources: #1 ‑ tradition. It's always been the case. People have always believed it. You know what that does? That just perpetuates inadequate, depraved human thinking patterns. Tradition doesn't mean anything. Just because it's handed down doesn't mean it's true. If you've got error to start with and hand it down, it doesn't make it any better than what you started with. Here he's saying, "Philosophy comes after the tradition of men." One of the things that's so interesting and we don't really have time to develop this ... when you study philosophy, almost all philosophers, build on other philosophers."

"There's an incredible sequence that flows through the history of philosophy. And one guy goes this far, the next guy chops off a little bit of his philosophy and develops it, and the next what you have today in philosophy can go all the way back and almost all philosophy finds its roots in Aristotle and Plato. It's all just a changing and a variation in the flow of the tradition of man. The errors are perpetuated, perpetuated, perpetuated, perpetuated. Look at Judaism. By the time Jesus arrived on the earth, the Jews had built up such a monstrosity of philosophy, such a mess of human wisdom, that they were unable any longer to tell what the traditions of men were and what the Word of God was. ... There's nothing sacred about tradition. It's just perpetuated human ignorance." (source)

God warns us against seeking after human wisdom in our own vain deceit: "For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (1 Corinthians 1:19)

Solomon had something to say about that search for wisdom-

"I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind." (Ecclesiastes 1:16-17).

Matthew Henry says of Solomon's search for wisdom- "Solomon tried all things, and found them vanity. He found his searches after knowledge weariness, not only to the flesh, but to the mind. The more he saw of the works done under the sun, the more he saw their vanity; and the sight often vexed his spirit. He could neither gain that satisfaction to himself, nor do that good to others, which he expected. Even the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom discovered man's wickedness and misery; so that the more he knew, the more he saw cause to lament and mourn. Let us learn to hate and fear sin, the cause of all this vanity and misery; to value Christ; to seek rest in the knowledge, love, and service of the Saviour.'

The only hope is Jesus and the only wisdom is His. He has generously made that wisdom available to us in the bible. His death on the cross and gift of grace through salvation makes His wisdom understandable to us. Once we are a born-again believer, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to help us understand it!

Why would we want to rely on our on wisdom when we have perfect truth upon which to lean on? The message doesn't take 800 Pharisaical rules to apply. There is only this:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)
Gnosticism series:

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