Articles ECF Article The Early Church

The True Gnostic

Who is the true gnostic? Is the knowledge of the glory of God transforming you into His image and likeness?

In last month’s article, The Gnosis of God, we discussed that the Earliest Christians taught the revelation of God’s Word is His true gnosis (knowledge); of which they had profound understanding. The revelation being that which is hidden in the mysteries of Scripture, requiring an inquisitive seeking out. Third Century Church Father Origin explains, 

Then, finally, that the Scriptures were written by the Spirit of God, and have a meaning, not such only as is apparent at first sight, but also another, which escapes the notice of most. For those (words) which are written are the forms of certain mysteries, and the images of divine things. (1)

This month, we are delving into who a true gnostic is- who really has the knowledge of God? The Early Church taught that the true gnostic is one who is becoming like God, just as the Apostle Paul exhorted the Church of Ephesus, “Therefore be imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children [imitate their father].” (Ephesians 5:1 AMP) And in another place, But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The Greek translation of the word “transformed” is metamorphóo, and means to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure (2). Furthermore, the WordStudy dictionary explains that this word is,

Used of the Lord’s transfiguration on the mount (Mat_17:2; Mar_9:2) involving the miracle of transformation from an earthly form into a supernatural form which was externally denoted by the radiance of His garments and countenance. This suggests what the bodies of the righteous may be like as a result of the resurrection of our bodies (1Co_15:51 f.). In Rom_12:2 and 2Co_3:18, the idea of transformation refers to an invisible process in Christians which takes place or begins to take place during their life in this age. (3) 

We glean from these Scriptures and the above definitions, that the transformation the Lord has called us to, is the same as what Christ went through. This is the transformation from corruption (the flesh) to incorruption, which is God’s spirit; His divine being (1 Corinthians 15:53; Romans 8:9). Notice Paul does not state we are to be transformed into a similar image, but the same image. In Greek, the word “same” is defined as:

the image of the Son of God, into which true Christians are transformed, is likeness not only to the heavenly body, but also to the most holy and blessed state of mind, which Christ possesses. (4)

 Thus, true Christians, the true gnostics, are transforming into God’s likeness, through a process of receiving the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul boldly declared to the Church in Rome, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2). This process of transformation comes from our mind being renewed; through the process of receiving the revelation of God’s Word and living it. Thus, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).  

Second-third Century Church Father, Clement, who taught at the renowned Catechetical School of Alexandria, wrote the following:

He is the Gnostic, who is after the image and likeness of God, who imitates God as far as possible, deficient in none of the things which contribute to the likeness as far as compatible, practising self-restraint and endurance, living righteously, reigning over the passions, bestowing of what he has as far as possible, and doing good both by word and deed. “He is the greatest,” it is said, “in the kingdom who shall do and teach;” (Mat_5:19) imitating God in conferring like benefits. For God’s gifts are for the common good. “Whoever shall attempt to do aught with presumption, provokes God,” (Num_15:30) it is said. For haughtiness is a vice of the soul, of which, as of other sins, He commands us to repent; by adjusting our lives from their state of derangement to the change for the better in these three things – mouth, heart, hands. These are signs – the hands of action, the heart of volition, the mouth of speech. (5)

The Early Church taught that a true gnostic is one who imitates God by living righteously, having dominion over the vices in their soul. Clement explains that a life of self-restraint (from the fleshly nature), and pursuing good in word and deed, is that of the true gnostic. Those who are adjusting their lives of derangement (disorder) to be pure in action, volition, and speech, are being made in the image and likeness of God. It is not good enough to simply have God’s knowledge (understanding His revelation), but we are required to also live it. Thus, the true gnostic is one who is a “doer” of the Word, not merely a “hearer” (James 1:22). Notice Clement states the gnostic is “deficient in none of the things which contribute to the likeness” [of God]; meaning Christians can be made complete in the likeness of God.

In another place Clement writes,

There is one alone, then, who from the beginning was free of concupiscence [lust] – the philanthropic Lord, who for us became man. And whosoever endeavour to be assimilated [conformed] to the impress given by Him, strive, from exercise, to become free of concupiscence. For he who has exercised concupiscence and then restrained himself, is like a widow who becomes again a virgin by continence. Such is the reward of knowledge, rendered to the Saviour and Teacher, which He Himself asked for, – abstinence from what is evil, activity in doing good, by which salvation is acquired.

Clement states that Jesus, being free from the lust of the flesh, became man so that we could imitate His nature, also striving to become free from concupiscence as He was. According to the Early Church, concupiscence (lust) is not just sexual desires, but also the lust of all fleshly, evil things, that are contrary to God’s nature. Those who practice self-control, abstaining from evil and pursuing good (God’s nature) will be saved. Hence, in his epistle James wrote “Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21).

Clement continues,

As, then, those who have learned the arts procure their living by what they have been taught, so also is the Gnostic saved, procuring life by what he knows. For he who has not formed the wish to extirpate [root out and destroy completely] the passion of the soul, kills himself. But, as seems, ignorance is the starvation of the soul, and knowledge its sustenance. Such are the gnostic souls, which the Gospel likened to the consecrated virgins who wait for the Lord. For they are virgins, in respect of their abstaining from what is evil. And in respect of their waiting out of love for the Lord and kindling their light for the contemplation of things, they are wise souls, saying, “Lord, for long we have desired to receive Thee; we have lived according to what Thou hast enjoined, transgressing none of Thy commandments…. (6)

Clement states that the gnostic is saved through knowledge [of the Word] and applying it, to destroy the passions of the soul- the lusts of the flesh. He likens the five wise virgins (see Matthew 25:1-13) to gnostic souls, who abstain from evil and strive to be obedient to the Lord’s Commandments. According to God’s Word, obedience is love, as Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 15:15)

Further on we read,

The Gnostic, then, from his exceeding holiness, is better prepared to fail when he asks, than to get when he does not ask. His whole life is prayer and converse with God. And if he be pure from sins, he will by all means obtain what he wishes. For God says to the righteous man, “Ask, and I will give thee; think, and I will do.” If beneficial, he will receive it at once; and if injurious, he will never ask it, and therefore he will not receive it. So it shall be as he wishes…. (6)

Here we read that the gnostic is one who is holy, being pure from all sins. The true gnostic does not ask and seek the things of the flesh, rather he pursues holiness, and thus his prayers are answered. This is the righteous man who asks, seeks, and the door is open to and he receives (Matthew 7:7). The Early Church understood holiness was obtainable, and in fact, was the only way to receive salvation. The Apostle Peter wrote,

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.’” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

Lastly, Clement writes,

“Not every one,” therefore, “that says Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of God; but he that doeth the will of God.” (Mat_7:21) Such is the gnostic labourer, who has the mastery of worldly desires even while still in the flesh; and who, in regard to things future and still invisible, which he knows, has a sure persuasion, so that he regards them as more present than the things within reach…. He fasts in his life, in respect of covetousness and voluptuousness, from which all the vices grow. For we have already often above shown the three varieties of fornication, according to the apostle – love of pleasure, love of money, idolatry. He fasts, then, according to the Law, abstaining from bad deeds, and, according to the perfection of the Gospel, from evil thoughts.  (6)

Clement states that a true gnostic is one who has mastery (complete control) over the desires of this world, while still in this physical body. This mastery comes through an abstaining from vice, and evil thoughts, and as we have read above, he pursues what is good (Godly). He is one storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6.20).

The Earliest Christians, in keeping to the traditions (divine teachings) of Jesus, were striving to become as Christ was, holy in everything (1 Peter 1:15). Many Christian denominations claim, “we can’t be perfect”, however this is quite contrary to the teachings of the Early Church, the closest source to the well, and Christ Himself, who stated “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). The true gnostic is one who is striving to become like God, made in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). We leave you with an exhortation from the Apostle Paul, who beautifully articulates that we are renewed in knowledge (gnosis), when we put to death the desires of the flesh:

 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. (Colossians 3:5-10)


  1. Origen, De Principiis, Preface
  2. Thayer’s Greek definitions: ‘Transformed’ (G3339)
  3. The Complete WordStudy dictionary: ‘Transformed’ (G3339)
  4. Thayer’s Greek definitions: ‘Same’ (G1504)
  5. Clement, The Stromata, or Miscellaneous, Book II, Chap. XIX
  6. Clement, The Stromata, or Miscellaneous, Book VII, Chap. XII

All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010, unless stated otherwise.