In every generation there have been those who have downplayed the importance of doctrine. These detractors claim that it doesn’t matter what one believes so long as one lives a life of love and compassion. Doctrine causes division, they say. It is far better to focus on doing good in the world: rescuing the oppressed, caring for the sick and poor, helping the needy, etc. Let people believe what they want, so long as they love people.
In fact, this is a false dichotomy. Biblically, heartfelt obedience is obedience to sound teaching (doctrine) (Romans 6:17). Doxology flows from theology. Belief affects behaviour. Doctrine produces devotion. We must not—cannot!—separate the two.
Sadly, as I have said, many professing Christians try to do just that, driving a deep wedge between theology and practice. On the other hand, there are some who value knowledge for knowledge’s sake and deny that godly knowledge should produce a changed life. But true knowledge of God should produce love and compassion and obedience.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that “the whole end and object of theology is to know God.” And to know God is to obey God. If our professed knowledge of God does not lead to obedience, our knowledge is worthless. True knowledge of God does not puff up; it shows us how small and insignificant we are before his greatness. We are nothing before his vast glory. This leads to humility, not pride.
In discussing true and false knowledge, Lloyd-Jones provides several signs by which we can evaluate our knowledge. He begins with four signs of false knowledge.
First, the person with false knowledge tends to be puffed up. This person thinks that his knowledge of the truth places him in some sort of superior position to those who know less than him and therefore he is not prepared to serve others. This seems to have been the problem in Corinth (1 Corinthians 8). There were some whose knowledge freed their consciences to eat meat offered to idols, but instead of lovingly foregoing that right out of love for others, they insisted on exercising their liberty regardless of whether or not it caused others to stumble.
Second, the person with false knowledge tends toward judgementalism. He feels confident in his knowledge and his study and conceitedly wonders why not everybody reads and studies like he does. Surely if they loved God and wanted to know God as he did they would do the same things he is doing in pursuit of that knowledge. And if they don’t, it’s simply because they don’t want to know God as much as he does.
Third, false knowledge leads to impatience with opposing views. His theology is correct and no opposing theology has the right to exist. This person is confident in his Calvinism or his creationism and considers anyone whose interpretation of Scripture differs slightly with him to be heterodox and best and heretical at worst. And everybody must know about it!
Fourth, false knowledge lends itself to inactivity. The person with false knowledge knows all about the church but never actually serves the church. Perhaps he cannot find the perfect church and so, rather than settling in a good church and serving there, he hops from church to church in his quest for perfection. Or he may settle in a particular church but he always views things with a critical eye rather than plugging into ministry. He can talk theological circles around you, but he is not involved in discipleship.
In contrast, Lloyd-Jones lists six signs of true knowledge.
First, true knowledge leads to love for God. It is impossible for a Christian to truly grasp the majesty of God and not to love him for it. It is a sign of unbelief to suppress the truth about God and to refuse to bow in humble gratitude toward him (Romans 1:18ff). Those who know God love God.
Second, true knowledge of God overflows into love for one’s neighbour. Lloyd-Jones writes, “We should not spend our time just proving that we are right and everybody else is wrong. If you believe that you are right and the other wrong, well, it is your bounden duty to try to put him right, and you do so by loving him, by being patient with him, by understanding. You do not browbeat him, you do not knock him down; still less do you dismiss him.” To love God is to love those whom God loves, even if there is need to correct them.
Third, true knowledge produces humility. When we truly encounter God, we will not boast of our knowledge of him. Like Isaiah, we will fall on our faces and declare ourselves to be unworthy. If your knowledge is leading you to God, it will be evident in your growing humility.
Fourth, true knowledge generates holiness. As we grow in our knowledge of the character and the things of God, we will grow closer to God, which necessitates growth in holiness, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
Fifth, true knowledge results in godly joy. Wisdom and knowledge go hand in hand with joy (Ecclesiastes 2:26). Intimate knowledge of God leads to deep rejoicing in God.
Sixth, and finally, true knowledge leads to zeal for God, which produces in us an urge to make him known to others. If we know God as he has revealed himself to be, we will not be able to keep that knowledge to ourselves, but it will flow from us in evangelistic and discipleship contexts.
If you profess to be a Christian, I suspect that you will, in one form or another, claim to know God. But what sort of knowledge is yours? Is yours a false knowledge, which puffs up, leads to judgementalism, produces impatience, and stifles vibrant discipline activity? Or is it a true knowledge of God, which manifests itself in love for God, love for others, humility, holiness, joy, and zeal?
What do you think of when you think of Christ? Did his knowledge puff up? Did it lead to judgementalism, impatience, and inactivity in God’s kingdom work? Hardly! Jesus was a man who loved God, loved others, and displayed humility, joy, and zeal. As you reflect on this truth, I trust that you will come to share the desire of Paul for true knowledge:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.