Knowledge and Christian Maturity

I have always valued knowledge as a Christian. I grew up thinking that the person who answered the most questions in Sunday School or Bible Study was the most matured Christian. It didn’t matter if they were saved, or if they lived lives that corresponded with the knowledge they had—all they had to do was display their wealth of Bible knowledge and I considered them matured.

I wish I could say that I no longer think that way, but that would be far from the truth. I still find myself thinking that the most knowledgeable person in church is the most matured. I often interpret spiritual growth to mean that one merely grows in one’s knowledge of truth. After all, knowing the difference between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism should mark a brother as a matured Christian. And the sister who can accurately differentiate between the four views on the Lord’s Supper certainly has enough knowledge to be considered matured.

But there is a problem with that type of thinking, which is clearly seen whenever someone abandons the faith. A few weeks ago, a graduate of one of the few conservative seminaries in Northern Nigeria, Jos ECWA Theological Seminary, abandoned the “the poisonous grip of fundamentalism and dogmatism.” He left the faith. And this was in spite of the knowledge he had. If I had sat with him two years ago, I probably would have been blown away by how much he knew. He had knowledge, but his knowledge was not true knowledge.

In my circles, knowledge is highly prized. There is a certain joy that comes with knowing, with being able to draw precise theological lines and present watertight arguments. But my fear is that many of us don’t know the Christ we claim to worship. Many of us have been deceived into thinking that we are growing spiritually because we are growing in knowledge. Many of us think that our knowledge is the measure of our growth—or worse, that knowledge even makes one a Christian.

Now, I am not against knowing. The Christian faith involves use of the the mind. God gave his people the law in the Old Testament. They were to know this law and teach it to their children (Deut. 6:1-9); they were to meditate upon God’s law (Josh. 1:8); they were to understand the reason for his discipline, and love him in return (Deut. 11:1-7). To be able to worship and love God properly, they had to know his law.

The use of the mind cannot be divorced from the proper worship of God. God gives us our minds, so that we may seek to know him—and in knowing him, love and serve him.

And in the New Testament, Jesus instructs us to love God with all our minds (Luke 10:27). Paul asks Timothy to think over what he said, to use his mind to understand God’s word (2 Tim. 2:7). The use of the mind cannot be divorced from the proper worship of God. God gives us our minds, so that we may seek to know him—and in knowing him, love and serve him. Simply put, we can’t properly serve a God we don’t know.

But while the Bible commends us to pursue knowledge and strive to understand God’s word, it doesn’t tell us to do so for knowledge sake. Too often we pursue knowledge simply because we want to know—and probably because we want others to know that we know. But the true knowledge of God doesn’t just inform, it also transforms. True knowledge will always lead to a transformed life.

Jesus once said to his apostles: “Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them” (John 13:17). A man is not blessed only because he knows, but because he orders his life in accordance with that knowledge. Commenting on this text, John Calvin wrote: “Knowledge is not entitled to be called true, unless it produce such an effect on believers as to lead them to conform themselves to their Head.” True knowledge never stops at just knowing.

A spiritually matured Christian isn’t always the person who appears to be theologically astute. A growing Christian isn’t always the one who reads dozens of books on theology every year. In fact, one could do these things well and still be unsaved. I could know all there is to know in the Bible and be unchanged by that knowledge. Mere knowledge is never the test of true spiritual maturity.

I don’t just want to know that God is sovereign, I also want to live a life that’s free from paralyzing fear. I don’t just want to know that God is all-wise, I also want to trust him when things go bad. I don’t just want to know and speak of the mightiness of John Knox in prayer, or of the rigorous discipline of Jonathan Edwards, or of the piety of John Owen—I also want to know their God in a real way and know his power in my life.

And the next time I see that brother or sister who answers all the questions in Bible Study, I want to know if he is living a life that corresponds with all that he knows. I want to see how she treats her colleagues at work and how she speaks to those who disagree with her. I want to see how he prays. I want to see how she uses her money and time. I want to see if he loves souls as much as he says he does.

Truth be told, I am usually the brother who answers the questions in Bible Study—and who also leads the Bible Study sometimes. And I am trying not to mistake growth in knowledge for true spiritual growth. God help me.

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