Knowledge is a dangerous word because we usually think it is located in the mind. We learn French history or how to work on a car or how to program in Java and all of that is called knowledge. That sort of knowledge is safely separated from the rest of our lives and actions.
The mayor of Toronto is apparently in the middle of a big scandal right now because his actions have been evil: doing drugs, driving drunk, making lewd comments, the list goes on. But he hasn’t resigned yet. Maybe he thinks he has the necessary knowledge to continue to do his job even though his behavior has been appalling.
It’s easy to pick on people like the Toronto mayor, but Christians make the same mistake of divorcing knowledge and behavior. I know that I can get into the habit of feeling good about myself because I “believe the right things” all the while letting my behavior slide. The book of 2 Peter was very convicting for me recently because it describes the knowledge of Jesus Christ not as simply believing doctrinal points but as growth in character. The book starts out by telling us that God’s divine power is given to us:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (1:3)
God’s divine power sounds exciting (and it is), and the knowledge of God sounds heady (and it is). But our excitement gets tempered a bit when we find out that this knowledge and power are for the purpose of godliness. This is especially true if we’ve ever actually tried to be godly. I’ve found that most of us enjoy the idea of godliness until we try to take a practical step. I remember watching my wife exercise in our living room. “What’s the big deal?” I thought as she laid on the floor gasping for air after the exercise video was over. “It doesn’t look that hard to me.” Of course, once I tried the video for myself and spent a few minutes of quality time on the floor gasping for breath, I realized that exercise was much easier to watch than to do.
2 Peter gives us a pathway to godliness that doesn’t divorce our mind from our heart or our body.
…make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1:5-8)
Thus the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ involves growing and changing. We don’t have time here to discuss in detail each character trait that is mentioned above, but all of those traits are more than just mental knowledge. Self-control, for instance, involves stopping patterns of sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. Steadfastness (or perseverance) means continuing to believe, live righteously and bless God even when circumstances are difficult. Knowledge of the Lord Jesus means we start changing in the ways described above. What if we aren’t changing? 2 Peter tells us.
For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (1:9)
Like I said, sometimes we get to thinking that knowing God is only knowing facts or doctrines about God. We reduce belief to simple acknowledgment that certain statements are true. But when our lives aren’t changing–even if we believe all the right things–then the Bible says we’ve forgotten the most important thing. That is, we’ve forgotten that our sins have been washed away through the blood of Jesus and that he called us to obey him.
Do I know Jesus not just in my mind but in a real, practical way? One way I can check is by asking myself if I am changing in ways that God wants me to change. When I’m drifting from God, I may have some of the right mental knowledge, but I can see that that “knowledge” is not making a practical impact on my life. It’s a bit like knowing facts about exercise without letting those facts change my behavior.
Salvation through Jesus and the life that follows are not simply knowing facts or doctrines. We can know French history or accounting or aeronautical engineering and never change. But we can’t know Jesus and never change. The knowledge of him changes every part of us.