Knowing the Truth Is Not Enough

Wisdom's Friend

Truth is a very controversial subject, especially in our current age of relativism, where most people believe either that there is no such thing as truth–at least, absolute truth–or else that what truth may be is relative, meaning that what is true for one person may not be true for another. Inherent in all this is an underlying idolatry. For such views of truth all revolve around self, instead of God, as the final arbiter. It is the idolatry of self as god.

Though this attitude is rife in our present world, its origin goes all the way back to the beginning of this world, to Adam and Eve. Though living in a paradise on earth, with no good thing refused them (Ps. 34:10, Ps. 84:11), they still sought that which was refused them, knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). They did not trust God to know what truth they could and could not handle, but instead, insisted upon knowing good from evil within themselves, apart from God. They refused to make the distinction which God has made about what man shall be allowed to know and what is to be hidden from him.

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Dt. 29:29 NIV).

This one verse from the Bible says much about truth and its place in our lives and about knowledge and its place. Here we are told plainly that man is not free to inquire into every corner of reality however he chooses. There are certain areas forbidden to him–not out of meanness by God, but for man’s own protection and welfare.

“The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so” (Dt. 18:14 NIV).

“Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets. . . .” (Rev. 2:24 NIV).

Man, apart from God, is not able to handle the truth (Jn. 15:5), especially the truth about himself, that he is a sinful creature, unable to free himself from his sinful nature. This he neither can cope with nor understand.

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Rom. 7:15, Rom. 7:17-18 NIV).

Paul said this of himself because he knew the truth about himself. But he also knew one other crucially important truth: that just knowing the truth about himself was not enough to do any good about the unpleasant truth about himself. Knowing the truth is not enough to change the truth. To change the truth about ourselves, that we are lost sinners in slavery to sin, requires a power that man does not possess. Only God can change this truth about ourselves, and he does this through his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul knew this as well, for he goes on to say, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25 NIV).

God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves: save us from ourselves, our evil, sinful nature (Lk. 11:13). “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Rom. 8:3 NIV).

But not everyone accepts this way of God to save us. All through the whole Bible, there are always two groups of people: those who see the truth and accept it, and those who refuse to see and who reject the truth. Jesus constantly confronted these two groups in his ministry.

“All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John” (Lk. 7:29-30 NIV).

Both groups encounter the truth, but only one group takes the next step necessary for this encounter to achieve its intended God-given purpose: to bring the lost soul to salvation. Just knowing the truth is not enough. Knowing must be followed by obeying. That is the second part of the passage previously quoted from Deuteronomy: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Dt. 29:29 NIV).

“Have two goals: wisdom–that is, knowing and doing right–and common sense” (Prov. 3:21 TLB).

There is a purpose in coming to know the truth. That purpose is to obey the truth. Many people, even non-Christians, know of the famous words of Jesus that “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32 NIV). It is even inscribed in the CIA building in Washington, D.C. But what few take notice of regarding these words and its promise is that this is not an unconditional promise but rests upon one critical condition that must be met before the truth of these words can become operational in a person’s life, or in the life of a nation. That there is such a non-dismissible condition is made clear by the first word of this oft-quoted verse, the word “then”. And to what condition does this “then” refer? That condition is found in the verse immediately prior, verse 31, where Jesus declares, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples” (Jn. 8:31 NIV). Only after stating this absolutely necessary condition does Jesus then go on to say, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

If . . . then. . . .” Knowing the truth does not automatically set a person free. In fact, just the opposite can be the case. That was how it was with Adam and Eve. Before they knew the truth about good and evil, they lived in a perfect, beautiful world. After knowing the truth that God wisely withheld from them, they lost that perfect, safe world and were thrust into a world where sin, evil, wickedness and suffering increased so rapidly that God felt obliged to destroy that world (Gen. 7:4). They had not obeyed the truth, not met the necessary condition for freedom, therefore the promise of being set free by knowing the truth did not apply to them. Therefore, ever after they were in slavery to sin–and so was every human being after them.

“Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:19 NIV).

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned. . . .” (Rom. 5:12 NIV).

Many fail to see the required condition for knowledge and truth to be of good to man, the condition of obedience to what is learned of the truth about God and reality. Instead, they blindly pursue knowledge as the panacea that will solve all man’s problems. If only we could learn everything about everything, we could rise above our animal instincts and savagery and go on to make this a better world, etc., etc.

But what is really being said with the words, “If only we could learn everything about everything” ? Is that not simply another rephrasing of the desire to be God? He is the only one who knows everything about everything. The constant push of mankind to know and know and know is nothing more than an open, visible sign of the hidden desire to be like God–the very temptation offered to Adam and Eve by the evil one (Gen. 3:4-5), and by giving in to which temptation they did not gain freedom but lost it.

“For in much wisdom is much grief; and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecc. 1:18 WEB).

It is no accident that the Bible warns that unprecedented sorrows and evil will attend the last days of this world. For by then mankind will have had thousands of years to increase his insatiable desire for knowledge and, aided by modern technology, will then have the power to put the knowledge thus acquired to unimaginably wicked ends.

“But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge” (Dan. 12:4 NIV).

“For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (Mt. 24:21-22 NIV).

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God–having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth” (2 Tim. 3:1-7 NIV).

Notice the mention of disobedience and also the obsessive compulsion of the disobedient to drive themselves ever more to learn. They learn more and more while becoming less and less free, never learning why knowledge is so important, that it is meant to lead them to Jesus Christ, the only savior from themselves and their false perception that their great learning will somehow save them.

In this, they are like the Pharisees mentioned earlier, who refused the baptism of John. John the Baptist was a forerunner to Jesus. He prepared the way for him (Mt. 3:3, Mt. 11:10). John was a bringer of truth, that all humans are sinners in need of forgiveness, and salvation. He also preached the need for repentance, the need to quit disobeying the truth he brought to the people and to start obeying it; in other words, to repent.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance'” (Mt. 3:7-8 NIV).

How interesting that fruit is mentioned in the Bible regarding both disobedience and obedience. Adam and Eve ate of forbidden fruit that looked so promising but proved poisonous to them, and they lost their freedom and death came (Gen. 2:17). It was most unwise for them to seek their own way, to disobey God. Speaking of Wisdom, Scripture says, “All who hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36 ESV).

John preaches another kind of fruit, the fruit of repentant, obedient lives in Jesus. But it is a fruit that does not appeal to sinful man, .

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2 NIV).

Nevertheless, to the one who does not see as the world sees but looks to God to tell him or her what is truly beneficial, this Jesus who is so unappealing to the world is transformed into very bread from heaven that brings life and salvation.

“I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:48-51 NIV).

One fruit, that of disobedience, thus brings death, as witnessed by our first parents, while the second fruit, that of obedience to the truth of God as revealed in his Son, Jesus Christ, brings life for the world. Thus our choice to obey or disobey the truth is literally a matter of life and death–and that for all eternity. Nothing could be more important for our souls than that. For God has warned this world that he will destroy it for its wickedness and sin, its disobedience to the truth (Ps. 145:20).

Given that this is so, that this present, wicked world is to be destroyed, what should our response be to this knowledge of the truth? We do not have to wonder what our response should be. We are told how to respond in God’s own Word:

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives” (2 Pt. 3:11 NIV).

Holy and godly lives cannot be lived apart from obedience to the knowledge of the truth who is Jesus Christ. Those who think otherwise will be punished.

“He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you” (2 Th. 1:8-10 NIV).

“We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5 RSV).

This piece was written to remind all who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior to take seriously that faith in him by living out that faith in obedience to their knowledge of the truth.

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder” (Jas. 2:18-19 NIV).

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (Jas. 3:13 NIV).

You have knowledge of the truth in Jesus? Wonderful! Prove to the world how wonderful indeed this is by how you live your life in obedience to your knowledge of the truth.

“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Pt. 2:15 NIV).

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16 NIV).

Don’t just know the truth, obey it.

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete” (Lk. 6:46-49 NIV).

Knowing the truth is not enough.

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