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Knowledge & Responsibility

Updated: Jan 25, 2018

The first two posts have brought us close a couple of times already to an idea that it is important for us to address. In the first week, I mentioned that some people have a negative impression of theology because of those who attempt to use knowledge as a weapon. In last week’s post, I acknowledged the uselessness of theological know-it-alls. If the study of theology causes these kinds of problems, why would I insist that it is helpful and necessary?

Simply put, we learn so that we can put into practice what we learn. There is a responsibility that comes with knowledge. We study God’s Word so that it changes how we live. This assumption undergirds the lessons that Scripture teaches us. After referencing the imminent Day of the Lord, Peter asked this question explicitly: “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11)? In other words, Peter asked, “Given what we know, how should we live?”

In that same line of thinking, James declared, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). When we learn something, we become responsible for what it demands of us. That was James’s point in his much-debated passage on faith and works: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?...So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14-15, 17-18). When we come to know something, and we say we believe it, it is incumbent upon us to live accordingly. We must act out, day by day, what we know. John confirms this for us by writing, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).

If you say that you know Jesus, but that “knowledge” has not changed how you live, maybe you should consider whether or not you actually know Him. Sobering, isn’t it?

Similarly, if you like to learn so that you can sound more intelligent, but that learning does not challenge you to change your behavior, you are not a theologian. You are simply a reader.

This concept is something that we act out in our culture every day. Knowledge demands responsibility. For example, imagine that you arrived at your workplace to find the building on fire. The door is stuck shut, but you know the trick to get it open and allow your coworkers to rush to safety. However, you get in your car and go home because you cannot work. Would that be acceptable? Of course not! Your knowledge of how the door works places the responsibility on you to save your coworkers! Wouldn’t we say the same thing about any number of professions? How about a doctor who refuses to treat an emergency patient because of a lack of insurance? Or an attorney who hides behind attorney-client confidence and allows an unstable man to kill his family? Or a teacher who allows a child to be abused instead of reporting the case to professionals? In all of these cases, we expect people to act because of their knowledge.

My friends, with knowledge comes responsibility. Change in behavior goes hand in hand with growth in learning. It is unnatural to do otherwise. When we embrace the union of learning and action, we grow the way God designed us to grow. We will look at the positive relationship between what we learn and how we can grow next week.

But until then, what do you think? Should learning be separated from action? Please leave your comments or questions on Facebook!

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