The Knowledge Trap
. . . Always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 3:7
In medical school, I memorized and learned a multitude of facts. I passed my board exams, and I knew a lot of stuff. I wasn’t yet fit to practice medicine though. Simply knowing a lot wasn’t enough. To become a competent, practicing physician, I needed to do medicine, applying my knowledge. This was the purpose of residency, to learn and practice medicine at the same time, employing my knowledge in real world scenarios. Early in residency, I required a significant amount of handholding. Then, as I gained experience, I became more independent, eventually practicing on my own.
The trap of learning facts – simply gaining knowledge – is that it can often be seen as an end in itself. You can imagine the uselessness of someone who stays in college forever, gaining degree after degree, but never graduating and never entering the real world to apply his or her knowledge. If I’d have only completed medical school and stopped there, I’d have been really smart, but also really useless. Knowing stuff alone isn’t productive. Learning is a steppingstone to doing.
This can be a trap for Christians. Often, we read books, listen to sermons, and develop impeccable doctrine, without ever actually living out that doctrine. We can know the Bible in and out, without ever practicing what the Bible teaches. In our knowledge, we can have the appearance of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5) without ever actually following God. In today’s passage, Paul described those who learn a lot without ever experiencing the truth. Knowledge alone isn’t enough. Knowing right must be a steppingstone to doing right. Knowing about God must lead to a relationship with him.
I can know everything there is to know about nutrition and exercise, while still practicing terrible eating habits and never leaving my couch. I can know all about the teachings of alcoholics anonymous, while remaining addicted to alcohol. If my knowledge never translates to changed behavior, it’s simply useless knowledge.
The danger for us is that we can easily mistake knowledge for faith. We believe rightly that we’re saved by faith, so we understand that all we must do is accept certain facts. I believe in Jesus, therefore I’m a Christian. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder (James 2:19)! We do need to know about Jesus, but being a disciple isn’t simply knowing about him – it’s following him. Knowing right must being a stepping stone to living right.