Growth in Grace 7 — Knowledge Must Be Supplied in Moral Excellence 2
A second question which must be asked about supplying moral excellence with knowledge:
What kind of knowledge must moral excellence by supplied with?
In other words, what is this knowledge of which Peter is speaking? Peter uses a word that carries enormous weight in the Greek language. He uses the word, gnosis, from which is derived the words, Gnostic and Gnosticism. Let me ask you to listen to the dictionary definition of this word.
gnosis…basically, as the possession of information what is known, knowledge; (1) as a characteristic of God and man knowledge (RO 11.33; 1C 8.1); (2) as the result of divine enlightenment knowledge, understanding, insight (LU 1.77); (3) of heretical claims to higher forms of knowledge available only to a select few Gnosis, (esoteric) knowledge (1T 6.20).
Though this is the general Greek word for knowledge, in many cases it implies something more specific. It implies insight—something more than a superficial knowledge of things—a deeper understanding of things. This is why it was used by the gnostic sects to refer to the higher knowledge (gnosis) of things that they claimed for themselves.
1 Timothy 6:20 O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”
These heretics claimed that ordinary Christians had only a superficial knowledge of divine truth. Only Gnostic Christians really had a deeper insight into the truth. This idea of a deeper insight—something more than a superficial insight—into truth is brought out by 1 Peter 3:7.
You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way (according to knowledge), as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Each of these passages, then, in their own way speak of a deep insight into truth. Now let’s go back to our question. With what kind of knowledge must moral excellence be supplied? This knowledge refers to that deeper insight into the Christian faith that will enable us to wisely direct the zeal and energy we have for God’s cause.
Remember that Peter’s recipients were already believers. This means that they already had some knowledge of Christ and Christianity. Some knowledge of Christ is necessary for faith itself to exist and for repentance itself to be exercised. Something must be believed to be a Christian. Repentance is unto the acknowledgement of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25). There are elementary principles of the Christian religion which must be accepted when a person believes.
Hebrews 5:11 Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. 6:1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
The knowledge in view, then, must be that knowledge which will enable us to wisely direct the zeal and energy we have for God’s cause. It is that knowledge of the truth that will deliver us from blind zeal and useless activity and insure that our zeal and activity effectively furthers the cause of God.
Now we have a name for this deeper knowledge of the Christian faith, this knowledge that goes deeper than the initial knowledge necessary for faith, that word for a deeper more systematic understanding of the Christian faith is theology. Theology literally means the science of God and refers to a knowledge of the Christian faith that is thought through, that is more than elementary, and that has a systematic and logical character to it.
This is why every genuine Christian must be a student of theology. Every genuine Christian must grow in the knowledge of Christ, and this means getting beyond and going deeper than the basic and simple understanding of the gospel that he had when he first became a Christian. Unless a Christian grows in knowledge by becoming a student of genuine, Christian theology, he runs the grave danger of blind zeal and worse than useless activity. Christian theology must guide Christian zeal.
This brings us to a third question, How can such knowledge be attained?
How can such a deeper knowledge of the Christian faith—one that will guide our zeal and make it really useful—be attained? Well, of course, nothing will be accomplished unless a person has a deep and abiding interest in the Word of God himself that leads him to read and study privately. In our highly individualistic day and age, however, there is a danger that we will completely ignore one of the major emphases of the Word of God on this issue. The Bible tells us that no small part of coming to a deeper knowledge of the truth has to do with our willingness to subject ourselves to the public ministry of the Word by the pastor-teachers Christ gives to the church. The key passage here is Ephesians 4:11-15:
11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ
The language is plain, isn’t it? Pastor-teachers are given to the church so that they will attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. Blind zeal and useless activity result when the instruction of pastor-teachers is absent or not heeded. What a responsibility belongs to the pastor faithfully and fully to preach the Word of God! What a warning to the Christian to make attendance upon a faithful ministry a life-priority!
But it is not just living and/or present pastors to whom you must give your attention. Christ has been giving the gift pastor-teachers to His church for 20 centuries. We must devote our attention to good books written by those men as another means of coming to a deeper and theological knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. One of the things we need to do and have been encouraged to do by our deacon is to begin a book table to encourage reading of good, Christian books among us. Look we are not against reading for mere recreation and relaxation, but are you reading any solid books intended to help you add knowledge to your moral excellence? Are you listening to any good sermons that will help you supply your knowledge with moral excellence?
Here is how to add knowledge to your moral excellence! Read your Bibles every day. Listen to good preaching! Read good Christian books.
My fourth and last question on this subject is, Who especially is in need of such knowledge?
One answer to this—the last of our four questions—is also plainly implied in Ephesians 4:11-15. It is immature Christians who especially need this deeper insight into truth. Here they are likened unto children. Now pardon me for saying so, but this means it is especially young Christians and Christians who are young people who need such instruction. So much is this the case that it is almost proverbial that young Christians are known for their immoderate zeal. We even have a phrase for them that I have often heard. They are “young Turks”. Do you understand the reference of that phrase? It is not a reference to young Turkeys. It is a reference to the young Turkish soldiers of the Middle Ages who were famous for their utter, death-welcoming, and fanatical commitment to their generals and to the Islamic faith. These are those whose zeal for Christianity has an off-with-their-heads kind of flavor.
Now this is no advertisement for less zeal. There must be zeal for Christ and for truth. If there is no zeal for Christ and for truth, there is no true faith. Moral excellence must be supplied into true faith. Praise God for young people with zeal! But just because they have such zeal, they must earnestly seek to grow in the knowledge of Christ. Otherwise, much of their fine zeal for Christ may be wasted. Also, young Christians must seek to be guided in their zeal by older Christians. Their zealous activity for Christ should be wisely guided by experienced leaders. This is why God has appointed that the church should be led by elders and not by youngers!
Christian Fathers and Mothers
The Bible calls on fathers and mothers to be disciple their children in the Christian faith. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” The whole book of Proverbs in its calls for children to pay attention to the wisdom of their fathers and mothers teaches the duty of parents to teach the Christian faith to their children. How can fathers do that and how can mothers assist them unless they are themselves theologians? I have to confess that I have not read the book, but I really like the title of the book, Housewife Theologian! This is why it is particularly crucial for fathers to be growing in their knowledge of the Christian faith and in their ability to speak of it and teach it to their children.
Pastors and Aspiring Pastors
This is also why pastors and aspiring pastors must be theologians. It is they who are primarily responsible to make theological knowledge of the Christian faith practically available to the Christian church. Untold damage has been done by so-called pastors who simply do not understand the confessional and theological tradition of the church. This means ordinarily, although not universally, that pastors and aspiring pastors be required to study a thorough theological curriculum in preparation for the Christian ministry. Of course, there are men (like Spurgeon) who because of natural gift and blessed upbringing do not require such a course of study. But frankly most men are not Spurgeons in either way and need such a required course of study. That is why places like Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary must exist and may make a claim on the church’s resources because such training is necessary.
There is never any room for self-satisfied complacency or moralistic pride in our graces and virtues in the Christian life. This is one of the clearest lessons that Peter teaches us in this list. No virtue except love is complete by itself, and who can ever say that they have enough love? You can never rest satisfied with your attainments. If one says, I have faith, he must ask himself, but do I have moral excellence? If one says, I have attained moral excellence, he must be asked, but do you have knowledge? We may never have the attitude in the Christian life that says: “I have attained. Leave me alone. I don’t need to be exhorted. I’m alright.” Young people, especially, how can you justify having this attitude to your parents when they try to talk to you about ways you need to grow in grace? We must always strive to be approachable by those who would help us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Every grace and virtue (again except for love) has its counterfeit, its evil twin, its deformed counterpart. What we think is the beautiful nose of faith can be the Pinocchio deformity of dead orthodoxy. The lovely and caring hands of moral excellence can really be the claws of blind zeal. As we will see next week, the strong chin of what we think to be knowledge may be the witch’s jaw of arrogant opinionated-ness. Every virtue may be deformed into something evil and ugly. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. You have faith, do you? It is only true faith, if it has a zeal for God. You have moral excellence or zeal, do you? It is only true zeal, if it is supplied and guided by a deepening knowledge of God. It is possible to be religious and deceived. It is possible to be a professing Christian and deceived. It is possible to be active in the church and deceived. It is possible to be moral and deceived. Take a closer look at those things in yourself that you thought were Christian grace. If they are really, they will stand up to a closer inspection. Is your faith characterized by moral excellence and zeal for God? Is your moral excellence supplied with a deepening knowledge of God and His Word? Is Christ really formed in you? And if He is not, isn’t this a good time to admit it and to cry out for the mercy that alone can remake you in the image of Christ.