The relationship between knowledge and spiritual growth is an interesting one. On the one hand, it is God’s revelation of himself that must change us – we gain an increase in knowledge that makes us see and hear better spiritually, understand differently, or experience a change of heart or attitude.
On the other hand, knowledge itself does not automatically equate to spiritual change. We can know lots about God and still be very ungodly or even an unbeliever. To loosely quote J. I. Packer: A little of knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about God.
But what about the knowledge we never encounter? For instance, what if the church at Ephesus had never read the letter Paul wrote to them, aptly named “Ephesians”? Or similarly, how many times during a month do we settle for meager amounts of the revelation of God?
The primary place this shows up is our approach to time in the Scriptures. We commonly compromise and sell ourselves short; we settle for something much less than what we could be pursuing.
We also come up short, though, with other areas of our lives. We easily dismiss ourselves from being under the preaching and teaching of God’s word. Many times the very thing we need to hear we don’t hear because we’re not closely listening or we can’t hear because we’re not physically there. (“Active listening”, as some call it.)
We are usually selective in what we hear – we listen when we think there is something we need to know. In this way, we can easily tune out God’s Word, even while we are reading the Bible or hearing biblical preaching. In all of this, we need to admit: “We don’t know what we don’t know,” in somewhat Yogi Berra sounding words. To this end, then, we are often changed by encountering truth that we did not expect and were not seeking, but we have to be intentional to put ourselves in the right places to hear.
Even more pointedly, it is one’s central focus on the gospel that changes him or her, and so the gospel must be present to bring about that change. A gospel that is merely in the back of our minds is not life-changing any more than yesterday’s drink quenches today’s thirst. The gospel cannot simply be a knowledge “event” somewhere in the past. The Christian cannot do without a present, focused mind on the gospel of Jesus – today. Such a mind, of course, comes with intentional action: Set your mind on things above. (Colossians 3:1) Have this mind in you. (Philippians 2:5) Think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)