Do You Know Everything?
There are two realities that tend to create tension in the minds of God’s people:
Reality #1: God has made His truth available to man, and our fellowship with God depends in a significant measure on understanding and practicing that truth in our lives.
Reality #2: None of us will master all elements of that truth. It is a lifetime pursuit, and many human foibles hinder us from acquiring total knowledge (intellectual limitations, forgetfulness, lack of zeal, etc.).
Tension is created on several levels. Among them:
#1. Are we being hypocritical when we identify doctrinal error in others given that we do not know all truth ourselves?
#2. Can we ever trust what we presently know since our understanding will grow over time causing us to abandon or moderate positions we previously held?
#3. Is it possible that our views of Scripture have been influenced by preachers and teachers that were themselves misguided?
#4. Is it possible that we are missing something crucial to our salvation?
We will consider these in order, but first let’s note one over-arching principle: Nothing we do in this life in relation to God is wholly dependent on us. This is why we have so much instruction to pray and seek God’s guidance, help and strength.
We have already separated ourselves from dependence upon God when we worry about what we’ve discovered, we’ve figured out, we’ve concluded from His revealed will. Further, we have likely overstressed the intellectual element of our relationship with God if we’ve reduced it to the matter of being right on everything. There’s no peace or confidence in that, for we are all aware of our ignorance (at least those who are honest). Now let’s briefly consider these tension points enumerated earlier:
#1: We must conscientiously stand upon the truth we know at all points in our lives. Correspondingly, we cannot advocate what we believe to be error. We must keep our minds open to the possibility that some aspect of truth may yet elude us, but just because we don’t know everything does not mean that we don’t know anything.
For example, on a very simple level one can correctly conclude that baptizing infants is not consistent with new testament teaching on sin, babies and baptism. However, one might not be thoroughly equipped to respond to all the convoluted Catholic arguments in defense of infant baptism. Exposure to false teaching can be dangerous, for we might not know how to refute it.
Conscience demands that we act within the bounds of what we believe to be true. Prudence should cause us to moderate how we respond to others who believe differently, but we can certainly say, “I can’t agree with your view based on what I believe the Scriptures to teach.”
#2: I believe that people stubbornly hold on to untenable positions because if they ever change their minds, they feel they are condemning themselves. This is due to the fact that they previously based their confidence on the false premise that they understood everything perfectly.
But Scripture acknowledges that discipleship is a growth process: “As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Pet 2:2). Life is the unending pursuit of maturity: “till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ but speaking the truth in love may grow up in all things …” (Eph 4:13, 15).
There are some areas of Bible knowledge that will deepen over time and we will gain insights that we did not previously have. And we will surely realize that we were flat wrong about other things. If we are not engaged in a conscientious pursuit of truth, then we will stay in a state of spiritual childhood far too long and remain ignorant about many things we should know. “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again their first principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Heb 5:12).
#3. Strong bonds can develop between teachers/preachers and their students. This is natural, but it can be taken to the point that we stop thinking for ourselves and trust in the scholarship or godly character of others. Thus Paul warns “that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written” (1 Cor 4:6). But this is written on the heels of another observation: “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me” (4:15-16). By all means let’s learn from others, but do not put them on such a high pedestal that we are blind to truth or are crestfallen when they fall into sin.
#4: This one will drive us crazy if we fixate on it, for it involves a hypothetical hidden from understanding. Yes, it is possible, but this is where prayer and honest seeking of truth comes in. If we truly want to be right in the sight of God and know His will, we can ask Him for the help He has promised: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you … If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Mt 7:7, 11). Let us be confident that God will help us overcome our human foibles including the vast areas of knowledge that we have not yet discovered.