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The Ugliness of Knowledge without Conviction

Even today one of my greatest struggles is refusing to let my knowledge of God stand in the place of genuine faith in God. Sometimes I can barely tell a difference. Am I speaking from conviction or from a head full of knowledge? Am I acting rightly out of a sense of moral obligation and knowing it’s “the right thing to do” or out of a life that seeks to honor Christ? Am I speaking the truth out of love or out of a desire to impress? Motives are rarely clean and pure. It is difficult to delineate, especially since knowledge is part of faith. But the difference shows up in how I feel about my actions. If I find joy in honoring Christ when nobody notices, it is real. If I stand by what I said because I believe it to be true and right instead of waffling, offering caveats, or backing down, it is real. If I find joy in one person being blessed by what I say or write instead of needing acclaim, it is real. In the end, faith looks like Jesus and knowledge looks like something a whole lot hollower and uglier.
– Barnabas Piper “Help My Unbelief”

I read this passage from Barnabas Piper recently and it got me wondering if he was reading my thoughts. To be honest, I felt that throughout most of the book, but this particular part has stuck with me because it puts a finger on something and pushes hard. It asks why I do what I do, why I act how I act, why I write, and why I share things on Facebook? If there was a clear, consistent answer in my life then it would be easy to move on but I keep finding myself drawn back to it. Do I do what I do for the glory of God or for my own? Too often the answer is, to some degree, both.

To me it’s a constant reminder of my total depravity, not that everything I do is utterly depraved but that even in the good things that I do there is an element of sin; and if nothing else that keeps me humble. It reminds me that however righteous I’m feeling at any particular time, I’m in need of God’s mercy. In the words of Jimmy Needham, there’s vice in all my virtue.

So, how do we react to this issue?
Do we stay silent until we know that our motives are pure?

I’m encouraged by Philippians 1:15-18

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Obviously we want to follow the model of Paul; preaching purely out of love for Christ and indeed that should be our goal. However too often we find ourselves sitting at least somewhere in the middle preaching for selfish ambition. Paul takes comfort in the fact that even from those people – people like us – Christ is proclaimed. At the same time, we shouldn’t content ourselves with our flawed nature but should always try to keep our motives pure, striving to live our lives in a manner pleasing to God to whom all honour is due.


This post comes from Ben Smith, who shares a deep conviction of Scripture as the infallible counsel of God, and that aided by the Holy Spirit we can arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches as a whole.

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Published inChristian LivingGuest Posts