“If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but has a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth…” (1 Tim. 6:3-5).
As I read these verses the other night, I was shocked to find myself thinking that I had not read a more apt description of today’s church. Godliness—a life truly changed by Christ within—is the doctrine that matters most. And yet how consumed we are by a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words. How often is our fellowship plagued by “constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth”? Truly, much theology is just us parading the fact that we are conceited and understand nothing.
Real spiritual knowledge shows in what we do. As Paul says elsewhere: “Come to your senses and stop sinning, for some people are ignorant about God” (1 Cor. 15:34). The connection is clear: sin and ignorance of God are sides of a coin. We can only say we know God if we are like Him.
I will never forget sitting in Starbucks one day and reading Isaiah 53:11–“By His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, for he will carry their iniquities.” Christ’s knowledge was to carry our iniquities. Spiritual knowledge wasn’t the ability to expound on religion. It was Christ giving up His life. The Lord ended this lesson by saying, “What you think you know, you don’t really know. What you really know, you do.”
This isn’t mere behaviorism, which is another counterfeit the church struggles with. We think we can make the inside clean by cleaning the outside (Matt. 23:25-26). Still, if it is true that “I no longer live but Christ lives in me,” there will be an outward expression of that reality (Gal. 2:20).
To be sure, we are all growing in likeness to Christ. Our patient God gives us room and time—a lifetime—to grow. The Bible gives us hash marks by which to gauge growth. Do we find ourselves overly interested in disputes? Do we mainly use the sword of the Spirit (the word) for fencing? Do we value bringing others to their knees more than falling to ours in prayer?
If we are more interested in character assassination than character formation, maybe we are more deprived of the truth than those people who need us to straighten them out. After all, “Whoever thinks he knows something doesn’t yet know as he ought. But whoever loves God is known by God” (1 Cor. 8:2-3).