Some Christians spend a great deal of time in study of the word and may even fall into the ditch of seeking knowledge at the expense of growing in grace*. Those who make this mistake may become involved in some of the more obscure aspects of the Scriptures such as prophecy, and this becomes their main focus. On the other hand, there are other Christians who move toward the opposite extreme of neglecting the responsibility of study of God’s word when they fall into the ditch of believing that “all you need is love.”
Clearly, as Peter tells us, we need both grace and knowledge, and this is a principle we find often in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul elaborated on it when he wrote that our goal should be: “… that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). But what we may fail to understand if we tend to gravitate in one direction or the other is how the two areas of spiritual growth interact. Growing in grace can actually increase our spiritual knowledge, and growing in knowledge can increase the fruit of grace in our lives. If that sounds counterintuitive, consider the following scriptures.
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness” (Titus 1:1, emphasis added). Here, in the very opening of his letter to Titus, Paul stresses that furthering knowledge of the truth leads to godliness. This concept is simple enough – we cannot please God without knowing what it is that pleases him – but it is a concept that we should always keep in mind if we are to be truly growth oriented.
Yet knowledge is only half of the equation for spiritual growth. Notice what Paul states in his letter to the Colossians regarding those he taught:
“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3, emphases added). In this profound scripture Paul shows the opposite truth to that he stressed to Titus. Here, we see that being united in love forms the basis of knowledge and understanding of Christ.
The fact that we can only have true knowledge of God if we live in love is also repeatedly stressed by the apostle John (1 John 1:10-11, etc.). Notice one example of this teaching: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). It is through knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice that we come to understand and to be able to emulate true love in our lives. John reiterates the connection between love and knowledge a few verses later: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8).
We need both grace and knowledge, love and truth, or however we might categorize these two primary aspects of Christian growth. And we need to remember that not only are both vital, but also that growth in one often leads to growth in the other.
Once we understand this principle we gain insights into many biblical stories. In the Old Testament, for example, we see Job, who evidently walked perfectly before God (Job 1:1, 8), yet who still had to learn lessons (Job 42:5). In the New Testament we see many examples of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who had knowledge but who needed to grow in love (Luke 11:42, etc.).
Our lives need to exhibit both grace and knowledge, but fullness of growth in one of these areas often involves continuing to grow in the other.
* In this context, grace refers to our walk before God (as in John 1:14) rather than the grace he extends to us.