We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — The Declaration of Independence
These are arguably the most famous words in human history. Written in 1776 and signed by the forefathers of our nation, the Declaration of Independence is considered by historians as a turning point not only in American history, but in human history as well. Never before had a government been established around such principles and beliefs.
The idea that citizens possessed unalienable rights — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — was foreign. These were rights, according to our founding fathers, that man didn’t give and man had no right to take away because our Creator had endowed us with them.
Unfortunately, America failed to live up to these truths. For nearly two hundred years after this document was signed, race-based chattel slavery was legal in America and women were treated as less than equal. This part of history always puzzled me when I was younger. How could a country embrace a document that declared the equality of men and women, yet sign laws that completely contradicted what had been written?
Life and Scripture eventually taught me that sometimes our conduct contradicts our confession.
When I became a Calvinist years ago, I ignorantly believed that a better understanding of God and Scripture would annihilate certain sins in the church. I thought the scandals, addictions, and grave sins that I witnessed over and over again in leadership back in my prosperity and non-Calvinist circles would cease now that I was Reformed. “These men would be different.”
Eventually, scandal struck. And I was devastated. I cried for hours the first time it happened. And then, one by one, several more men I respected locally and nationally began to fall into scandalous sin, even though they had solid theology. Some of the failures garnered national attention. I believe every Christian fundamentally understands these men’s problems. We all know what it’s like when our conduct contradicts our confession.
If I had been more introspective, it would not have taken local and national scandals to show me that sometimes Jesus-loving Christians don’t always live out what they profess to believe. My own life is a testimony to this reality. Scripture repeatedly provides examples of God’s people whose conduct was inconsistent with what they believed.
The most memorable example is the fall of David. The Bible describes him as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), even though he committed adultery, and then murdered the woman’s husband.
Perhaps a less scandalous example is the conduct of Peter in Galatians 2:12–21. Peter knew Jesus Christ when he was on earth and was a part of Christ’s inner circle. He was an apostle and an author of Scripture. But Paul had to oppose him to his face. Why? Because he stood condemned. Even though he knew that justification comes through faith in Christ, apart from the law, his behavior completely contradicted what he knew to be true. Paul plainly says that his “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). No one denies that Peter, an author of two epistles, had a rich understanding of the gospel. Yet, even Peter walked out of step with what he knew was true.
Knowledge Alone Is Not Enough
Whether our sins are public or private, scandalous or “respectable,” Christians are broken men and women who possess desires that conflict with what we know to be true. This is why men and women who know that Jesus is better than porn and fornication still choose sexual immorality over Jesus. This is why men and women who know marriage should be “held in honor among all” dishonor it by committing adultery (Hebrews 13:4). This is why pastors who know “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” refuse to walk in humility (Proverbs 16:18). This is why Christians sing “Jesus is Lord” but then proclaim with their lives, “I am Lord.”
Too often we attempt to increase our maturity by increasing our knowledge. While this impresses men, it often says little about what’s actually taking place in our hearts. When we only pursue doctrinal strictness to demonstrate maturity, we’re entertaining something that could be more demonic than angelic (James 2:19). A great theological mind becomes demonic when the life habitually contradicts what the mind confesses. Knowledge alone, while extremely important, is insufficient evidence of whether or not we’re walking in maturity. It is not enough to simply know things about God — we need to know God.
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