Knowing Versus Doing

by Robert Jacobs

Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do. – Bruce Lee

As an actor, film director, and martial artist Bruce Lee notes, there is a big gap between knowing something and doing something. We can know that eating healthy will make us feel better. We can know that getting enough rest can help us feel less irritable. We can know that exercising three times a weak can help us manage stress. But until we act on this knowledge, we will never reap the benefit.

Aside from our physical health, the difficulty of transitioning from knowledge to action is also a spiritual matter. There have been countless times in my life where I have known what I should do, yet I flagrantly and purposely chosen that which God detests. This, besides being foolish, is a very dangerous course of action, one which can have serious consequences.

Scripture offers us numerous examples of those who refuse to move from knowledge to action, and the danger of such a choice. During His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus expresses frustration with the Pharisee after he doesn’t understand the concept of salvation through messiah. Ultimately Jesus exclaims, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” (John 3:10) As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would have had access to the scriptures and the training to interpret them. Despite his wealth of knowledge, he refused to move from knowing to doing, to let his understanding of scripture impact his reaction to Christ.

Similarly, Jesus tells a parable in which a dead man begs to go back to his living family and warn them about the consequences of their actions. To this man’s request, Abraham replies from his place in heaven, “they have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them,” to which the man replies, “but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” To end the parable, Jesus says that Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 29-31).

In both these situations, a lack of knowledge was not the problem, but rather application of that knowledge. So, what is the ultimate consequence of refusing to move from knowledge to action?

When Jesus was taken before the Sanhedrin—experts in the law and the prophets—they inquire of Him, “If You are the Messiah, tell us” (Luke 67a). Given their knowledge of the scriptures, Jesus’ messianic status should not have been difficult for them to discern. After all, he had fulfilled countless prophecies and His life dovetailed perfectly with the narrative of justice, mercy, and redemption exemplified in Israel’s history.  However, these men refused to put their knowledge into action. To their query, Jesus replies, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer” (Luke 22:67b-68).

While Jesus’ answer seems to be simply a frank response to a non-question (see LHM devotional from July 6, 2017), it is, in reality, a terrifyingly frightening reply. The first half is straight-forward enough; this group had not believed him in the past, so why would they start now. However, His refusal to ask them a question reveals something very important about their hearts.

Jesus asks many questions of many people throughout the gospels. And yet none of them served an “interrogative” purpose. In simpler terms, Jesus did not need to know the reply to his questions because he already knew the answers before he asked. Jesus, instead, asks questions to open up a space for growth, for the respondent to see the content of his heart in relation to the holiness of God. Yet Jesus opens no such space for the members of the Sanhedrin. He refuses to even ask a question. Why?

While there are many possible answers, I believe that the reason Jesus refused to ask was because they already knew the truth and refused to put that knowledge into action. They knew the law and prophets well enough to recognize Jesus as messiah, yet they refused to acknowledge Him as such.

But before we run off condemning the members of the Sanhedrin, we need to take a look at our own hearts. Many people know and even profess with their mouth that Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet that knowledge has little to no impact on their lives. I often hear people tell me that they are waiting for God to speak to them, that they need divine direction so they can grow spiritually in their life. I cannot help but wonder, though, if they should be waiting to grow through new knowledge, or if they should be putting into practice what they already know.

This is a question we need to all ask ourselves. We must put our knowledge into action, to take that step forward. Only then will we be able to find the life and growth that we so desperately seek.