Maybe you thought it after you did some things of which you were later ashamed. It is likely one of the first thoughts that enters your mind when you hear of someone whom you held in high regard who was caught in some kind of obvious sin, or when you hear that someone has left the faith.
“I knew better.”
“They should have known better.”
“She was taught better than that.”
These are understandable responses: people should know better. But what if they do actually know better?
When we speak and act as if people should “know better,” we implicitly look at the situation primarily in terms of knowledge versus ignorance. In such a view a person thinks, feels, or acts primarily according to their knowledge: they think, feel, and/or act according to what they have come to understand. If they are not thinking, feeling, or acting the way they should, it is due to their ignorance; they need to be taught better. If they are given the right knowledge and understand it, then they should think, feel, and act appropriately on account of that knowledge.
This view is also very understandable in our time and day: it is the Western worldview since the Enlightenment. For the past two hundred and fifty years or so many have imagined that ignorance is the primary challenge of humanity. Knowledge is seen as power: if we can know something, we can master it, and thus better our condition. When people have their ignorance eliminated, so it is imagined, they will automatically make better decisions.
Knowledge is very important: God’s people have been destroyed before on account of a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6)! If we wish to be set free from sin and death in Jesus, we can, and must, come know the truth in Him (John 8:32). In many respects the proclamation of the Gospel message is the attempt to help people come to know and understand the truth about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, lordship, and imminent return, and to exhort them to trust in Him on account of such things (Acts 2:14-38, Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). God proves willing to overlook past ignorance but expects all people to repent when they come to know about Jesus (Acts 17:30-31)! Peter exhorted Christians to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Knowledge, therefore, is critical; Christians must strive to banish ignorance about Jesus and God’s purposes through Him, and seek to enlighten all men about their need to follow the Lord.
Knowledge is quite necessary. Nevertheless we find that some of the most knowledgeable people about the Scriptures do not believe them nor follow their message. Even among those who have dedicated themselves to following God according to His purposes in Scripture, many have fallen short and committed transgressions they knew were wrong. Jesus speaks about many people who are convicted about the truth of the Gospel and yet turn away and do not follow Him (Matthew 13:5-7, 20-22). We have all known people of whom this has been the case; we know people who once worked with us to glorify God in Christ to accomplish His purposes but no longer practice what they once believed; we know people who have known of the holy commandment but then turned aside from it. If we are honest with ourselves we will recognize how often we have done things we knew were wrong when we did them, and how many decisions we have made in conscious rebellion against the purposes of God.
The problem is not with God or the Gospel but with our inherited worldview. Ignorance is a major challenge and problem, but it is not the problem. Knowledge is necessary but proves insufficient in and of itself to reform our thoughts and behavior.
Our real problem, and its solution, has been revealed in Scripture in the Gospel. The Apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear that mankind’s problem is sin (Romans 3:20-23). In fact, as Paul declared, knowledge of God’s righteous standards itself becomes a temptation to sin: we understand the definition of what sin is by knowing right from wrong, and thus we are tempted to do the wrong (Romans 7:7-12). No human has avoided sin through knowledge alone; all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We must know, accept, and obey the Gospel to be saved (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9); nevertheless, the message of the Gospel includes the recognition that we are sinful and cannot be saved by our own works of righteousness, but remain dependent on Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins for cleansing from our misdeeds (Ephesians 2:1-10, Titus 3:3-8). Trust in the Lord and rescue from sin and death in Him are the only means by which we can overcome evil and stand righteous before God (Hebrews 10:1-22).
More often than not people do know better when they commit transgression; instead, they choose to rebel and transgress. We ourselves do the same. Knowledge is necessary and important but not sufficient; trust in Jesus and seeking His path is the only way to sanctification and holiness (1 John 2:3-6). May we put our trust in the Lord Jesus and obtain the victory!
Ethan R. Longhenry