Children Paddling at the Edge of the Ocean: A True and False Knowledge of God

Imagine a little child sitting on the edge of the beach. As the waves come in, the water barely gets to her knees. She feels the water and knows it’s cold. The smell of salt fills her nostrils as she watches the water make its way up the beach, only to be pulled back by some invisible force. This child has learned and experienced a few things about the water, but still hasn’t experienced the full power of the waves. She still doesn’t understand the sheer volume of water, and all the life within. Nobody would say she’s an expert on the ocean.

As we grow in our knowledge of God, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) claims we are little children paddling at the edge of the ocean. Our Lord is more wonderful, magnificent, terrifying, and glorious than we could ever imagine. We can spend our lives learning about him and still not even get close to exhausting his greatness.

Our whole life is spent seeking to know God more. However, MLJ, speaking at a Puritan Conference in 1960, discusses the difference between a true and false knowledge of God.

Two Opposite Errors

There are, and always have been, those in the church who devalue doctrine and growing in knowledge. In their desire to be practical, they dismiss theology. MLJ repeatedly attacked this idea and stressed the importance of knowing the truth of God’s Word.

For MLJ, one cannot have too much knowledge: “There is no need, of course, to emphasize the fact that knowledge is all-important. We can never know too much. Knowledge is essential, doctrine is vital. The Bible is full of doctrine…The epistles are mighty, glorious expositions of doctrine and truth” (27).

MLJ had no desire to water-down the preaching and teaching of the church. However, he warned against a knowledge or theology that is merely intellectual. It should be intellectual, but not only intellectual. The heart must be engaged. He quotes Romans 6:17: “‘But God be thanked’ says the Apostle, ‘that ye have obeyed’ –will– ‘from the heart’ –heart!– ‘the form of (sound) doctrine delivered to you’ –to the mind” (31).

Lloyd-Jones saw a revival of interest in theology in his day, much due to his own ministry. However, he also recognized within his own camp an opposite error. Instead of devaluing doctrine and knowledge, there was a dangerous pride of knowledge that simply ‘puffs up.’ As much as Lloyd-Jones warned against those who diminished doctrine, he was just as passionate against ‘dry intellectualism.’

The Point of Knowledge

In order to avoid this error, we must understand the point of knowledge: “This becomes all-important when we realize that the whole end and object of theology is to know God!” (32). As we grow in our knowledge, it should lead us to a deeper, more intimate walk with Christ. That is true knowledge. If our preaching, reading, studying theology, etc. is not leading us to know God better, then MLJ would call it a false knowledge.

This false knowledge can easily lead to pride and arrogance. But, a true knowledge does the opposite because the more we know God the more we realize how great he is! The more we walk with the Lord and see his majesty and infinite beauty, the more we will realize that compared to the vastness of the knowledge of God, we know nothing. The love of God “surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). If we understand something of the greatness of God, we realize we are “a little child paddling at the edge of the ocean” (36).

Tests of True and False Knowledge

How do we know if we have a true or false knowledge? MLJ provides us with certain signs by which we might evaluate ourselves.

Signs of a false knowledge:

  • Puffed up- a person who has a “know-it-all” attitude.
  • Judgmental- why can’t everyone study and read like me?
  • Impatience with opposing views- no other view has a right to exist
  • Inactivity- this person knows exactly what a church should be like, yet he never actually serves the church. He never finds the ‘perfect’ church, so he hops around and never gets involved anywhere. He might know exactly how one should pastor, yet he never puts the hard work in himself. He could tell you all aspects of theology, yet he’s not discipling anyone (perhaps because not many can stand to be around him).

Signs of a true knowledge:

  • Love of God- We can’t truly know God and not love him.
  • Love of neighbor- MLJ said, “We should not spend our time just proving that we are right and everybody else is wrong. If you believe that you are right and the other wrong, well, it is your bounden duty to try to put him right, and you do so by loving him, by being patient with him, by understanding. You do not browbeat him, you do not knock him down; still less do you dismiss him…You do not hurl slogans at him; you expound the Scriptures in as loving a manner as you can…” (42).
  • Humility- When Isaiah encountered God he fell on his face as though dead. When we encounter God, we aren’t proud of our knowledge, we are standing before him with a new awareness of our unworthiness. If our knowledge is leading us to God, it’ll be evident in our humility.
  • Holiness- In the same way, if our theology is taking us closer to God, we’ll be growing in our holiness.
  • Rejoicing- Those with a rich understanding of the depths of spiritual truth as taught in Scripture will have a joy that comes from knowing God more intimately.
  • Zeal for God that leads to evangelism- As we grow in our knowledge of God, we’ll grow in our desire for his name to be glorified and for everyone to know him!


Like MLJ, we’ve seen in our day a revival of interest in doctrine and Biblical exposition. While we should praise the Lord for this, let us evaluate ourselves that we are not going the other extreme. Let us not be filled with a mere intellectual knowledge.

May our theology drive us toward Christ and affect our mind, heart, and desires. While we battle against emotionalism, let us not be against emotion. While we battle against pragmatism, let us not be impractical. Let us seek to know more, but not be “know-it-alls.” As we continually study and learn, may we be humbled by the fact that we are merely children paddling in the ocean of the knowledge of God.

Sources: The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors by D.M. Lloyd-Jones

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