This is part 12 in the Growing in Grace series.
When you go out hiking this time of year, it is important to watch your step—not just so that you don’t trip on a root, but so that you don’t step on a snake.
While the great majority of snakes you will come across on a trail are harmless and non-venomous, you want to be able to distinguish between a garter snake and a copperhead; between a rat snake and a rattler.
Discernment is the ability to judge accurately and make educated distinctions.
Discernment is not only important for distinguishing between types of snakes. Discernment is important for determining what is true; distinguishing between what is right and wrong, what is good and what is harmful.
Discernment is what enables us to interpret events, adopt positions on various issues, and make decisions.
And there are so many issues and so many decisions for us to make all the time with competing voices telling us what to believe and how to live.
If we know what is good for us, we will seek the wisdom of the one who is the designer of all reality—the God who has revealed his wisdom in what we call the Bible.
But how does this happen? How can I grow in discerning the wisdom of God? How can I know the Truth of God for how to interpret events, adopt positions on various issues, and make decisions that are in line with the wisdom of God?
A resource that will help is Nancy Pearcy’s book, Total Truth. I put a link on the main page of the Creekstone website that summarizes the book’s thesis. Just click on the lighthouse. The first chapter alone is worth the price of the book. In the opening, Pearcy quotes, Francis Schaeffer, “Christianity is not a series of truths in the plural, but rather truth spelled with a capital ‘T.’ Truth about total reality, not just truth about religious things.”
A shorter version of Pearcy’s book is found in Romans 12:1-2, where the apostle Paul writes,
1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is [wisdom]—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In this passage, Paul outlines three needs that must be addressed in order to grow in discerning the wisdom of God.
We Need to Resist Conforming to the World
If you have children, or better yet, grandchildren, there is a high probability that you have a set of cookie molds somewhere in your pantry. You know how cookie molds work. You roll out the dough and then stamp the dough with a mold to ensure it is baked in a certain shape.
In Romans 12, Paul is warning us about being shaped, not by a cookie mold, but by the world’s mold. He writes in verse 2, “Do not conform to the pattern (the mold/shape) of this world.”
- He is talking about the shaping of our minds.
- The shaping of our minds is what we call developing a worldview—how we see or view the world.
- A worldview is the grid that influences how we interpret events, how we adopt positions on various issues, and how we make decisions.
The question for each of us to answer is, “What is my grid?” Or, “What is the shape of my worldview?”
- Our culture’s primary mold or shape can be described as “moral relativism.”
- According to moral relativism, the standard for what is considered right, good, and beautiful is not determined by God’s wisdom as revealed in Scripture, the standard is determined by the wisdom of the world—a standard of what is right and good that is relative, or changeable, depending on what those in positions of cultural influence determine is right, good, and beautiful.
- We are slowly but intentionally being influenced not only by how the news is spun, but especially by how entertainment is subtly normalizing what cultural influencers have determined to be the new right and good.
- According to these influencers, a fixed, revealed truth does not determine what is right and good; feelings determine what is right and good. Essentially, “If it feels right, it is “
- This is not a theoretical issue, is it? It is very practical.
- The question we need to ask is not “How do I feel about the issue” or “What does our culture say about the issue,” but “What does God say about the issue?”
- “Not what do they want or expect me to do, but what does God want me to do?”
- This is an important question to ask because the wisdom of the world is by definition contrary and antithetical to the wisdom of God. If God is the designer of reality, his wisdom is not only right, it is good—good for personal flourishing, the flourishing of the family, and ultimately, cultural flourishing.
- If the wisdom of God leads to flourishing, then the wisdom of the world, by natural consequence, will lead to personal, family, and cultural erosion and disintegration.
- Again, the question is no longer “How do I feel about the issue” or “What does our culture say about the issue,” but “What does God say about the issue?”
We Need to Have Our Minds Rewired
If you have renovated an older home, you know that one of the most important aspects of the project is rewiring. Cosmetic touches may change the look of the home, but internal changes such as new plumbing and especially wiring—things you can’t see and may not notice—are critical for ensuring the safety of the occupants.
It is the same way for the believer. More than surface cosmetic, behavior changes, Paul says that the most important aspect necessary for living with a biblical worldview is having our minds rewired.
- This is the focus of Paul’s words in verse 2b, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
- The transformed life is the result of rewiring how we how we interpret events, how we adopt positions on various issues, and how we make decisions. And this rewiring takes place in the mind with our worldview.
- Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul calls developing this worldview “having the mind of Christ.” Learning to think like God himself.
How does this rewiring process take place? Let me suggest that it begins by answering 3 key questions:
- Where did we come from?
- Are human beings the results of a cosmic accident, or have we been designed by a personal Creator?
- This is the foundation.
- Although Darwinism has been disproved as a scientific theory of origins[ii], it is still being taught in schools as fact.
- Consider some implications. If we are merely an evolved species, who is to say that bullying is wrong, or abortion, or euthanasia, or racism, or sex trafficking, or even genocide? Survival of the fittest, right?
- If there is no personal Creator to establish not only physical laws but moral laws, then there is no standard for truth. We should eat and drink for tomorrow we die and return to the abyss of nothingness.
- But if there is a personal Creator, that dramatically changes the conversation. In this context, life does have meaning, value and purpose.
- “Where did we come from?”
2. What is the problem?
- Are external social conditions the primary culprit to the personal and cultural problems we face, or is an internal sin nature to blame?
- While social conditions exacerbate the problem, the biblical testimony is that the root problem with humanity is internal—a sin nature problem.
3. How do we fix it?
- If we see the problem as primarily external, our focus will be on behavior, whereby we will seek to influence change by making laws, where change takes place from the outside-in.
- If we see the problem as primarily internal, our focus will be on the heart, whereby we seek to influence change by exposing people to the gospel.
- The gospel that Paul says in Romans 1:16 is the power of God to save us and to change.
The world would have us believe that these are personal questions for private faith. But we are not dealing with personal opinions. The questions of where we come from, what the problem is, and what we think we fix it far transcend the personal. We are talking with universal, fixed, absolute truth.
We Need to Apply God’s Wisdom to All of Life
This is the focus of verse 2c, when Paul provides words of encouragement, saying, “Then you will be able [a biblical worldview will give you new tools] to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
- Discovering God’s will is just a matter of asking, “What does God say about this in the Scriptures?” This is the “testing” and “approving” process.
- Then let that shape what you believe and influence the decisions you make.
- We are simply talking about applying God’s wisdom to all of life.
You can imagine going to your physician who writes a prescription. But you are not convinced that you really need it. So, to save money, you don’t fill the prescription or take the medication. Then you wonder why you are not getting any better.
God’s wisdom is like a prescription that has been written by a physician for my good. The question is: “Will I trust the doctor?” Am I convinced that his prescription really is good for me?
- For example, when God prescribes repentance… I can own my sin or allow the arteries of my heart to harden with self-righteous pride.
- When God prescribes forgiveness… I can give the gift of forgiveness (that I have received) or allow my resentments to fester into the poison of soul killing bitterness.
- When God prescribes generosity… I can trust his provision and give, or I can live like a spiritual orphan and hoard.
- When God prescribes a design for marriage… when he prescribes suffering… when he prescribes that we engage the culture with grace rather than rage… when he calls us to cultivate the areas of medicine, art, education, business all for his glory… it changes our perspective on the value of our work when we go to work.
I realize that some of us are concerned about the possible “side effects” of following God’s wisdom.
When God’s wisdom is unpopular with the ways of the world, you may be misunderstood or even rejected by family, by peers at school, by folks with whom you work.
You may be rejected like Jesus.
No one ever lived as perfectly in tune with the wisdom and will of God as Jesus… and he was crucified.
Ironically, he was crucified for those of us who have not lived in line with the wisdom of God. We who have rejected the will of God in countless ways. We who have not followed his ways, but the ways of the world. On a cross, the sinless One received the penalty that we as the sinful ones deserved.
Jesus was willing to fit into the mold of judgment so that we could be set free from that mold and experience the liberating power of mercy.
This is why the cross is at the very epicenter of a biblical, Christian worldview. Not the law, but the gospel–the gospel that speaks of rescue, redemption and restoration.
As Paul says in verse 1, it is “in view of God’s mercy” expressed in the cross of Jesus that we now offer ourselves, willingly, gladly, and wholeheartedly—hands, feet, eyes, hearts, and minds… marriages, jobs, children, wallets, lips and souls—we offer it all as our spiritual act of worship to the God who gave his all for us.
[ii]For example, irreducible complexity and the fossil record.