A few weeks ago, I wrote what was supposed to be the first in a series of posts on the topic of discernment. Sadly, I over committed myself to a task which I was unable to finish in the time frame that I had promised. Nonetheless, I am now returning to that project in hopes of adding to my thoughts in the first post which you can find here. I plan to write two more posts unpacking my thoughts on the important role of discernment in our lives. In this post, I want to think about the healing nature of good discernment as well as the danger it poses when misused or done without the love of Christ. In the next post, I will focus on how discernment is key to our Christian liberty and frees us from being enslaved or in bondage to sin.
Let’s consider the healing nature of discernment. Perhaps you have known someone who is particularly skilled at discernment. They have a gift at getting to the heart of a matter and shedding light on critical. In many ways, someone who is gifted in discernment is like a surgeon. Surgeons make precise cuts with their scalpel (even more precise with lasers) which reduces the physical trauma of the surgical procedure. The surgeon is only interested in removing or repairing the ailing part of the body and not causing unnecessary damage to the rest of the body. In this way, the discerner uses the scalpel of Word and Spirit to separate light from darkness in our hearts but has no desire to make a larger mess than is needed. Discernment is not just about exposing darkness but also about exposing what is profoundly good and pursuing it.
This exposes a glaring difficulty in discernment that at times has played out on social media or in other circumstances. Just about everyone thinks that their knowledge makes them gifted in discernment. But is this true? Sadly, that is not the case. It is true that discernment does have a lot to do with knowledge but it is much more than that. Many so called “discernment” bloggers use knowledge to hurt others rather than do good for them...even those who are Christian. Conversely, discernment is the wisdom of what good we are to do with our knowledge in a broken world. Good discernment heals and bad discernment hurts. Before you ask, this does not mean that healing does not sometimes hurt. Discernment is the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness in a world broken by sin and rebellion. As I wrote in my first post, discernment is less about obtaining what is ideal and more about doing good with the knowledge we possess.
So let's follow this logic. When discernment becomes about my knowledge competing with your knowledge then war inevitably ensues. At that point, knowledge becomes less about doing good for others and more about winning at all costs. The result is that knowledge is used to condemn in the name of truth while justifying unfair characterizations about our ideological enemy’s position. In the end, it’s not discernment that we are seeking any longer but ways to manipulate others to join our team. This is how many “discernment bloggers or thinkers” operate whether they are political, ideological or in some cases “Christian.” As we listen to these compelling marketers of ideas, we find that the tone and the goal is to shame or prove those to be foolish that hold competing convictions. The end result is tribalism that creates factions. It leaves little ground for measured discourse on varying goods in which Christians may engage in the world. In this way, discernment thinkers and blogs are less about discernment and more about weaponizing their constituency.
But biblically informed discernment does not operate this way. Biblical discernment understands the dual citizenship we hold as Christians between the Redemptive Kingdom and the Common Kingdom. Christian should be able to see that there is much good in the common kingdom because God has created it. The fact that many of these goods compete with one another in our social climate does not diminish their goodness. For example, there is good in holding our magistrates accountable to the laws and rights of our land in the COVID-19 pandemic AND loving our neighbor by forsaking my personal liberty for their good Additionally, there is good in pushing back against the tides of the death culture spearheaded by the abortion platform AND pursuing just and equal treatment for refugees and the black community. These are ALL goods but each of them can be manipulated for political gamesmanship calling the Chrsitians to be shrewd in our involvement. The Christian has little need for the labels, tribes and vocabulary of the world as each side seeks to redefine terms and facts to fit their own narrative. The Christian knows that God’s redemptive work in Christ Jesus transforms how they see the world and how they engage in the common kingdom. Christians are called to live within a uniquely Christian narrative and not fall prey to worldly eschatological visions.
So how does the Christian discern how to participate in the world? As noted above, the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit are the scalpels in our hands. The Christian engages in the world using the light of the Scriptures and the illumination of the Spirit at every turn. Christian are given choices virtually everyday on how we are to live in this common kingdom that requires us to discern what is light and what is darkness. In this way, the Word of God illuminates our path showing us what are to love and what are to hate, where we need to be humble and where we need to expose as well as how to be truthful yet doing so with gentleness and not harshness. The Holy Spirit and the Scriptures show us what truly brings glory to God and what does not.
Discernment is about carrying out the task of doing good and loving our neighbor until Jesus returns. Every aspect of our world that we participate in will have some measure of light and some measure of darkness in it. We will need the help of God’s Word and the indwelling presence of His Spirit to help illuminate our path as we wait for Jesus to return. When we do this, we learn how to bring healing through truth, beauty and goodness that transcends the utopian hopes of our world. We don’t go into the world to be agents of transformation as if our mission is to Christianize the world but as agents of reconciliation and hope as we preach the Gospel that is the great balancer for all people everywhere.
As dual citizens, we are called to Love and obey God...Love our Neighbor...Wait on Jesus.
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