Read Romans 12.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Would you be an elder in the church? Would you teach ESL? Would you be willing to greet or be the liturgist or lead singing or pray? Let’s go to a movie. How would you like to come over for dinner? Will you please be on this committee? Do you want to go on a retreat? Let’s go on a bike ride. I’m homeless; will you give me $5? Do you want this job or that one, this house or that one? Or should you sell your house and give to the poor?
Should I do anything and everything that people ask me to do if I am able? Or should I do what I feel like doing? Or what seems to be required of me? Or what I would feel guilty about if I didn’t do it? Or should I do what I “feel called” to do?
Is any and all activity good, or acceptable, or perfect? Or is it the activity that appeals to reason? Or only that which God would have me do? And what is that, exactly?
“Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Wouldn’t it be nice to be led so that every decision is perfect and in accordance with the will of God? To always say no to requests that will turn out to be unfruitful, to say yes to ways in which you may genuinely help, to choose the right blouse or house or spouse, to have just the right words to say, to be in the right place at the right time, to do works greater than those of Jesus? This is what’s on offer in this passage. Paul calls it “discernment.”
This gift is a beautiful pearl, but it is not accessible to all. It is not given to the swine, to the unclean—they would simply trample it underfoot and increase their guilt. Too often we know God’s will but don’t do it. Paul says that we must be transformed, we must be renewed in mind so that we will be able to discern God’s will.
What is it to be renewed in mind? Is my mind “renewed”? As Paul describes it, a renewed mind:
- does not think of itself more highly than it ought
- loves what is good and genuine
- hates what is evil
- serves the Lord with zeal and ardency
- seeks to outdo others in showing honor
- rejoices not in this world but in hope
- suffers patiently
- perseveres in prayer
- entertains strangers
- contributes to the needs of the saints
- weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice
- lives in harmony with the others as much as possible
- associates with immigrants and the homeless
- repays evil with good gifts
The description above is of the perfection of discernment, as also is the description of a renewed mind. But the gift of discernment is not controlled by an on-off switch. Just as a renewed mind starts with humility, discernment starts with knowledge of God’s goodness and my own sinfulness. Do you feel pain in your own being, in your own selfishness? Congratulations, the Spirit of Truth is at work in you.
John Climacus defines discernment thus:
Among beginners, discernment is a real self-knowledge; among those mid-way along the road to perfection, it is a spiritual capacity to distinguish unfailingly between what is truly good and what in nature is opposed to the good; among the perfect, it is a knowledge resulting from divine illumination, which with its lamp can light up what is dark in others. To put the matter generally, discernment is—and is recognized to be—a solid understanding of the will of God in all times, in all places, in all things; and it is found only among those who are pure in heart, in body, and in speech….Discernment is an uncorrupted conscience. It is pure perception. *
Let this renewal of mind then be your life’s goal and work.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
*Ladder of Divine Ascent, Paulist Press, 1982, p. 229.