The Mind of Christ: Discernment and Wisdom on Mission

October 24, 2022

by Greg Henson, CEO Kairos University; President of Sioux Falls Seminary and David Williams, Kairos Executive Partner; President of Taylor Seminary


As a movement of people who call Jesus Lord, we are sent to follow Jesus on mission into the world. Doing so, however, requires attentiveness to the work of the Spirit. Today, in our ongoing conversation about following Jesus in community, it is that attentiveness to which we call attention. Let’s begin by reading 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. Here it is from the New English Translation:

6 Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood it. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 10 God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. 13 And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The one who is spiritual discerns all things, yet he himself is understood by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ.

A few aspects of this passage always catch our attention. In verse 10, Paul notes that “God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” He calls attention to the fact that the Spirit searches the deep things of God and then reveals them to us. This revelation of the Spirit, in verse 12, is a gift from God so that, “we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. Verse 13 goes on to say that this wisdom or knowledge is “taught by the Spirit.” Finally, in verse 16, Paul boldly proclaims that we have the mind of Christ.

That’s a bold claim, indeed, but one we need to embrace with humility. It makes sense, however, in light of the fact that we are called to follow Jesus on mission. If we are going on a hike in the wilderness, it is helpful to have a guide. The Spirit is that guide. Our task, then, is to be attentive and to grow in wisdom.

Being Attentive
One of Kairos University’s partner organizations is the Transforming Center, founded by Ruth Haley Barton. She has written numerous books and articles, hosted several podcasts, and facilitated countless retreats over the past 20 years – all on the topic of spiritual transformation and discernment. She shares our commitment that Romans 12:2 invites a “renewing of the mind” that goes deeper than cognitive knowing. She writes,

“It is God’s will and delight that we actively resist being conformed to this world and seek instead to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The Greek word nous (translated “mind” in Romans 12:2) includes, but goes far beyond, intellectual or cognitive knowing.  It denotes the seat of reflective consciousness and encompasses a person’s faculties of perception and understanding as well as the patterns of feeling, judging and determining that shape our actions and responses in the world.”

In one of her blog posts on discernment, she begins with a quote from Gerald May, a psychiatrist and author in the area of spiritual formation. We find this quote to be a helpful starting place when thinking about discernment. It reads, “Spiritual leadership springs forth in grace from our very desire for God’s presence. This does not take effort or striving. It takes courage, a kind of showing up, attentiveness.”

His call to being attentive is spot on when we keep in mind Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 2. The Spirit of God is actively revealing to us the “mind of Christ.” Our role is to be attentive, to be present with the Spirit. Discernment, wisdom, doing the will of God begins with being present with the Spirit.

Growing in Wisdom
Philip Thompson, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Heritage at Kairos University, talks a lot about wisdom. For him, wisdom is the goal of theological education – of discipleship. We agree. This wisdom, however, is not, as Paul points out, “human wisdom.” It is discerning and doing the will of God. Ruth Haley Barton, when writing about Romans 12:2, goes on to say, “Spiritual transformation in the lives of redeemed people is a testimony to the power of the Gospel and it results in an increasing capacity to discern and do the will of God.” Wisdom is not simply cognitive awareness of the teachings of Christ – nor is it simply making the “right” decisions as though there is a formula for doing so. It is an active and open responsiveness to the movement of the Spirit which calls us into greater awareness of and alignment with the work God is doing.

This open and responsive posture for growing in wisdom requires a commitment to discernment – to an ongoing process of showing up, listening, and responding to the Spirit of God. But what does that look like in day-to-day life? Next week, we will read a reflection on that very topic from a person who works with firefighters in Lacey, Washington.

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