The ability to make distinctions matters, especially to the life of a Christian.
When distinction are discussed, they are often the “wrong” kind, which I’ll describe shortly.
But first, let’s talk about why distinctions matter and what those are. The verse that forms the foundation to this thinking is as follow:
Romans 12:2 (GNB): Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.
This verse could be summarized, in part, by the old Apple slogan: “Think Different.” It’s not of our own doing, but it is through God transforming us from within. The motivation isn’t to be on a billboard, but to know the will of God.
The last part is important. The first read suggests that the goal is to remain into our minds and thought, and by “being different” we know the will of God. We remain in our own headspace.
But I think the passage means something different.
Something starts with God’s transformation which changes our thinking. This thinking results in something…some behavior….that is not the same as the rest of the world. The NIV translation says, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
This seems to involve our judgment, the ability to make a decision by testing and approving. This starts to seem more active.
Then here’s ESV: “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God,”
Here is the Message interpretation:
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
This is revealing that the intent is not intellectual knowing, it is a form of change and maturity.
But I believe the call to behavior and action from this transformation becomes clearer in RSV translation:
that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
How do we prove what is the will of God? What is good and acceptable and perfect?
It is ultimately by our actions.
And in this way, we truly stand out. We don’t conform.
We become distinct.
Notice how we don’t get there by making behavior changes. It’s not by starting with how do we differentiate ourselves outwardly.
It all begins with our thinking.
Our thinking is different.
I would say that it begins with us making “distinctions.”
It’s been said that the quantity of high-quality distinctions we are able to make indicates our level of intelligence. I would say that then ability to make distinctions isn’t a purely scholastic or intellectual attribute.
I think the ability to make quality distinctions impacts all aspects of your life.
If you aren’t able to make the distinction between someone who is sincerely attracted to you or someone who is just not that into you, you will have relationship problems.
If you aren’t able to make distinctions at work between busy work and true priorities, your career will stall and you will burn out.
At home, when I make pizza for my 4 and 6 year old daughters, to them, it’s all just pizza. But to me, I look closely at the distinctions as I try to perfect it. I evaluate whether the crust has the right amount of mottling, whether it retains structure or not when bent, whether the crust has enough chew versus crunch.
Many Christians, however, don’t have clear, active, intentional areas of distinctions in their thought life.
As a result, they will either inherit the distinctions of the culture or, worse, have none at all. Without distinctions, everything blurs into the other. You aren’t able to make clear choices,, and you aren’t able to prioritize areas of growth.
But the biggest lost of all is not able to lead a life which is “proof” of God’s perfect will. See, when we see the outcome as us being able to prove God’s work in our life and for the world, distinctions become that much more important.
Wouldn’t you want to know, discern, and ultimately live out God’s will for your life?
Yet, many of us, when we try to live “differently” as Christians, take our cue from the Pharisees: we work on the outside behavior. We try to be “different” in our appearance, in how put together we are, in the words we say. These are, in the end, good ways to prove Christ’s transformation within. But we can’t start there.
They have to start with knowing the true distinctions that matter.
Here’s what Jesus says to those who started from the outside:
Matthew 23:27 (GNB): How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look fine on the outside but are full of bones and decaying corpses on the inside.
That’s exactly how you may be feeling if you’re trying to carry the weight of “being a Christian” on the outside: a decaying corpse on the inside.
If you agree that it all begins with your mind making the right kinds of distinctions, what’s the most important distinction to be able to make? The right distinctions!
We already make distinctions naturally, but those are often the wrong ones to focus on. We make distinctions between people of different color. Or we draw distinctions between what we see on Facebook and how we feel inside.
Those are the wrong distinctions.
Examples of distinctions which can create healing, for example, are where we separate an incident and what it means to us. Those are distinct. A child who breaks her tooth when eating an apple may not have a healthy distinction between apples and pain. A woman sexually abused may not be able to make the distinction between intimacy and hurt. When they are able to make the right kinds of distinctions in these cases, healing can often begin.
So what are those right distinctions?
We’ll discuss those shortly.