“The first effect of not believing in God, is that you lose your common sense.” – G.K. Chesterton
I’m always suspicious of anything that is labeled as common sense. Why? Well, there is nothing common about common sense. Nothing at all. Our minds are darkened outside of Christ. We love our sin, so we suppress the truth. Even after conversion the barnacles of the world’s foolishness clings to our minds. Therefore, what is usually labeled common sense is really nothing more than sly maneuverings away from the truth of Scripture.
I’ll give two qualifications before moving to an illustration…
First, it is true that common grace does beget a certain amount of common sense. I have met many non-Christians that possess a lot of wisdom. This is a byproduct of God’s common grace. However, we shouldn’t oversell this point. There is a long sandy beach of deception for every grain of the world’s common sense.
Second, it is true that God renews us when he calls us to himself but that doesn’t negate our ability to absorb worldly common sense. In Romans 12, Paul instructs us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Absorption of the world’s sense of things is still a danger for a Christian. The new mind that confronts this conformity comes through a process of renewal. It doesn’t just happen immediately at the point of regeneration.
I’d argue that it is the gospel that drives us to question the edicts of common sense. Let me give you an example of erroneous common sense. We are instructed told not judge a book by its cover.
It seems like I hear this platitude a few times a week and mostly for the mouths of Christians. It wasn’t long ago that I belong to this crowd but things have changed. I now believe precisely the opposite. Scripture teaches us that we should judge a book by its cover. What do I mean by cover? I mean clothing, accessories, grooming, speech, mannerisms, and even overall fitness.
Let us consider a few Scriptures.
God’s Word clearly teaches a person’s mannerisms are an outworking of their inward state.
Take for instance Proverbs 6:12-14:
A worthless person, a wicked man,
goes about with crooked speech,
winks with his eyes, signals with his feet,
points with his finger,
with perverted heart devises evil,
continually sowing discord
This passage gives us several outward markers of a worthless and wicked man. We know he is wicked because he uses crooked speech and how he moves his body. Our list today would be a little different in its particulars but it would remain the same in essence. We might say something like a wicked man walks withs a swagger (indicating pride) or shrugs his shoulders (indicating dismissiveness).
Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees also demonstrate that cover says a lot about the book. Just read his words in Matthew 23:5-7:
But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.
In this passage, Christ is exposing that the Pharisees’ outward appearance was a demonstration of their self-aggrandizing hearts. Everything from their clothes to where they sat at a party was a “tell” of their inward state. A self-righteous cover was revealing the self-righteous content of the book.
Judging a book by its cover is perfectly biblical. However, I need to make a very important qualification before ending. I don’t believe we should make final judgments about a book based on its cover alone. Sometimes a swagger is really just a limp. Sometimes a quiet disposition is really an outworking of pride. May the Father give us discernment to know the difference and the humility to be retracted judgments when found wrong.