Renewed Thinking About Self (Romans 12:1-8)
What is worship? At the beginning of Romans 12 we saw Paul urging the Romans, by the mercies of God to worship God with their bodies.
Romans 12:1–2 (ESV) — 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Our Worship Is Being a Living Sacrifice
God has shown us great mercy that we might lay our lives on the alter each and every day and sacrifice ourselves to serve him. We are supposed to be transformed from living like the world to living lives that have tested, discerned, and proven the perfect will of God. As God's people we don't just offer up a sacrifice every now and then to worship our God. We live to worship every day. How can we worship God like this? We need a renewed mind. What does this renewed mind think about? Paul helps us in the rest of the chapter to understand what a renewed mind looks like. This morning we will look through verse 8 and see how a renewed mind thinks about itself and tonight we will look at how a renewed mind thinks about others.
How Do I Think of Myself? (3a-b)
In the text that follows Paul tells the Romans how to think of themselves. Isn't it interesting that there is this clash between society and the typical Christian on thinking about ourselves? The world encourages us to think about ourselves all the time saying, "You need this. It is your right to have this." Christians, on the other hand, are typically taught, "Don't think about yourself." If we are realistic we have to admit that we think about ourselves more than anyone else on the earth. But how does God want us, with our renewed mind, to think about ourselves? Let's start off with verse 3.
Romans 12:3 (ESV) — 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
Here Paul says he wants Christians to think with “sober judgment.” They must think realistically about who they are and what they have. The word sober means to think rationally or sanely. It would be insane to think too highly of ourselves or to stop thinking according to the measure of faith God has assigned. Let’s explore what Paul means when he says these two things.
Why does Paul give the command to not think more highly of ourselves that we ought? Pride and self exaltation do not fit in with the transformed, self sacrificing life (2). Isn’t pride something we see all over the Bible? In the Old Testament the majority of the nations that God destroyed became proud when things started to go well for them. The most prominent is Nebuchadnezzar who thought, “Look at all I have accomplished.” As we read the gospels we see the disciples continually thinking about who is the greatest over and over again and we think, “Why are they thinking that way again? Don’t they know that they are nothing compared to Jesus? Don’t they see how stubborn they are being?” Remember how Peter, right after proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, turns around and rebukes him for saying he must go to Jerusalem and die on the cross. Pride is prevalent in all of humanity throughout all of time.
Why would these Roman Christians be proud? Well, they are in the capital of the world. Wouldn’t it be easy as “first world” Christians to think more of themselves? Paul actually goes on to tell us what they would be proud over in verses 4-6
How Can We Avoid Prideful Thinking?
Romans 12:4–6 (ESV) — 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
Notice that he doesn't start talking about showing partiality, or being divisive. It seems that some of the Roman Christians might be proud of their gifts. Some might think, "I am the hand, look at what all I get used for." Paul says in response that it does not matter what part of the body you are. We are all members of one another.
How does that help us think soberly? Can any one of us claim independent greatness from the others? No, we are in need of each other. Can you imagine being a hand in the body and saying, “I am just like Christ?” The hand could do nothing without the arm. In this illustration from Paul there are those with great faith and great ability who are able to do much and those with less faith who are only able to play a small part. But every part is reliant on the others for fulfilling a mission that is bigger than anyone can accomplish on their own. The one with great ability cannot think more highly of him or her self because they need those with less faith and less ability to do their part as well. We all need each other. God designed it so that we would all work together for the common good and the glory of God. But there is something else here... Notice verse 6 again.
Think About “The Grace Given To Us”
Did you notice that he says, “according to the grace given to us.” This is why we can’t think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. Our abilities do come from God. So even though we recognize that we only play a small part in the body, we may still think, “I’m a hand, and you are a pinky toe.” Paul says here that we cannot boast in ourselves no matter how big of a role we play in this body because we have been given that role by God. We are nothing without his grace toward us. At the beginning of this Paul, himself, exemplifies this. Read the first part of verse 3 again.
Look at Paul
Romans 12:3 (ESV) — 3 For by the grace given to me I say...
Paul does not sit in an ivory tower looking down on all other Christians as nothing compared to his greatness. He considers whatever valuable thing he says to be given to him by the grace of God. If we were to meet Paul, we might praise him for writing this letter and others, but we would never hear Paul saying, “This must be my greatest work!” There is no way Paul would consider this to be “his work” at all. This was the work of God though him and he has no grounds for boasting about it. We often try to give credit to Paul for writing such a masterpiece as Romans, but he points to God as the originator of all these thoughts. In the very first verse of Romans he calls himself a “slave of Christ.” If Paul considers himself as a slave of Christ and his abilities as given to him by God, how should we think of our abilities and our faith? Am I really something more than a slave? We need to imitate Paul.
Now Look At Ourselves
What do we need to think about in order to have sober judgment? Can any of us say, “I have this great ability, honor me?” No, because our work is dependent on other members and we have nothing we have not received from God. I cannot say, "I'm the preacher," "I take care of the Lord's supper," "I paved the parking lot," or "I taught the kids class for 10 years" in a boastful way. We are all just people who were gifted by God and that means we cannot think more highly of ourselves than we ought to because that would be insane. We are nothing without God. It is not OUR gift. We did not earn even the air we breath or our bodies? Paul has also said something similar to the Corinthians who had this problem of thinking highly of themselves in 1 Corinthians 4:7. He said, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Our homes don’t belong to us. Our clothes don’t belong to us. Our cars don’t belong to us. Here Paul says that even our abilities don’t belong to us. We must remember that whatever ability we have ultimately comes from God and we are responsible for using it without thinking highly of ourselves.
We are nothing without God. Thinking that I am better than I really am is unacceptable: at work, at home, at church, or anytime we are discussing a topic we take interest in. We like to think we know best, but that is proud thinking.
The Measure of Faith
Notice that he says, “each according to the measure of faith God has assigned.” What measure of faith has God assigned each of the Romans? How would thinking about how much faith they have help them to stop thinking too highly of themselves? That doesn’t really make sense, does it? If God is the one who assigns faith in this way, we cannot have a different amount and God remain just. There must be another way to understand this text. This word measure is the same word for standard. So we can understand this differently, “each according to the standard of faith that God has assigned.” This might make better sense. Other translations seem to allude to this, but now we must think, “What is the standard of faith that we have been assigned” and “How does this help me think soberly?” The next word is “For” or because. He will explain this thought in verses 4-5.
We Are the Body of Christ
Paul says, “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” We are all members of the body with different functions. But what is the standard of faith that God has assigned us? Together we make up the body of Christ. This is the same standard Paul said in Ephesians 4:13 where he uses the same greek word metron, “until we all attain to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The picture for us is that we are all members of a body that is supposed to represent Christ on the earth. Being the body of Christ is the standard to which God has assigned and to which we must attain.
What does this mean? In what way are we Christ on the earth? There are a million different pictures we could look at to help us understand this. But the one that I think best lays out what Paul is trying to say in Romans 12 is found Isaiah 61:1-4 where he tells us all kinds of things that God has done for us and then he tells us what we will do in response.
Isaiah 61:1–4 (ESV) — 1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
Here God says that he sent his son to heal and comfort his people so that they could become "oaks of righteousness." He does a number of things for us in verses 1-3. Then, in verse 4 he talks about what we will do in response. "They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations." This is not telling us to literally build a city because this text is full of figurative language. So what does he mean here? Andy Cantrell, a preacher in Minnesota first showed this to me and the illustration has stuck. When you look at downtown Mobile, do you see a destroyed city? When you see the hundreds of thousands of people who live here do you see them as destroyed people who need to be repaired and rebuilt to be a proper image of God? This is the work of Christ and this is our work as the body of Christ.
We Must Do The Work God Has Assigned Us
We are on earth to attain to that measure! In order to restore what is broken down we need every part of the body working. Maybe you are listening to this and thinking, “I don’t have a problem with thinking too much of my gift. I hardly even have a gift.” How many of us look at our ability thinking, “Well, it’s not like I can do what they can do” or “I don’t see my gift making any impact whatsoever on the work of the body.” "I can't teach." "I can't give."I don't know how to do anything." Maybe you are more so limping along in your faith. I want you to notice that Paul says God has given to each and every one of us a gift or ability to use in his service. We cannot become apathetic or lazy in using our gifts.
God knows we are all at different levels of faith and that we have different gifts. But Paul says whatever our gifts are, “Let us use them.” Paul doesn’t want us to think too highly of ourselves about this, but he also doesn’t want us to lose sight of the value God places on all of our gifts. Do we see how each of the gifts described here are supposed to be used to the best of our ability, in proportion to our faith? Obviously we want to have as much faith and the best gift possible. But we use those gifts given to us, as best we can, to God’s glory.
Parable of the Talents
This is the principle Jesus taught in the parable of the talents. In this parable three men are given gifts of varying amounts and the master expected them each to use their gifts. But the man who was given the smallest gift went and buried it instead of putting it to use. God knows what we are capable of and he does not expect an unjust amount from us. He is more than gracious to give us these gifts in the first place and more than worthy of us using our gifts sacrificially to serve him. We must feel indebted to God for his gift toward us.
When I was a teenager, I remember having a nice Toyota Tacoma 4x4. My dad bought it for me and he liked it so much he bought one for himself. One night, less than a year after getting it I was driving home from fishing at 2:30 AM and totaled it. My dad would have been justified in destroying me. But he just said, “Son, I’m glad you are okay.” Looking back I realize how merciful that was of him. I would love to have that truck back. How many times do we total our lives and how many times does God say, “I’m glad you came back to me.” How many times has he forgiven you for doing something boneheaded? I’ve lost count. As I get older and look back at the number of sins I have committed it seems unforgivable, but Christ’s blood covers all of our sins. Will we worship him in response to his mercy? Will we have a renewed mind, thinking soberly about ourselves and our abilities?