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. 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. 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; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
What we have seen from Romans 12:2 in the last couple weeks is that in order to discern the revealed will of God—to see it rightly in the Bible, and to apply it wisely in complex situations today, and to spill over with it spontaneously in thousands of actions and attitudes that are unpremeditated—we must be transformed in the renewal of our minds. Understanding and embracing the truth of the Bible, applying this truth in real life, and overflowing spontaneously with Biblical love and holiness requires not a new list of behaviors, but a new mind and new heart.
Christian living is not will-power religion. It’s the overflow of a new mind and new heart created by the Holy Spirit. It is supernatural. You can’t produce it on your own. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). So “we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit” (Romans 7:6). “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). “You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).
Everything written in Romans 12 is a description of the way the new self—the new mind and new heart—thinks and feels and acts. We need to saturate our minds with this God-breathed description of life in Romans 12. That is what we are trying to do in these messages. Today we focus on verse 3.
Indirect Clues about the Renewed Mind
To feel the weight and importance of what Paul says in verse 3, we should make this observation: Although verse 2 calls for the renewal of the mind, it does not tell us how the renewed mind thinks. It just tells us what will result if we have it: namely, we will be able to discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We did see some clues about the way the new mind thinks when we compared verse 2 to Romans 1:28 and 23—that the opposite of the renewed mind is the depraved mind which has exchanged the glory of God for the glory of created things and does not want God in its knowledge. So the renewed mind would be a mind where that exchange is reversed and the glory of God is treasured above all created things, even the one in the mirror, which is the most seductive idol of all.
And we saw a clue in verse 1 about the way the new mind thinks: it produces a life of spiritual worship. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The renewed mind brings forth behaviors that reveal the worth of God. So the new mind, at its root, is a mind that treasures the glory of God above all things. It has a passion for the supremacy of God.
The Direct Description of the Renewed Mind
Those were indirect clues about the way the renewed mind thinks. But now in verse 3 Paul addresses the question directly, and the way he does it is very striking. If you were going to begin to unfold the way the Christian mind thinks, where would you begin and what would you say? Listen carefully to what Paul deals with first in talking about the way the renewed Christian mind thinks. Verse 3: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think [notice the words that relate to what the renewed mind does] 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.”
Now this is remarkable. Of all things he could have said about human thinking and the way the mind works, he chose to address the issue of pride and what the mind does in thinking about itself in relation to other people. He says something negative and something positive, just the way he did in verse 2. There he said, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed in the renewal of your mind.” Here he says, “Don’t think more highly of yourself than you should, but think with sober judgment.” In other words he is getting more specific and describing the way that the renewed Christian mind does not conform to the world but is transformed. And the first thing he addresses is pride.
This is a great burden with Paul. Three times in chapter 11, you recall he warned us against pride and conceit. Romans 11:18, “Do not be arrogant toward the [broken off Jewish] branches.” Romans 11:20, “You stand fast through faith. So do not become proud.” Romans 11:25, “Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery.” Then he takes it up again in Romans 12:16, “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.” Then again in Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” This issue of pride and the place of the self in relation to God and others is the deepest human problem in the universe. If our minds are ever to be renewed, this is where we must start.
It’s not just a problem with the church in Rome. In Romans 8:7 Paul describes the fundamental problem that we have—all of us—“The mind that is set on the flesh [that is, the natural mind apart from God’s transforming Spirit] is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot.” That is the fundamental problem of your mind and my mind. We are insubordinate toward God. We will not submit to the truth that God himself is the sum and judge of all that is true and good and right and beautiful and valuable and satisfying. Instead the human mind thinks of itself as the judge and measure, thus thinking too highly of itself.
So here (in verse 3) is where Paul begins describing the way the new mind thinks. “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you [no one is left out!] 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.” So what I want to focus on is the positive alternative to thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. What does Paul mean that we should think “with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned”?
Or to be more specific let’s ask the question this way: Why does Paul describe thinking with sober judgment as thinking “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned”? He could have said that sober thinking about ourselves is thinking that accords with our total depravity. Or he could have said that sober thinking about ourselves is thinking that accords with our being created in the image of God. Or he could have said that sober thinking about ourselves is thinking that accords with what our spiritual gifts are.
The Standard of Personal Assessment: God-Given Faith
But what he said was, “Think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” When you take sober, proper assessment of yourself, make your own God-given measure of faith the standard of assessment. Why? I see at least four reasons. Four things that Paul accomplishes by describing the renewed mind as the mind that measures itself by “the measure of faith God has assigned.”
1. He shows that the essential newness of the new mind (the “new man” in Christ) is its faith, and therefore is the glory of Christ seen and savored as our greatest treasure.
In choosing faith as the measure of the new self, Paul is choosing an absolutely unique act of the new mind. What is the essence of faith? Faith is looking away from ourselves to another. Faith is total dependence on another. When faith stands in front of a mirror, the mirror becomes a window with the glory of Christ on the other side. Faith looks to Christ and enjoys him as the sum and judge of all that is true and good and right and beautiful and valuable and satisfying.
So what Paul is saying is that the essence of the new Christian mind is that we see and savor—we behold and we embrace—Jesus Christ and not ourselves as the supreme truth and supreme treasure in the universe.
Do you see the astonishing thing that Paul is doing here? As he watches people puff themselves up, thinking of themselves too highly, he says, Here is how to think soberly about yourself: Make faith the measure of your mind. Make faith the measure of your heart, your life. And so he turns self-exaltation upside down. He says, Do you want to have significance? Then look to Christ as infinitely significant. Do you want to have value? Then look to Christ as infinitely valuable. Do you want to want to have esteem? Then look to Christ as worthy of infinite esteem.
Don’t make mistake here. I am not saying what so much contemporary Christian Popular Psychology says. I am not saying: Do you want to have significance? Then look to Christ as a means to your significance. I am not saying: Do you want to have value? Then look to Christ as the one who gives you value. I am not saying: Do you want to have esteem? Then look to Christ as the means of your esteem? I am not saying that in the renewed mind Christ is a means to the goal of your significance and esteem and value. I am saying: you were made to embrace him as infinitely significant and infinitely valuable and infinitely worthy of esteem. That is what the renewed mind does and loves to do. That is the deepest identity of the new mind.
I’ll say it again: Do you want to have significance? Then embrace Christ as the one who is infinitely significant to you. Do you want to have value? Then embrace Christ as infinitely valuable. Do you want to want to have esteem? Then embrace Christ as worthy of infinite esteem.
Our faith in Christ is the measure of our significance and value and esteem, because faith means looking away from ourselves to Christ and embracing him as the all-satisfying embodiment of all that is significant and valuable and worthy of esteem. The measure of our new self in Christ—the renewed mind—is the degree to which we look away from ourselves to Christ as our truth and treasure.
If Christ is more to you, you are more. If Christ is less to you, you are less. Your measure rises and falls with your measure of him. Your valuing him is the value that you have. Your esteeming him is the esteem that you have. Your treasuring him is the treasure that you are.
That’s the first reason that Paul makes faith the measure of thinking soberly. It turns self-exaltation upside down and makes the glory of Christ, not ourselves, the essence of our newness. If you want to measure yourself soberly, measure your faith in Christ.
2. The second reason Paul makes faith the measure of thinking soberly about ourselves is that faith is a gift of God and therefore eliminates boasting.
Romans 12:3b: “Think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” God assigns our faith. Literally, God measures out our faith. Faith is not ultimately or decisively our own creation. Ephesians 2:8, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 1 Corinthians 4:7, “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?”
My first point was that faith cannot boast in itself because by its very nature faith looks away from itself and boasts in Christ. That’s what faith is—the embracing of Christ as our boast. But God ambushes pride at every possible escape. Even if faith were the sort of act one could boast in, Paul says, you can’t boast in it because it’s an undeserved gift.
So he says, Come now, you who would make much of yourselves and think highly of yourselves, make God-given faith the measure of yourself, and see what becomes of your boasting. It vanishes, first, because faith by its nature looks away from itself to Christ, and second, faith is a blood-bought gift from God through Christ. “Think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
3. The third reason Paul makes faith the measure of thinking soberly about ourselves is that God assigns faith in different proportions among his people so that it produces humble interdependence and humble servanthood.
Romans 12:3b, “Think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” The measure of faith that God has assigned differs from Christian to Christian. Indeed it differs from time to time in one Christian. That’s where we have to pick it up next time. But let me pose the questions now: If Paul wants to bring about humble unity in the church, isn’t he defeating his own purpose by drawing attention to differences between Christians and telling them to take stock of themselves in view of these differences? What is the effect on us in “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) if we believe that the varying measures of our faith are ultimately the work of God? Will that make us passive or fatalistic? What if you assess yourself by this standard and find your faith is smaller than others? What if you assess yourself by this standard and find your faith is greater than others? Does that produce despair and pride? Or does it produce interdependence and servanthood?
That’s where we are going next time. And it leads right into verse 4-8 and the interdependence of the members of the body.
But for today let’s summarize Paul’s point in verse 3. He is taking us right to the root of what is new about the renewed mind in Christ. And what’s new about the new mind is that it thinks about itself in an utterly different way from the way the world thinks. The essence of this new way of thinking is that God-given faith in Christ is the measure of its identity and worth and significance and esteem. And since faith is a looking away from ourselves to the greatness of another and the embracing of that greatness as our all-satisfying treasure, therefore . . .
- Our worth consists in treasuring the worth of Christ.
- Our value consists in treasuring the value of Christ.
- Our esteem consists in our esteem for Christ.
- Our significance consists in savoring the infinite significance of Christ.
This is the renewed mind in Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is “thinking with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”