Gifted, Graced, Growing
Please read Romans 12:1-8 in your Bible.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020,
God gives us all we need to grow in His grace.
We need to begin by sharing some alarming information. But first, a reminder of the Bible’s teaching that we are in this together:
If one part [of the Body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it. 1 Corinthians 12:26
“The world has become less tolerant and less safe for Christians. Based on current statistics, every day around the world …
8 Christians are killed for their faith.
23 Christians are raped or sexually harassed.
25 Churches are targeted and attacked.
10 Christians are unjustly arrested or imprisoned for their faith.
Every week around the world …
186 church buildings are attacked.
276 Christian homes are burned or destroyed.
The total numbers reveal a more than a 1,000% increase in acts of persecution in 2019 over 2018.”
The point is this: the enemy is active and organized in its opposition to the truth of Jesus Christ. God created the church to be a body, a movement of people whose ambition is to shine the light of Jesus into a dark world. We haven’t time to waste on lesser things.
CONTEXT - Bible teacher A.M. Hunter said there are two sides to the Gospel; the believing side and the “behaving side.” A living faith is growing in knowing and doing. Paul wrote a doxology (11:33-36) and then followed it up with a call to worship God by sacrifice. In this way, Paul illustrated both the believing and behaving sides of faith.
1. God gives gracious gifts.
One act of grace is God’s gift of revelation: it is gracious of God to reveal Himself to us. In Romans 12:3, Paul reported that God gave him insight into the nature of humility and faith (3). This teaching came from God: FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME I SAY TO EVERY ONE OF YOU.
The specific truth revealed on this occasion is found in the phrase, DO NOT THINK OF YOURSELF MORE HIGHLY THAN YOU OUGHT, for that is pride. Doubt is not the opposite of faith; pride is the opposite of faith! As we learned in Bible Study recently, “EGO” is an acronym for “Edging God Out.” There is only room for one on the throne of our life; it must be God who sits there.
INSTEAD, Paul wrote, THINK OF YOURSELF WITH SOBER JUDGMENT, for that is humility. Humility is an accurate self-understanding. Faith allows us to see ourselves from God’s perspective and thereby to by humble.
Here’s a news flash! We don’t create faith or even increase it: faith is something God gives us, as Paul wrote, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE MEASURE OF FAITH GOD HAS GIVEN YOU. Let me give you two New Testament examples of people who understood faith to be God’s gift.
- In Luke 17:5, Jesus’ disciples said to Him, “INCREASE OUR FAITH!” There is no exertion of will to believe here, just a plea for more faith.
- In Mark 9:24 Jesus challenged the demoniac boy’s father to believe in order to see his son delivered. In desperation the man cried out, “I DO BELIEVE! HELP ME OVERCOME MY UNBELIEF!” He accurately understood faith to be something Jesus gives.
Part of humility is to avoid comparing ourselves with others. Based on His knowledge of us, God gives each of us a MEASURE OF FAITH that is best for us. We can pray for more faith, but we can’t create it, not with all the willpower in the world.
God created the Church for our benefit and gives abilities to serve in shared ministry (4-6). We do not belong to ourselves, but to each other. The problem is that pride gets in the way. Pride feeds selfishness and is contrary to fellowship in the church.
Proud people try to support their pride by citing things like amount or length of service, education, or recognition, as if they are trying to work around grace. Any time someone has to build themselves up in a bid to get your attention you can be sure that it is pride - not love - that is at work in them. Be wary of your own words.
A cure for pride is to think of one’s self WITH SOBER JUDGMENT. This requires a view of self that is informed by Scripture.
2. God wants us to use His gifts.
Our best response to God’s grace is to worship Him (1). In the Old Testament, worship involved the sacrifice of animals to atone for one’s sin. In the New Testament, worship still involves sacrifice, but not the killing of an animal, but the spiritual sacrifice of the worshiper, a LIVING SACRIFICE.
This is what Jesus meant when He said the greatest commandment is loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). The SACRIFICE of which Paul speaks is all of our personality must be poured into our life-long service to Christ.
Paul wrote that this kind of self-sacrifice is SPIRITUAL, “reasonable” or “true” worship. This echoes Jesus’ teaching in John 4:24, that God the Father accepts worship that is spiritual and true.
God wants us to be transformed (2), growing in the faith He’s given. One force opposing spiritual maturity is the devil or Satan. He’s a liar, tempter and accuser, wielding distraction to achieve destruction. Another force opposing spiritual maturity is the WORLD (aka “this age”). The material world has a lot of influence because we temporarily live in it. Part of the work of spiritual maturity is distancing ourselves from the world’s temptations and ties.
The institutions of this world want our loyalty and our resources. The world wants conformity. We’re to keep in line, not rock the boat, not defy their illusory powers. However, as God’s people, all we are and all we have belongs to God. He calls us to transformation, becoming less worldly and more heavenly. Our priority with our resources is using them to make Earth more heavenly.
The means of transformation Paul gives here is renewal of our minds. Transformation is also something God gives, but there are things we can do to open our minds to renewal: prayer, study of God’s word, good works done in love, and obeying his commands. The effect of this transformation is gaining wisdom to discern God’s will. God’s will is always the best choice because it is GOOD, PERFECT, and PLEASING.
In general, we know that we are being transformed if selfishness is being replaced by godliness. This is the spirit in which John the Baptist spoke of Jesus in John 3:30, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
God wants us to use our Spiritual Gifts (6-8). We don’t have space to elaborate on the Gifts in this article. It is enough for us to note that they are Gifts from God and therefore not a source of pride or competition in a church. God gives as He wills, knowing up perfectly and working His will in us.
God gives us all we need to grow in His grace.
I read this week that an egotist is someone who’s ME-DEEP in everything! Part of God’s amazing grace is that He delivers us from a self-centered life. He saves us from the burden of having to be right all the time. He demonstrates forgiveness that renders perfectionism obsolete. And on top of all that, He places us in a “forever family” that loves and supports us unconditionally.
When you think about it, the Bible has an awful lot to say against pride. It has a lot to recommend depending on God rather than self. All of that takes the pressure off and allows us to experience rest in Jesus Christ.
Here’s a practical experiment for you to try. Whether you’re having a conversation in person, online, or on the phone, try to avoid first person pronouns. Don’t use words like “I” and “me” and observe the conversation impartially. When you don’t use those words, how often does the conversation turn to you? Notice how much more you’ll have to listen and how much more responsive the other person becomes. It’s a good feeling: you may want to make a habit of it!
Zondervan Bible Commentary, Romans, Leslie C. Allen.