Humility Inspecting (Romans 12:3)
Topic: Romans Passage: Romans 12:3
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
May 15th, 2016
I. Life, Death, and Sobriety
Do you know what this is (holding up AA recovery coin)? It is a sobriety reminder. It is a token given by AA for every year of an alcoholic’s sobriety. It was given to me by a friend who had been sober for seven or eight years at the time I met him.
But while this man had been sober in regard to alcohol, he lacked another sobriety. At one point in his life, alcohol almost killed him. But in the end, it was this other sobriety that eventually led his death. He did not die in a car accident, he did not die from liver damage, he died by his own hand. A self-inflicted gun shot wound.
When we think about someone being sober, we typically think of booze. But there is another sobriety, one that is, dare I say, even more fundamental. Are you sober this morning? I really don’t think any of you are drunk right now, but you may be, in this very moment, struggling with this other sobriety. Paul speak about this sobriety in Romans 12:3. Turn there if you would.
Over the past six weeks, we have been asking this question of God's word: “What would it look like if I were to live on strict diet of God's humble pie, that is, how does genuine humility before God express itself in my everyday life?” What does it look like in you or me?
II. The Passage: “With Sober Judgment” (12:3)
Let's try to answer that question by listening to Paul's words here in Romans 12:3. He writes...
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.
Let me also read you several other translations of this same version, just to give you fuller sense of the flavor of what Paul is saying here:
For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. OR For I say, through the grace given to me, to all who are among you, that you should not think too highly of yourselves beyond what you ought to think, but observe proper moderation, as God has measured to each a measure of faith. OR As God’s messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you.
A couple questions that come to mind right away as we read that verse are these: 1) What does it mean to think with “sober judgment”? AND 2) How does “faith” factor into all this?
In regard to that first question, we might think about “sober judgment” in light of its opposite. That is, we might ask the related questions, “What is 'mental drunkenness'?” And I believe the text answers that question in the first part of the warning: Paul advises each of them not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. That is the opposite of “sober judgment”, and therefore, could be described as 'mental drunkenness'.
But what about the second question, “How does “faith” factor into all this?” The verse mentions faith doesn't it. And it's clear from the connection, that “faith” is the key to “sober judgment” or “sober thinking”. We are to think about ourselves according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. But what exactly does that mean?
Well the context (specifically what comes next in verses 4-8) helps us understand that God's assignment has to do with the way He has gifted each of us and designed us depend on one another as the body of Christ. But the context (specifically what came before this verse) also reminds us that this way of thinking is related to the “renewing of [our] mind[s]” mentioned in verse 3. So we could say, faith gives me new eyes to see myself in the light of the truth”.
You see, Paul has provided us here with yet another fruit of humility, what I would call self-assessment, or sober self-assessment. In the terms of what it looks like to live on a diet of God's humble pie, this is humility inspecting.
In the opening lines of his monumental work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin said this, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say true and sound Wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”
There is a sobriety, a clear-headedness that characterizes the humble man or woman, a knowledge of oneself that allows us to live in lowliness and in obedience to God.
Let’s explore this idea of humility inspecting, and let's do this by drawing some reminders from earlier in the book of Romans. Romans 12:3 sits right at the beginning of a hinge section, a part of the book where Paul is transitioning from his incredibly rich explanation of the gospel in chapters 1-11 to the real life implications and new lifestyle to which that gospel calls us. So it only makes sense to look back at what Paul has already laid out; to what he wants them to embrace in faith; to those very truths which should and must renew their minds.
So here's what we'll do: I will give you a passage from Romans, and I want you to think very, very carefully about how the truth or truths of that passage should sober us up! Are you ready?
1. Our Shadowy Past (3:9-12)
First turn back to Romans 3:9-12. This is what we read...
What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. 10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (3:9-12)
Now think for a minute about your life, because that's talking about you. It's talking about me. How should that sober us? I think it does so by reminding us apart from God's intervention, I am not a good person, but a rebel against God and His goodness.
Boy it's easy to start seeing ourselves as inherently decent, kind, giving, noble people. It's easy when we do good, to think about that goodness as originating in me, just because I'm me. But that's 'mental drunkenness', isn't it? If there is good in me, it can only come from one place: from God. Why? Because I know what I am apart from him.
2. Saved by Grace (5:8)
But if you move ahead to Romans 5:8, Paul provides us with another sobering truth. This is what we read there...
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Okay. Think for a minute. How does that sober you? How should it sober us? Doesn't it remind us of the staggering truth that I only have a relationship with God because of His grace, because Christ was killed for me.
Some of us are often tempted by the thought that God got it right by saving someone like me. Others of us begin to take our peace with God for granted. It's like being a U.S. citizen. In times of peace and prosperity, it's easy to forget that countless men and women who laid down their lives over the centuries to secure and maintain our freedom. And when one of our own relatives, when one of our children, goes off to fight, we are acutely aware of the cost of freedom. Should the same be true for our freedom in Christ?
3. Slaves to Sin (6:16)
If you move forward just one chapter, in 6:16 we find yet another sobering fact about our redeemed lives. Consider why these are such sobering words from Paul. He writes...
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (6:16)
Sobering, right? But why? This verse should sober me because it reveals that the sinful choices I make are really about slavery rather than slip-ups. It's one thing to look back and own up to our shadowy past as sinners apart from God's grace. But it's another thing to be brutally, brutally honest about the sinful choices we make day in and day out. We are sometimes tempted to think that our forgiveness of sins, that the grace in which we stand (5:1), makes our sins something less than they are.
But shouldn't the renewing of our minds give us new eyes to see sin in all its ugliness; to see our sinful, selfish, worldly choices as an assault on our heavenly Father's heart and the goodness of His design? If I am truly thinking of myself with “sober judgment”, shouldn't I be honest about my sin? That when I sin, I am acting like a slave to sin?
4. Children of God (8:15, 16)
But there's a wonderful truth in chapter 8 that is equally, if not more sobering. Look with me at 8:15 and 16. The Apostle declares...
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (8:15, 16)
Though every true believer is truly and ultimately a “slave of righteousness”, according to Paul in 6:18, we find another astonishing fact here in chapter 8. In light of everything we have seen so far in this letter, think about why these verses are so sobering. Though I am often tempted to act like free-wheeling, independent, spiritual bachelor, making my own way in this world, I am, in fact, a child of God crying out for my Father.
Whether we know it or not, in the heart of every true believer, every true disciple of Jesus, the Spirit of God is at work, causing us to cry out to our Father in heaven. How sobering it is to realize, that in light of our rebellion, in light of sin, then and now, God doesn't simply forgive us and send us on our way. Instead, His forgiveness is the paves the way for our adoption. He makes us part of His own family.
You may not have had, or you may not have today, a healthy family. But be encouraged. If you have trusted in Jesus as your only hope, then you are part of a family that will last forever. This reality, this privilege, should floor us; especially when we remember this only possible because of the blood of Christ and the grace of God.
5. Presumption vs. Perseverance
Now there's one more passage I want us to look at as we think about thinking about ourselves with “sober judgment”. Look at 11:17-22. This is what we read there...
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. (11:17-22)
The natural branches mentioned here symbolize the Jews, while the “wild olive shoot[s]” are the Gentiles. So as non-Jews, consider why this passage is so sobering.
Now at first, a passage like this makes it seem like God is fickle when it comes to our salvation, or that our rightness with God is ultimately up to our efforts. But that is not what this passage or the rest of the NT teaches. What is so sobering about this passage, the reason Paul says so explicitly in verse 20, “Do not be arrogant”, is the reality that I am called to perseverance not presumption.
As they were tempted to look down on the Jewish people as rejected sinners, Paul was calling these believers to humility in light of God's grace. And he was warning those who were not continuing to live for Christ in light of God's kindness. While God is the ultimate source of our perseverance, we are nevertheless called to persevere. And for those who do not continue, they should not presume upon their standing. We know there are so-called disciples who will, in the end, prove themselves to not be true disciples.
There is a huge difference between resting in the faithfulness of God and presumption. The former humbles and motivates us, while the latter makes us haughty and lazy.
III. “...And I'm a Sinner Saved by Grace”
“Sober judgment”. We are sobered by the truth more than we know, whether we think about those truths in a positive or negative light: “Pack up you desk. Today's your last day.” “Good news! You're going to have triplets!” “Best case scenario with this kind of cancer, 2-3 months.” “It was unanimous. Everyone wants you to make the decision.”
Paul desperately wanted to rouse his readers, so they would see themselves through the lens of God's truth. And if we go back to the context of our main verse, Romans 12:3, we are reminded of important “pre” and “post” truths. Look with me at Romans 12:1, 2:
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.  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.
Brothers and sisters, if we are to think of ourselves with sober minds, we have to reject the me-centered booze of this world. Being like and being liked by everyone else is not why God saved us. He rescued us in order to remake us, to transform us.
In the same way, this sober-minded, humble life should help us see how we need and fit with God's people. Those who live on God's humble pie know they need others. Listen to 12:3-8...
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.  For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,  so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  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.
Mental drunkenness leads us to a sinful sense of self-sufficiency and independence. By contrast, humility helps us embrace our need for others, and even the imperfect help God brings through them.
Do you know how a participant at an AA meeting has to introduce himself or herself every time they come? In most cases they say something like, “Hi, I'm John and I'm an alcoholic.” It is a ritual of sorts, a discipline designed to help each person remember the truth about their past, present, and future. Maybe we should do something similar. Maybe every time we come together the first thing that comes out of my mouth should, “Hi, I'm Bryce, and I'm a sinner saved by grace.” What if we all did that? Do you think that would be helpful?
You may remember that our working definition of humility went like this:
Humility is an inner condition, springing from a true recognition of my proper position.
And so, within the heart and mind of the humble man or woman, humility is always inspecting, consistently rediscovering the truth about God’s holiness and grace and who we are, our proper position, in light of these things. Are you sober this morning? My friend took his own life, because, in the end, he could not see his life through God's eyes; painful lies had shackled his heart.
This morning, we come full circle, back to the words of Peter that we began with six weeks ago. Do you remember what Peter wrote:
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you... (I Peter 5:5, 6)
And how do we know whether or not we have humbled ourselves? Because it will change us; we will see it. We will see humility reaching out in dependence on God. We will see humility deflecting, giving all glory to God. We will see humility learning through a teachable spirit. We will see humility understanding as we are patient with others, and humility caring as we serve others in love. And all the while, we will see humility inspecting, helping us stay sober-minded in light of so many temptations to lose sight of our proper position.
Every truly humble heart gets its start when God humbles us through the message of the gospel; sinners saved by grace; the innocent dying for the guilty; enemies become children. May God keep us there at the cross, and in doing so, keep us humble.