Grace For The Journey
I have noticed a curious report over the last few years in which American High School students are tested and then compared with students from other countries. These reports have caused quite a stir among educators because for quite a few years American students have been lagging significantly behind in science and math as compared to those from other nations. This math and science “deficit” has resulted in several programs that are trying to boost those scores. There was, however, one area in which the American students were rated top in the world. Self-esteem. Though the students were performing poorly compared to those of the other nations, they did feel better about themselves than those other students felt about themselves. In this case, self-esteem and actual performance were not directly related. The strange thing is that only a few conservatives thought that this indicated a problem. Perhaps it would be better if our students did not feel so good about themselves and so would work a little harder to perform better. But that idea is contrary to the philosophy of the educational elite which greatly values a high self-esteem.
Having a high self-esteem has become a critical issue within much of our society. Many of those who push this issue do not believe there has to be a correlation between feeling good about oneself and actual performance. These are the people that are behind the move to eliminate “winning” in children’s sports league. Everyone is a “winner” and trophies are given to everyone out of fear the children that did not do as well will feel bad if the “winners” are honored. Instead of preparing children for real life and encouraging them to try harder, they are pampered and set up for some very tough lessons when they do enter the real world. In addition, there is no reward for those that succeeded because they tried harder, so they eventually do not try as hard. In the interest of pumping of the self-esteem of these children, the character traits that result in actual success are discouraged.
In some theological circles this has been pushed to the point that the Scriptures have been twisted into advocating self-love as being of the first importance. Some even strongly arguing that until a person has high self-esteem, they cannot love other people. One author even goes far as to say that the core of original sin is negative self-image or lack of self-esteem. What does the Bible say about this issue? Paul addresses what we think about ourselves in Romans12:3.
When a person becomes a Christian, there is a radical change that takes place. Paul has explained much of this throughout the first 11 chapters of Romans. Through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the sinner becomes a saint before God.
There is a new nature that is given birth and new desires begin to set the direction of the person’s life (2 Corinthians 5:17ff). There is a change of masters. Sin and Satan are dethroned and the individual is transferred to the kingdom of Christ where righteousness is now the master (Romans 6). There is still a struggle against sin (Romans 7), but there is a hope for the future and the present that cannot be taken away. There is nothing, no entity, no circumstance, past, present or future that can separate us from the love of God demonstrated and proved when Jesus Christ died in our place while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8 and 8:35f.). The good work that God started in us before time even began will be completed in our future glorification, and nothing can keep that from happening (Romans 8:19-20,). His promises to us are as sure as His promises to Israel (Romans 9-11).
Paul has presented the theology of the Gospel in the first eleven chapters of Romans. Starting in chapter 12, Paul begins to detail the proper response to the Gospel. In verses 1 and 2 he gives the foundational principles.
It is upon the basis of the great mercies that God has shown to us in redeeming us from our sins through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ that Paul calls on us to present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices that are pleasing to God. Being a living sacrifice is the reasonable response of true worship that we should have because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Worship is not a Sunday morning thing. It is the response of how you live your life in a daily and moment to moment basis in giving honor and glory to God.
The Christian is transformed into a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God as we learn to resist the efforts of the world to mold them into its image, and instead are having our minds renewed. We are learning to value what God values instead of what the world values. We see things from the eternal perspective instead of the temporal one. We become less self-centered and more God centered as we begin to understand our circumstances less in terms of how it is affecting us and more in terms of what God can do in the midst of the situation. As the we become more mature in our walk with God, our manner of life demonstrates God’s will because we are doing what is good and acceptable to Him.
Practical Living as a Holy Sacrifice
This changed life will demonstrate itself in many practical ways. We will be examining these specific areas over the next few weeks. In verses 3-8, Paul addresses the first specific change – How is the Christian supposed to think of themselves since they have become part of the body of Christ?
The Christian will view himself differently than the non-Christian because the life of a Christian is no longer bound up in self. The Christian is part of something far bigger than self. Paul previously made the point that the one who believes in Jesus Christ is joined to Him that you might bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4). Here Paul points out that the Christian is also part of the Body of Jesus Christ. What you do and how you act will have an effect upon everyone else who is part of that Body. In the next week of so we will look closely at the nature of the Body of Christ as well as various gifts that God has given to Christians so that you might serve God with wisdom and diligence, but for today, I want us to concentrate on the mindset that Paul points out we are to have as part of that body.
Look again at verse 3, “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.” Several elements stand out in this verse: 1) It is a command, not an option; 2) We are not to be proud; 3) We are to think with sound judgement based on God’s work in us.
A Command, Not An Option.
Paul’s statement here is given as a command based upon Paul’s apostleship. The phrase, “through the grace given to me” is used by Paul in several passages as a reference to God’s gracious work in him in calling him as an apostle.
- In Romans 1:5, Paul refers to the grace and apostleship he had received from Jesus Christ that he might bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles. That is precisely the purpose of his command in verse three. This proper self-evaluation is part of the obedience of faith for it involves thinking correctly about oneself and then carrying out the proper actions in light of being part of the body of Christ.
- In Romans 15:15-16, Paul uses this phrase again in a very direct statement about his authority as an apostle. :But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Paul recognizes completely that it was God’s grace alone that has made him an apostle, so he can be completely humble in his statement while at the same time also being completely authoritative, because an apostle is someone who is sent with the authority of the one who sent him, in this case, the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Paul uses this same phrase again in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 where he says, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Here he uses the analogy of being a builder to describe his work as an apostle in their lives.
- In 1 Corinthians 15:10-11, Paul again uses this same phrase to demonstrate that his ministry has been completely dependent upon the grace of God upon him, and not upon his own will and efforts, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
- He says something similar in Ephesians 3:7 concerning his preaching of the Gospel, “of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.”
Paul’s statement in Romans12:3 is not an option for the Christian to take or leave as they please. It is a command that comes with all the authority as if Jesus Christ had said the words Himself, for that is the authority of one of His apostles. The Christian is commanded by Jesus Christ through Paul to “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.”
What does it mean to “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.” This could be reduced down to the idea that the Christian is not to be proud, but Paul’s statement here is more precise than that and therefore gives a greater understanding of the proper balance between an acceptable pride and in improper one.
The Bible has many things to say about pride, and almost all of them are either negative or warnings against it. For example . . .
- In Mark 7:22, Jesus lists pride among the things that are evil that proceed from the heart of man.
- Proverbs 11:2 warns, “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.”
- Proverbs 15:25 says, “The Lord will tear down the house of the proud, but He will establish the boundary of the widow.”
- Proverbs 29:23 adds, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.”
- Proverbs 16:5 is very direct stating, “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished.”
- No wonder the Apostle Peter admonishes us in 1 Peter 5:5-6, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.”
Some have taken these statements and concluded that all pride is evil. But the Bible does not present all pride as bad. For example . . .
- In 2 Chronicles 17:3, King Jehoshaphat “took great pride in the ways of the Lord and again removed the high places and the Asherim from Judah.”
- In Isaiah 4:2 speaking about events to occur in the Millennium says, “In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel.”
- Paul was proud of the Corinthians for their response to the Gospel and to his counsel (2 Corinthians 1:13).
- He desired for them to be proud of him (2 Corinthians 5:12).
- Proverbs tells us that a wise son makes a father glad (Proverbs 10:1; 15:20; 29:3) and that the father of the righteous will greatly rejoice (Proverbs 23:24).
In other words . . .
There is a proper pride,
But that pride is never haughty
And it is always related
To something that reflects
God or His character.
The wise son makes a father glad because wisdom reflects God. Paul was proud of the Corinthians because they had responded to the Gospel and had corrected the things he
had admonished them about so that they were living in greater godliness. Jehoshaphat took pride in the ways of the Lord and so acted accordingly.
All pride is not evil,
For there is
A proper pride
We are to have in
What the Lord is
Doing through us.
We will see that even more clearly as we look at spiritual gifts. What is wrong is the
improper pride that causes a person to think more highly of himself than he should. That is the pride the Lord resists and punishes.
This is the problem with the self-esteem movement that has affected our country, and even the church, so much over the last couple of decades.
It is not about helping people develop
A proper confidence in their abilities
So that they might attempt even greater challenges.
It is about giving people a sense of pride
About things for which they have
No reason to be proud – such as
Students who perform poorly,
But still feel good about it.
It is one thing to do the best you can and be out done by someone else. There can still be a sense accomplishment in that, but to think highly of yourself when neither performance or effort were present is only baseless pride. That is thinking of yourself more highly than you ought.
The self-esteem movement has affected the church
With very bad theology, for it is man centered.
Self-worth based on self-esteem is nothing
More than baseless pride. Proper self worth
Is based in the rock solid foundation of God,
His character, and His actions through us.
For example, Robert Schuller, one of many popular “Christian” leaders who promote this idea, has said, “Pride in being a human being is the single greatest need facing the human race today?” (Self-Esteem – The New Reformation, pg. 19).
The single greatest need
In the human race today
Is salvation from sin.
That is the same need that has been there since Adam first fell into sin. There is no basis of pride in being a human being. We are the cause of God’s curse on this earth and Jesus’ death. Our only pride can be in our Savior who loved us and redeemed us for himself.
Schuller has also said “To be born again means that we must be changed from a negative to a positive self-image” (Self-Esteem, pg. 68). He defines salvation as “to be permanently lifted from sin (psychological self-abuse with all of its consequences as seen above) and shame to self-esteem and its God-glorifying, human need-meeting, constructive, and creative consequences” (Self-Esteem, pg. 99).
To be born again is to be made alive in Christ
From our state of being dead in our trespasses and sin.
Salvation is from sin and its consequences.
Salvation is a spiritual reality in which
The sinner is transferred from
Satan’s kingdom to Christ’s kingdom.
It is not a psychological mind game.
Schuller goes on in his book (pg. 36) to say, “God is trying to build his kingdom by appealing to our unsatisfied hunger for self-esteem. He offers to save us from guilt and shame and insecurity and fear and boredom to a life of security, serenity, stimulation, and self-esteem! Here then is a theology of salvation that glorifies God, for it glorifies his children by lifting them from hostility and rebellion-generating doubt and fear to self-confidence-building, creativity-inspiring, human-potential-releasing, human-brotherhood motivating, self-esteem.” What a contrast all of that is with Jesus’ message that offended the people in John 6 so much that they all left except the disciples, or caused the rich young ruler to go away because he was unwilling to pay the cost of following Jesus (Matthew 19:16ff).
We also find that Jesus often said things very hard on a person’s self-esteem, such as calling the Pharisees “hypocrites, “serpents,” and “whitewashed tombs” (Matthew23), or warning people to repent or they too could perish in some tragedy such as occurred by the collapse of the Tower of Siloam.
Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven
Belonged to the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3).
It does not belong to the proud of heart.
Now most people who are affected by the self-esteem movement are not as heretical in all their theology as Robert Schuller, but I have heard those who would claim to be conservative evangelicals argue that Jesus’ quote of Leviticus 19:18 that “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is a statement that you must love yourself before you can love your neighbor. In doing so, they completely twist what Jesus said into something that is ludicrous. Everyone loves themselves. That is why they feed and take care of themselves. Even in suicide, it is not an act done out of hatred for oneself. It is an act done to protect oneself from further pain. If a person really hated themselves they would do whatever was necessary to cause maximum pain, both physical and emotional. Jesus’ point is the same as Paul’s in Ephesians 5:28-29, “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it.”
Most people do not even go that far, but the problem of pride is universal among all people, including Christians. The self-esteem movement has only aggravated the problem because it has given a veneer of respectability to something God hates. It is my belief that the vast majority of struggles that a Christian will face will be directly related to problems with pride. Let me give you some examples . . .
Finances. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6 that we should not be anxious about the things of this life. Instead we are to seek first His kingdom and righteousness and He will supply our needs. Paul tells us Philippians 4:11-12 that he had learned to be content in every circumstance. Why then are Christians discontent with their finances? It usually boils down to seeing things you do not have and thinking you deserve them. You then spend money on things you do not really need. Several marketers understand this concept well and tell you that “You deserve a break today,” or “Because you are worth it,” so that you will buy their product. It feeds your pride, and you buy.
Race relations. The tension and strife is caused by simple pride. Because people are ego centered, therefore people who are like me are worth more than people who are not. Americans deserve more than the Chinese. Why? Perhaps American can earn more because of making better decisions in a better economic system, but do we “deserve” more? How can the amount of melanin in the skin translate into some automatic determination of a persons’ worth? It can only do that because of the pride existent in people to value those that are like themselves more than those who are somehow different from them.
Personal relationships including marriage. Jesus’ command is for us to love one another as He loves us, and He sacrificed His life on our behalf (John 15:21ff). All Christians are commanded to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself” (Philippians 2:3). Husbands are commanded to love their lives as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). Wives are commanded to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:33). It is pride that causes us to think that other people owe us something. We should instead be looking for ways to love them.
Societal hierarchy. This applies to social circles as well as employment lines of authority. It even applies within the church. Those with power and wealth have characteristically tried to suppress those without it. Those with a higher social standing try to climb up the ladder while kicking those below down further. Hinduism has set up its caste systems. Other religions have their “priestly” class. In Christ there is to be no difference between slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male or female (Galatians 3:8). In the church there is an authority structure, but there is no hierarchy of some being better than others. Jesus said if you wanted to be great in His kingdom, you had to become the servant of all (Mark 9:5). We shall see in the coming days that every person and every gift is needed in the church. As a pastor, I have a position of higher authority in the church based on my gifts, but neither my position or me personally is of greater importance than anyone else in the church.
Over the years I have seen a lot of people do a lot of foolish things because of their pride, including things that have hurt the Body of Christ and our Savior’s cause. I am sure you have too.
As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ,
We are commanded to not think of
Ourselves more highly than we ought.
There is no basis for pride in the Christian.
All that we are and all that we accomplish
Is due simply to God’s grace to us.
He deserves all honor and praise, not us.
We need to follow Paul’s example in this in giving our God that honor and praise. We need to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ in humility in doing anything God asks us to do.
Thinking with Sound Judgement.
How should we think of ourselves? Paul says at the end of verse 2, “Think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” The “measure of faith” is related to our particular gifts and abilities, which we will start examining tomorrow.
Having sound judgement has no basis in pride,
But means that we accurately assess what God
Has given us and then with a confidence in Him
To do His work through us, we step forward
In the confidence of that faith to do that work.
Proper self-esteem is not based in human pride,
But in confidence in God doing a work through you.
Proper self-worth is not based in what you or
Any other human thinks about your value.
It is based solely in what God says about your value.
That removes the pride.
Self-confidence is really not in self,
But in our great God who can
Use us for His purposes.
The self-esteem movement would have you find something to be proud of in yourself and then base your self-worth in that. Some people believe you have intrinsic value simply because you are human and therefore you have value because of that. Some Christians say this is true and state that Jesus’ death proves how much God values humans. All of these can become the basis of pride, and none of them are true.
This may be a harder concept to grasp . . .
But man has no basis for
Self-esteem, self-worth or pride
In anything that originates in man.
Man has no intrinsic value.
Man’s only value comes
As a result of being made
In the image of God.
Do you recall from Genesis 9:6 why God instituted capital punishment for those who
murder another person? It was not because of being a human, but because “in the image of God He made man.” Christ died to redeem mankind because mankind was made in the image of God. We are a love gift from the Father to the Son and from the Son back to the Father (See Titus 1:2; cf. Philippians 2:11; John 17:4ff; 1 Corinthians
What then is sound judgement in evaluating my self-esteem?
- Though I am a sinner and deserving nothing but God’s eternal condemnation,
- God extended His love to me in mercy and grace to redeem me from my sins through Jesus Christ’s atonement for my sin.
- He then graciously imputed Jesus’ righteousness to me on the basis of faith in Him, and has made me part of His family and Christ’s body, the church.
- Through His Holy Spirit he has gifted me to serve Him, and in doing so, I
fulfill His will and bring glory to His name.
In short . . .
I have value because
God can use me for His glory.
When it comes down to it,
I have no other value except in that.
That is the reason that God created me.
Therefore if I want to have greater value,
Then I must be faithful to fulfilling
God’s will for my life and bring Him
The maximum glory that I can.
I step forward to use my gifts in confidence that God will fulfill His promises and enable me to serve Him to my maximum capacity.
Do you know why you exist? Are you fulfilling that purpose? I pray that you understand that your self-worth is bound up in God and God alone. Otherwise you will think of yourself more highly than you ought instead of with sound judgement.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”