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Just as most of us cringe when we hear the sound of our own recorded voice, so most of us cringe at the thought of knowing ourselves rightly, even as Christians. But we must. God calls us to evaluate ourselves in Romans 12:3:
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.
Paul wrote these words after setting forth the gospel of God’s redeeming grace in Romans 1–11. He then calls Christians to be living sacrifices through the renewing of our minds in Romans 12:1–2. In verse 3, Paul urges us to use our minds to rightly evaluate ourselves; four times he uses the word “think” or “judge.”
How are we to think? Two categories emerge. On the one hand, we must not be arrogant and overestimate our gifts and abilities. On the other hand, we must soberly and accurately appreciate the gifts with which the Lord has endowed us and effectively use them in sacrificial service. We are to avoid both boastful pride and false humility.
How do we think with greater humility? First, we remember the source of our gifts. Paul asked the Corinthians: “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?” (1 Cor. 4:7). We will not think too highly of ourselves if we understand that every gift we receive has come from God’s hand.
Second, humility comes as we thoughtfully pray for others as they exercise their gifts in Christ’s body. “Everyone among you” has gifts, not just you. Paul lists various gifts that Christ distributes in His church in Romans 12:4–8. Each of us needs the service of others; none of us has all the gifts. Jesus alone is full of grace and truth; there is no measure to His gifting, but there is to ours. When we pray that God would bless the unique service of other individuals in the church and encourage them in their efforts, we grow in appreciation of them.
Third, we grow in humility when we realize that the Lord equips us for the sake of serving others. Jesus did not exploit His position for His own sake but came and humbly served us; we should do likewise. When we have the mind of Christ and are others-focused, pride melts away. So let us simply get to work with whatever skills and abilities we have to serve others.
Next, how do we think soberly and accurately about ourselves and the gifts God has given? We err through false humility if we do not acknowledge the gifts we have been given or use them to serve the Lord and His people. John Murray wrote, “If we underestimate, then we are refusing to acknowledge God’s grace and we fail to exercise that which God has dispensed for our own sanctification and that of others.”
First, to soberly judge ourselves, we must ask God in prayer to make clear to us how He has gifted us. To know His answer, we must study lists of gifts such as the one in Romans 12:4–8. There, we see that Christ arrays His body with diverse gifts and functions: service, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership, and mercy work. Mindful of those kinds of categories, we should ask the Lord, “What am I good at, by Your grace?” and “What do I enjoy doing that truly meets the needs of Your people?”
Second, we should ask other brothers and sisters to help us evaluate our gifts. We must listen to them and be careful not to reject their assessments in the name of humility. Then, we labor to sharpen the gifts they see in us. Believers who seek peer evaluations regularly are those who grow in faithfulness with their gifts. Giftings can also change over time. Thus, we always need to be taking stock of our gifts in order to adjust our service. Friends sometimes see such changes in us before we do. Proverbs 19:20 tells us to “listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”
Third, we “jump in” to serve by exercising our known gifts, trusting that the Lord will guide us into greater clarity. We are to soberly judge ourselves “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Though this phrase is hard to interpret, it seems best to understand that the “measure of faith” speaks of the different ways our faith is to be exercised depending on our particular gifting. It is not the quantity or strength of our faith that is emphasized here, but each person must exercise faith while employing the unique gifts the Lord has given. In the particulars of our labor and sacrificial service, we rest on Christ alone to lead us. By faith, we do what we know we can do and trust that the Lord will lead us into more.
Romans 12:3 offers an implicit warning, too. The church loses twice when we do not think soberly. When we covet the gifts of others and try to serve in a way contrary to our gifting, the calling and work we selfishly undertake is poorly fulfilled. Conversely, the calling and work that we were well equipped to fulfill but refused to perform may end up going unfulfilled or being poorly done.
To know God deeply in the exercise of our gifts, we must know ourselves. Thinking rightly about ourselves can be uncomfortable work. However, as we know and use our gifts according to the Lord’s design, we will know more of the greatness of our God as we together with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 15:6).