Three Marks of a Renewed Mind | Romans 12:3-8

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  • Three Marks of a Renewed Mind | Romans 12:3-8
  • Romans is the greatest letter ever written. The epistle is a clear, compelling, and comprehensive argument for justification by faith alone – the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls. But Romans is not just about what Christians believe. It is also about how Christians behave. Romans 12 shifts the focus of the letter from doctrine to duty.

    How should Christians live? 

    • Romans 12:1 says we should act like Christians: “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.” 
    • Romans 12:2 says we should think like Christians: “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.”

    As a beneficiary of sparing mercy, you should present your life to God as an offering of worship. But you cannot be a living sacrifice with a worldly mind. To change the way you live is to change the way you think. Before you can present your body, you must renew your mind. How can I renew my mind? Romans 12:3-8 is a corporate answer to a personal question. 

    • Verses 1-2 instruct us to live with consecration to God. 
    • Verses 3-8 instruct us to live in community with others. 

    The two sections go together. Your attitude toward the church reveals the state of your mind. James R. Edwards commented: “The believer must first know who we are before he or she can know who I am. Faith, in other words, is corporate before it is individual.” What is your attitude toward the church? Romans 13:3-8 teaches three marks of a renewed mind.

    Personal Humility

      Romans 12:2 instructs us to think like Christians. Verse 3 explains how to develop a Christian mindset: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone 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.” There is a play on words here that is not obvious in our English translations. But Paul uses the Greek word for “think” four times in this verse to show two ways to think like a Christian. 

      Practice lowly thinking. Verse 3 says, “For by the grace of given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think.” Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ. Yet he did not use his authority to lord it over the saints. Verse 1 appeals to them as brothers. Verse 3 claims grace as his right to speak. Romans 1:5 says, “We have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith.” Romans 15:5 says, “But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God.”

        Grace gave Paul the authority to address “everyone among you.” No one was to look around, wondering who he was talking about. The warning applies to all: “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think.” The term is used only here. It means to be high-minded or overly proud. A.T. Robertson wrote, “Self-conceit is here treated as a species of insanity.” 

        It may be a statement about their attitudes toward their spiritual gifts. Or it may be a statement about their attitudes toward their racial distinctions. Neither your personal accomplishments nor your ethnic background gives you the right to have a super-inflated estimation of yourself. Galatians 6:3 says, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are more than you are! 

        Practice sober thinking. How do you prevent thinking more highly than you ought to think? Verse 3 answers: “Think with sober judgment.” Either you are drunk on yourself, or you think with sober judgment. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 

        How can I change the way I think? Recognize that “God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” “Measure” may refer to a quantity or a standard. Most likely, it refers to a standard. That standard is Christ himself. The emphasis here is not the source, not the standard. God has allotted to each a measure of faith. Here is why you should not think more highly of yourself than you ought. 

        • What you have, God gave you. 
        • What you know God taught you. 
        • Where you are, God brought you. 

        1 Corinthians 4:7 asks, “For who sees anything different in you? 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?”

        Spiritual Unity 

          The Latin phrase “E Pluribus Unum” – “out of many, one” – is the unofficial motto of the United States. It is a noble ideal, but it is not our reality. That principle is to the reality of the church. It is what scripture means when it calls the church the body of Christ. Rather than defining the church, the New Testament describes it with word pictures. The primary metaphor for the church is a body. Paul uses this imagery for the first time in verses 4-5. Verse 4 is the illustration; verse 5 is the application.  

          A Healthy Physical Body. Verse 4 is the illustration: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function.” How does a healthy body work? 

            One body. Paul begins the picture by stating that a person has “one body.” You may or may not like the body you live in, but it is the only one you have. You can make changes to your body, but you cannot change bodies. The different parts are united in one body. 

            Many members. A person has one body. But that one body has “many members.” 1 Corinthians 12:14 says, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” 1 Corinthians 12:19-20 says, “If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”

             Different functions. The many members of one body have different functions. The limbs, skeleton, tissue, muscles, and organs operate differently. These diverse functions are not in competition. Pain, sickness, and disease happen when a member of the body is out of order. But in a healthy physical body, the different functions work together harmoniously. 

            A Healthy Spiritual Body. Verse 5 is the application: “So we, though many, are body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” The verse makes two assertions. 

             We are one body in Christ. This is true of the universal church. But Paul is talking here about the local church. 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” When you turn from your sin and trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit baptizes you into the body of Christ. 

            Colossians 1:18 says, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” The church is the body of Christ. He is the Head of the body, the church. Christ does not have “out-of-body experiences.” To be in fellowship with the Head is to be a participating member of the body.

            Are you in Christ? It does not matter if you are in church if you are not in Christ. God created you to glorify him and enjoy him forever. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But God sent his Son Jesus, who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead. If you trust Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are not only saved by him; you are saved in him! 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

            We are members of one another. The body of Christ is a living organism, not a lifeless organization. To be a part of the church is about more than being a part of an institution. To mix metaphors, the body of Christ is a spiritual family. We say that blood is thicker than water. But the water of baptism is thicker than blood. Galatians 3:28-29 says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

            We share an intimate fellowship in Christ that cannot be compared to any human relationship. Romans 12:5 says we are “individually members one of another.” Paul does not say we are members of the body. We are members of one another. Genuine Christianity lives interdependently. I need you, and you need me. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

            • What blessed member of the church are you rejoicing with? 
            • What burdened member of the church are you weeping with? 

            Faithful Ministry

              We flesh out the body-life of the church by using our gifts to minister to one another. Romans 12:6-8is the first reference to spiritual gifts in the New Testament. There is a lot in these three verses to claim our attention. But our focus should be on the exhortation in verse 6: “Let us use them.” 

              Christians get distracted by talk about discovering their gift. No place in the New Testament teaches us how to find our gifts. The repeated emphasis is that you have them and should use them. How should you use your spiritual gifts?

              Use your gifts personally. Verse 6 says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” 

                The word “gifts” is connected etymologically to the word “grace.” Spiritual gifts are grace gifts. They are divine enablement for Christian service. You should not be looking for your gifts. You should be looking for opportunities to serve. God’s commandment is God’s enablement. When you serve according to God’s will, he will give you what you need to do the job.  

                The verse assumes that all the saints have gifts. It is not proper to say that a preacher or singer is “so gifted” as if they are unique. There are no ungifted Christians. But our gifts differ according to the grace given to us. 1 Corinthians 12-14 is the fullest mention of spiritual gifts in the New Testament. It is a rebuke of those who thought that having the gift of tongues made them better than other Christians. The heart of that passage teaches that your gift is worthless if you do not use it in love. Warren Wiersbe wrote: “Spiritual gifts are tools to build with, not toys to play with or weapons to fight with.”

                Don’t compare, compete, or complain about your gift. Remember that you have your gift according to the grace given to you. This is how Paul referred to his apostolic authority in verse 3. Whatever gift you have is unearned, unmerited, and undeserved. Be thankful that you are on God’s program and do what you can for the good of others and the glory of God. 

                1 Peter 4:10-11 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” 

                Use your gifts properly. We are stewards of the gifts God has given us. We must use them properly as those who will give account. How do we use our gifts properly?

                The Proper Assignment. Verses 6-8 catalog seven spiritual gifts. The list is representative, not exhaustive. More gifts are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. Here, Paul lists prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy. The list does not refer to titles, offices, or positions. 

                • You get the honor by what you are called. 
                • God gets the glory by what you do. 

                The list is in no particular order; it seems intentionally random. Service is mentioned before teaching. Leadership is mentioned toward the end of the list. There should be no “big I, little you” mentality. 

                1 Corinthians 12:22-26 says, “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

                The Proper Attitude. This random list of diverse gifts emphasizes faithful ministry. I wish Paul had said more about the nature or meaning of these listed gifts. But he does not define any of them. The emphasis is not on what you do but how you do it. If you prophecy, do it in proportion to your faith. Prophets should only speak the faith by faith.

                • If you’re called to serve, serve. 
                • If you’re called to teach, teach. 
                • If you’re called to exhort, exhort. 

                Don’t bury your talent in the ground. Be a good and faithful servant. If you give, do with generosity – not looking for recognition. If you lead, give God your best. If you show mercy, put a smile on your face. Don’t do it with a bad attitude. Why be generous, zealous, and cheerful? Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.”  


                H.B. Charles Jr.

                Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.