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Saved to Serve: Romans 12:3-8

Updated on September 1, 2019
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I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

Introduction: The Right Thinking Believer

One who is truly a believer in Christ should think differently about himself than those in the world. Knowing what Christ did for us and the fact that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, leads a Christian to be humble. By humility, I don't mean that we should think poorly of ourselves. C.S Lewis once said: "Humility isn't thinking less of yourself. It is, rather thinking of yourself less." It is caring for others and their needs. I am reminded of a story from missions history that I read recently. Here is that account, written by an unknown author. He says:

Robert Morrison, the noted missionary to China, who lived from 1782-1834, wrote to his friends in England, asking for an assistant. In response a young man from the country offered himself. After an interview, the members of the board decided that though he was an earnest Christian he was too rough and unpolished and they gave him this decision: "We do not think you fit to be a missionary, but if you would like to go out as a servant to the missionary, we will send you."

After hearing this answer, he said, "Well, sir, if the gentlemen don't think me fit to be a missionary, I will go as a servant. I am willing to be a hewer of wood and a drawer of water or do anything to help the cause of my Heavenly Master."

He was sent out as a servant, but he soon became a missionary and turned out to be Dr. William Milne, one of the best missionaries that ever went to that country.

Milne discovered early that the only life that is truly worthwhile is the life of service. Those who only focus on themselves will end up with nothing when life is over and zero to show for their entire existence when standing before the Lord. Those who have lived the Christian life as it was intended have realized that the way to have a really joy-filled life is not to exist for self but to live a life of service to Christ and for others. Further, in the end, it is the only one that God will reward.

In Romans 12:3-8 Paul is continuing his discussion of what we should be doing in light of all the many mercies of God which he made possible in sending Jesus Christ to earth to save us. The first 11 chapters of Romans were largely the theological basis upon which we should now be operating in the last 5 chapters of the book.

Paul showed us that righteousness can never come from good works, but is a free gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Everything that we are, all that we have, and the future we will one day enjoy are because of God's grace, or His unmerited favor toward us. It is the glorious gospel that righteousness and salvation are obtained by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

In view of this, the Apostle begins this chapter by telling us that we should be "living sacrifices." Paul calls this our "spiritual service of worship." Just as the body of a dead sacrifice is totally given for the Lord on the altar, so our lives and bodies are to be given totally to the Lord as well. Here are his words:

"Therefore, I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (12:1,2)

The Christian is to undergo metamorphosis or transformation so that we become more and more like Jesus Christ. Paul tells us we are to do this by renewing our minds. Renewal of the mind can only come through the Holy Spirit as He reveals God's Word to us. Therefore it is necessary for us to read, study, memorize and meditate upon the Scriptures. And, of course, the Lord also uses godly preachers and teachers to transmit and help us interpret properly His Word as well. Which is why He has given the gift of pastor/teacher to certain members of the Body of Christ.

An inevitable transformation that we should see as we change is that our self-centered attitude becomes other-centered. A major characteristic of sin is putting self above God and others. It leads to pride and wanting your own way. And it's how the world thinks. Sin is looking out for number one without caring how it affects others. As our minds are transformed and renewed into Christ's likeness there are at least two major changes that should be taking place. They include, first, a sober judgment or assessment of ourself. And, second, a willingness to use our gifts for others, especially fellow believers. Simply put, it is the realization that we are saved, not to sit around and do nothing, or even to work for self-interest. We are saved to serve God and others.

I. A Change to a Sober Assessment of Self (12:3)

It was the English Presbyterian minister and Puritan John Flavel who once said: "They that know God will be humble. And they that know themselves cannot be proud."

That seems to be Paul's sentiments in verse three of chapter 12 when he tells the Romans:

"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 so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith."

Without God's grace and mercy, all of us deserve eternal separation from God in Hell. And when we become Christians, all of the abilities and gifts that we have don't come from ourselves. They come because of the grace of God as well.

Paul humbly tells the Christians in Rome that it was through God's grace that he himself was able to talk to them. This is, no doubt, referring to his salvation and apostleship which he always attributed to God's unmerited favor. Paul, before his conversion, was anything but humble. Here are some of the credentials that he once put his confidence in according to his writings to the Philippians. He tells them:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless (Philippians 3:4-6).

However, because of what Christ did in his life, this is his view of these accomplishments. He continues:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (3:7-9).

God's grace produced in Paul a true humility that he kept the rest of his life. He told this to Timothy, his son in the faith:

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus." (I Timothy 1:12-14).

So Paul was the perfect person to tell believers not to think more highly of themselves than they ought. Because he had a sober judgment of his own worth before a holy God. In the same way, if any believer exercises sound judgment they will realize that, in themselves, they are nothing. All that they are, or ever hope to be, they owe it all to the Lord Jesus Christ.

And they also realize that they have been given a measure of faith to serve God. By "a measure of faith" the Apostle is not talking about saving faith here. Paul probably means a faithful stewardship, the kind, and quality to perform one's own spiritual gift. It is the correct proportion of spiritual gifts or supernatural endowments and abilities that the Holy Spirit gives to each believer in Christ. This leads us to the next change in the believer's mind.

II. Change to a Willingness to Serve Others (12:4-8)

Not only does the maturing Christian have a sound or sober judgment of himself but his mind is also changed so that he has a desire to serve God and others as well. We were created to be beings that live in a community of harmony and fellowship. Sin destroyed our fellowship with God and other men. Salvation reverses this destruction and puts us back in harmony with God first and our fellow Christians, second.

The Lord has given to each of us a variety of spiritual gifts in order to serve one another in the Body of Christ. Of course, they can be used to help others in the world as well. However, we were given the Church, the Body of Christ, in order for the gifts to reach their full expression.

Romans 12:2-8 is one of the New Testament passages which lists the general categories of Spiritual gifts. The other is I Corinthians 12:28-31. The emphasis in each of these lists is not on the believer identifying perfectly what their gifts are. It is rather on our faithfully using the unique enablements that the Lord has given to us. It's not good enough to know what God has given. We are commanded to use these abilities.

John MacArthur says this about the two lists of gifts:

"The fact that the two lists differ clearly implies the gifts are like a palette of basic colors, from which God selects to blend a unique hue for each disciple's life."

The Church is called a Body because we are made up of many different members that serve various functions. Yet they are all necessary parts. And the body cannot function well without each of us doing what God has called us to do. None of us is without some kind of Spiritual gift and we learn from I Corinthians 12:14-27 that there are no superior gifts. For example, the person who preaches and teaches is not more important than the one who serves behind the scenes.

Going back to Romans 12 Paul tells us that we are members of one another and are to exercise our gifts according to the grace which God has given us (6). We have no reason to boast that we have these abilities because the gift, as well as the specific way in which it is used and the spiritual results, are all due to God's unmerited favor or grace upon us.

Paul goes on to list some specific gifts that those who have them should use according to the grace of God who gave them. They include

  1. Prophecy to be used according to the proportion of a person's faith. This is the Greek word which means "speaking forth" and does not necessarily mean to predict the future. It could indeed be the revealing of the future but it could also just be the skill of proclaiming the Word of God. The revelatory aspect of this is no longer with us today since God's Word is complete. But obviously, we still have those who open the Scriptures to us and are prophets in that sense.
  2. Service to be used in serving others. This is from the same Greek word as deacon and refers to those who serve. This is similar to the gift of helps found in I Corinthaians12:28. It has a broad application and includes every kind of practical help.
  3. Teaching, to be used to teach God's people His Word. This is the ability to Interpret, clarify, systematize and explain God's truth clearly. Pastors must have this. However, laypeople can have this unique ability as well. It differs from prophecy in that it is a unique skill for the public proclamation of the Word.
  4. Giving, to be done with liberality. Obviously, everyone can give. But this is sacrificial sharing and the giving of one's resources and one's self for the needs of others.
  5. One who leads, to be done with diligence. This word literally means "standing before." Paul also calls this gift "administrations". It is a word which means "to guide" and is used of the person who steers a ship. However, in the New Testament, it is used exclusively of leadership in the home and the church. The church's leadership should have this gift. However, just like teaching, others can have this as well.
  6. One who shows mercy, to be done with cheerfulness. This is one who actively shows sympathy and sensitivity to people who are suffering or are experiencing sorrow. Not everyone has the willingness or the resources to do this task and help to lessen people's afflictions. But the ones who do are definitely needed by the Body of Christ. In doing this cheerfully, it ensures that this gift is a genuine help. One who isn't cheerful will simply just commiserate with the person in misery, thus leading to further discouragement.

As you can see from all of these gifts, they are never to be done in isolation from other people. Jesus Christ became a servant and He expects His people to be servants of others as well. A mind transformed by the Holy Spirit is one that seeks to do its part in this world and in Christ's Body in order to advance Christ's work on this earth.


The bottom line is that God created us, He saved us and He empowers us for ministry. Our main goal in life is that we must decrease and He must increase. God should be glorified by all that we think, do and say. We should have a realistic understanding of our own importance. And realistically His glory is far more important than our own, for without Him we are literally nothing.

This attitude can be seen in the life of Dr. William Carey, the great missionary. Here is a story which I found on an illustration website. The biographer tells us this:

Among those who visited Dr. Carey, the missionary, in his last illness was Alexander Duff, the Scotch missionary.

On one occasion he spent some time talking chiefly about Carey's missionary life, until the dying man whispered, "Pray." Duff knelt down and prayed and then said "Goodbye."

As he passed from the room, he thought he heard a feeble voice pronouncing his name, and turning, found that he was recalled. He stepped back accordingly, and this is what he heard, spoken with gracious solemnity: "Mr. Duff, you have been speaking about Dr. Carey! Dr. Carey! When I am gone say nothing about Dr. Carey—speak about Dr. Carey's Saviour."

Duff went away rebuked and awed, with a lesson in his heart that he never forgot.

It is my prayer that all of us will come to the conclusion that we are put on this earth to serve God and to serve the people that He loves. We've been given gifts for that express purpose. Let us, His people, get serious about Him and the jobs He has given each of us to do. And as we do our part, we also spread His love and His Gospel to the world that so desperately needs the Savior whom we follow. And may people, at the end of our lives not speak of us, but speak of our God who made our service possible.

© 2019 Jeff Shirley


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