“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.” Romans 12:3
At first reading this verse sounds rather tame, akin to a verse you might memorize in Sunday School to remind you to be nice. But there is nothing tame about this verse. It has been given to us to turn our lives upside-down.
- First, it identifies the core belief of the culture of this world
- And second, it describes the life-changing new paradigm that shapes the culture of Christ.
In 1844 a young German university student, Karl Marx, underwent a paradigm shift. He abandoned capitalist economic principles and began to ardently propound a new economic theory called socialism, which when fully developed, was called communism. Marx’s economic ideals found fertile soil among a small but bold group of Russian Bolsheviks in 1919, and the great communist experiment of the 20th century began. A paradigm is the framework through which one sees the world. It guides and shapes life. When a group shares the same paradigm, it guides and shapes a society; when a nation shares the same paradigm, it can shake the world!
The Core Belief of the Culture of this World
We don’t often realize it, but the world is telling us how to think. The pressure is invisible, but real. It comes to us in the classroom and through the media. And it’s so easy to simply follow along and not resist.
With a sharp rap of his apostolic authority – “for through the grace given men, I say…” – Paul commands the Roman church, and us: “Don’t think like the world!” He says, “Don’t approach your life thinking like this. Don’t be guided by such thoughts.” He wakes us up to the internal framework, the paradigm that shapes the kind of life we live.
Our natural state of mind is to “think more highly of ourselves than we ought”, or as J.B. Phillips puts it in his translation, “cherish exaggerated ideas of our own importance”. People naturally look at life from the point of view of their own interests and desires. This is the core belief of the culture of this world: Everything exists, or should exist, for me. The sun rises every morning for me, the earth produces food for me, people are in my life for me. And ultimately, God exists for me.
How many have heard the promises of the gospel and concluded: “I need Jesus to make My life better. I need Jesus to help me meet my goals, to fulfill my will, to fix my marriage.” The core belief of this world makes Christ adjunct and the individual primary!
Don’t think that this prohibition from Paul applies to the arrogant alone. The most humble man on the planet, in his natural state, makes himself the center of attention with his humility!
The Life-Changing paradigm that Shapes the Culture of the gospel
Paul calls this new way of thinking “so-phronein”. When you break down the parts of this Greek word, you find two roots. The root phonein means “to think”, and the “so” at the beginning of the word comes from the verb sodzo, which means “to save”. Paul wrote to Timothy: “God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but one of love, power and ” a saved mind” — a mind saved from foolish and perverse thoughts, attitudes, emotions and perspective. A mind given life and light, renewed, awakened, born again.
“Unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.”
With a mind and attitudes rescued by God’s mercy, we enter a new paradigm, a new way of seeing ourselves and our world. We see everything more and more according to its true nature. We see Christ on His throne: the highest, the greatest, the most glorious Center of everything. And this God-centered thinking, attitude, perspective, emotions changes the way we live and shape the culture of Christ in the world.
Paul concluded Romans 11:33 with “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. AMEN.”
In Christ’s life, with saved thinking, the content of our thoughts are renewed and we are transformed. The Word of God becomes the ruling truth in all our thinking. What God has said is the final authority for the renewed mind. Therefore, read, study, memorize, sing and pray the Word of God. Let is dwell in you richly.
In Christ, with saved thinking, the attitudes of our mind are turned upside-down. We consider others more important than ourselves. We look out for the needs of others. We enjoy peace of mind and joy in the Holy Spirit. The “weather” of our inward self is warmed by the sun of the gospel.
And finally, in Christ, emotions are turned upside-down. Augustine used to teach his disciples that the final stage of Bible study is “delectio” – delighting in the subject of all of scripture: God Himself.
This new paradigm, the paradigm of the gospel, is already re-shaping the Christian on the inside, and like any paradigm, firmly believed, it will inevitably work its way into the whole of life, culture and the world. And for that, Paul says, we need the church. That’s where we follow Romans 12 next.