First Things First

Monday: A Right Estimate of Ourselves

Romans 12:3 To learn not to esteem ourselves more highly than we should, we must cultivate a proper relationship to God, a proper evaluation of ourselves, and right relationships with others.
A Right Estimate of Ourselves

Some time ago I came across the story of a man who imagined himself to be quite spiritual. He was talking with a more mature friend, and he asked his friend to pray for him that he might be humble. “Pray for me that I might be nothing,” he said. 

His friend replied with some wisdom, probably thinking of 1 Corinthians 1:28, “You are nothing, brother. Take it by faith.” 

This is what Paul wants us to do in Romans 12:3, as he moves from his profound development of the first principles of the Christian life in Romans 12:1-2 to a discussion of a Christian’s right relationship to other people that fills the remainder of the chapter. His words specifically combine a right estimation of ourselves with faith, though in a slightly different sense from my story. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you,” Paul says. 

Robert S. Candlish outlines Romans 12 in three parts: 1) the Christian’s relationship to God (vv. 1-2); 2) the Christian’s relationship to the church (vv. 3-13); and 3) the Christian’s relationship to a hostile world (vv. 14-21).1

If we follow his outline, we are at the start of section two, “The Christian’s Relationship to the Church.” Much of what follows is indeed about the church. However, it is important to see that in starting this discussion Paul focuses first on the Christian’s estimate of himself alone, since he knows that none of us will ever properly evaluate and esteem other Christians within the fellowship of the church if our pride is in the way. 

It is a matter of handling first things first: first, the matter of my relationship to God; second, a proper evaluation of myself; and third, a right relationship to other persons. 

This still involves the mind, of course. You will recall that in the first two verses of the chapter Paul has been telling us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but rather “to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” He is calling for a radical mental readjustment. Now what he has been calling for in verses 1 and 2 is going to be expressly spelled out, which he makes clear by beginning, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” 

Even in this English translation we cannot miss the fact that verse 3 repeats the idea of thinking twice. There is a wrong kind of thinking that we are to reject (thinking too highly of ourselves) and a right kind of thinking that we are to embrace (thinking soberly). Both involve thought. 

However, in the Greek text the emphasis on right as opposed to wrong thinking is even stronger than this, since the word for thinking (phronein), occurs four times, twice with prefixes. Phronein means to make a right estimate of things. A fairly literal translation of verse 3 would go like this: “I say through the grace that is given to me, to every one of you, that you should not estimate yourself beyond what you should estimate, but that you should estimate yourself in such a way as to have a sensible estimate of yourself.”

1Robert S. Candlish, Studies in Romans 12: The Christian’s Sacrifice and Service of Praise (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1989). Original edition 1867.

Study Questions
  1. Why is the order of God, self, and then others important?
  2. How should we evaluate ourselves?
  3. How is our mind involved in godly self-evaluation?

Reflection: What is the wrong kind of thinking we are to reject in verse 3? How have you been guilty of this kind of thinking? Also according to verse 3, what kind of right thinking should you have, and how do you put this into practice?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Humility: Evidence of Consecration.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

For Further Study: If we are going to apply Paul’s practical instructions in Romans 12, we need to begin with a proper understanding of our minds and what it means to think as a Christian. James Boice’s careful study of Romans 12:1-2, Renewing Your Mind in a Mindless World, is available from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals at 20% off the regular price.

Tagged under
More Resources from James Montgomery Boice

Subscribe to the Think & Act Biblically Devotional

Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals

About the Alliance

The Alliance is a coalition of believers who hold to the historic creeds and confessions of the Reformed faith and proclaim biblical doctrine in order to foster a Reformed awakening in today’s Church.

Canadian Donors

Canadian Committee of The Bible Study Hour
PO Box 24087, RPO Josephine
North Bay, ON, P1B 0C7