Last week I preached a sermon on Romans 12v3, part of a series I have called 'Foundations of Faith' from Romans 12. If you follow this link to the sermon you will see that, whilst I was aware that this was a transition verse from v1-2, I followed the pattern of most commentators (and the paragraph breaks of modern versions) by putting v3 with the section v3-8 which talks about gifts and their use in the church. Thus, I pointed out (rightly) that, just as our salvation is all of God ("in view of God's mercy" v1), and our sanctification is also all of Him (v1b-2), our work in the church is also all of him (v3) - He is the one who provides the gifts, He is the one who gives us the strength to use the gifts, it is only by His spirit that our gifts can be applied for His purposes and we apply the gifts He has given only through faith in Him. To Him alone be all the glory in the church!
However, meditating on this verse, I have also become convinced that the verse applies back to v1-2. That is, I have become convinced that the verse is also intrinsically related to our salvation and sanctification, not just our gifting. This view restores v3 to be a genuine 'transition' verse, and is therefore the more complete (and, I think, correct) view. Let me explain what I mean...
Paul starts "For by the grace given to me", which I pointed out was a kind of code, pointing us back to his position as an Apostle. It was also a wonderful illustration of the point he is about to make ... that all that He is, has and did to Paul is all given by grace alone - none of the credit can go to Paul, but all must go to God. And so, just as the gift of Apostleship is from God, so is the gift of salvation. Now, he says, 'do not think more highly of yourself than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment'. This applies to salvation and sanctification too! We are saved only by grace (Eph 2v8-9), and we are made a new creation only 'in Christ' (2 Cor 5v17). It is only by the power of the spirit that His new creation is continually renewed so that it is not 'conformed to the pattern of this world' (Rom 12v2). It is only He who can make the sacrifice Holy as our bodies are offered to Him daily (Rom 12v1, Ex 29v37). We are therefore never to consider 'bigging ourselves up in our minds' to consider that it is by our effort that we are sanctified. To do so is 'foolish thinking' (not thinking with "sober judgment"), that causes us to fail to act in faith and seek this transformation by our own power. This makes sense of the last part of v3 "in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you" ... God gives faith to us all - it is His gift in salvation - but we can reduce the impact by failing to act on that faith and instead looking to ourselves.
So, we are not to think of ourselves too highly - we cannot do anything towards our sanctification because it is only by His power as He enables us to resist the attacks of the devil and show the fruit of His spirit in us. All on the altar - all pride at what we have become, all self-reliance, all self-exaltation - none of this has a place. It is only 'in Christ' that we are new creations. Yes, we must stand firm on His word. Yes, we must resist the devil. Yes, we must offer our bodies on His altar. But we do so only in His strength, only by His power, only through His Spirit at work in us.
So, when we look in the spiritual 'mirror', I hope you are pleased with what you see God has made you become. But never take on the praise to yourself, never think it is in your power, never believe that you have done it yourself. Never be a Nebuchadnezzar, surveying the blessings God has given and claiming the glory for yourself! Be God glorifying people!