Rev. Effendi Susanto
Self and God’s Acceptance
Bible Verses: Romans 12:1-3
Romans 12 sets the basic of Christian ethics of which Paul wants to live our life. Prior to that, in chapter 1-11 Paul explained in detail the meaning of sacrifice we received from Jesus Christ. The life we have was not due to our good deeds but it is merely from God’s mercy on us, hence Romans 12:1-2 explains to us how we should response to God. Romans 12:3 then explains how we should response to ourselves. And Romans 12:4 talked about how we should response to, and serve others.
Paul used the word “I urge you…” in explaining our relationship with God. “Urge” is a better word compare to “advise” in the Indonesian translation. Paul did not make it an order for us to offer our bodies as living sacrifice, however God’s mercy on us is too big to be taken lightly. By right we should be returning to God what He has sacrificed for us, even though He did not demanded it from us. Paul urged us to do so, he did not order us to do so. We should worship God without being pressured to do so. This didn’t come as an advise to us to have the flexibility of doing or not doing it neither. So how should we response to God?
There are three points here which we need to take into account in fulfilling a worshipful life. Our sacrifice is not only limited to what we have but it’s a living sacrifice. We are not only becoming Christians who are committed to an act of worship but we are becoming sacrificial Christians. And we also become merciful Christians.
These three points are important in Romans 12:1-2. It is how we should response to God. Then how we should response to ourselves? Romans 12:3 explains it. Before we could serve others or give hands to others because we received plenty, Paul wants us to have a good understanding and judgment about ourselves. Paul raised a very common thing we do that is to think highly of oneself. Paul told us to think of ourselves with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given us. I believe this is a very important point. We often feel disappointed and jealous when other people have more than we do and this often stop us from helping other people because we feel insufficient ourselves. This is not the right perception to have about ourselves.
In the growing stage of our spiritual life, there are two characteristics that are showing that we are growing. We start to recognize that there are things which never cross our minds before. We realize that there are more in ourselves yet to be revealed. At the same time we also recognize that we have weaknesses which limit ourselves. Which is easier to admit to others, your weakness or your strength? Most people find it hard to admit their weakness. Paul talked about the tendency of overestimating one’s self in “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” Does this mean that one act in that way because one dare not admit one’s weakness and try to hide it with being over confident? This happened in the church of Corinthians where some overestimate themselves and some underestimate themselves.
Paul advised us not to think highly of ourselves but rather think of ourselves with sober judgment, in accordance with the measurement of faith God has given us. This gives us happiness. In analysing Romans 12:3, I found that there are superior and inferior feelings where the superior feeling is often used to cover up the inferior feeling. I think our perception about ourselves is often influenced by the negative feeling. When we think we are more important than others, it results in over confidence. At the same time we could be thinking that there are no meaningful and worthy things in ourselves which results in the inferior feeling. These negative thinking often stops us from reaching happiness in life. Why do these negative thoughts often influence our perception of ourselves?
A book by Matthew McCain and Patrick Fenney called “Self Esteem” lays the standard in the self-esteem concept from a secular point of view. There are three reasons why people never think adequately of themselves:
Because we often compare ourselves to others. This lead to us not being happy with ourselves. The grass is always greener on the other side. We compare our children, why other children are bigger than ours? This makes us feel pressured and isolated. When we start comparing ourselves with others, we feel that others have more than us. This creates unhappiness. We then hear people said that we should compare ourselves with the less fortunate people. There are more people who are less fortunate than us and still struggling. This makes us feel relieved and places us above other people’s misfortunate. However, isn’t the unhappiness or misfortunate in life only a temporary thing? Things might swing the other way around in five years of time. God wants us to see ourselves as unique individuals and not to compare ourselves with others. The unhealthy perception rises when we start to compare ourselves with others.
We judge ourselves by what we have achieved. One feels worthy and valuable based on one’s job and status of life. One could have a poor self-esteem when one only feel superior by wearing expensive branded stuff. This is a very artificial standard. For example, when a rich person wear a fake Rolex watch, people still thinks he is wearing a genuine one. However, when a poor person who wants to increase his status by wearing a genuine Rolex, people would still regards it as a fake Rolex. I think this is really relative judgment. A lot of people judge their status by what they achieve.
We often seek other people’s approval. For me it is better to have a friend who can tell me honestly of my weakness rather than a friend who only tells me the good side because he/she is afraid of offending me. This ends up with a wrong perception of us. We often have the wrong perception of ourselves, either over confident or inferior because we constantly seeking others approval. We like being praised; we dislike critics or honest opinion about ourselves.
This book gives us the solution in our way of thinking about ourselves from a secular point of view. How we can have the right self-esteem? The only way is by having unconditional self-acceptance. If you can accept ourselves, who could? If others cannot accept it, you could not even give it away. There is no way out when someone can’t accept oneself. Others can’t love or accept you, only you can learn to love and accept your weakness and inadequacy in your life.
The answer is to refer back to Romans 12:3. Paul realised that this is what we all face. “Think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” This is hard to interpret. How do we think of ourselves in accordance with the measure of faith God has given us? There are two interpretations here:
Not to be jealous of others because God treats us uniquely. God wants us to judge ourselves in accordance to the measure of faith God has given us. This raised a few good questions:
How do I know the standard of the measurement when often what God gives us is not always tangible? We know when God gives us talent, it doesn’t come instantly but it’s going through a process. How do we know if the process is completed?
God gives the same standard measurement to each one of us that is faith in God. There are two things that are related to the measurement of faith to God, e.g. we will be grateful and able to accurately judge ourselves when we know everything comes from God. So we do not measure ourselves from what we achieve but from the measure of faith God gives us. This way we would not hold on to what we receive because we know it is the gift from God.
From here I would like to refer you to the definition of faith by Martin Luther, “Faith is the acceptance of God’s acceptance.” What does it mean by having faith? For me having faith is accepting God because He has first accepted me. This is the answer. To judge one’s self does not mean accepting one for what one is. But the right judgment of one’s self comes because God has first accepted us for what we are. That’s what Paul was trying to explain to us. Let us judge ourselves humbly as it will bring us to judge ourselves by what God’s given us that is the faith in us. I accept it because God has accepted me first. God accepted me and loves me for what I am and He has given this to us without any pre-conditions from us. This makes us able to have a better judgment for ourselves.
“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” In a unique way Paul is teaching us how to handle our ambition in a humble way. Does it mean that we can’t have ambition? Can’t I plan for something bigger to achieve? Does it mean we can aim forward? Is this what Paul’s message is? Paul himself use the word “ambition” in Romans 15:24 “I hope to visit you in Rome while passing through Spain.” In the English translation “My ambition is…” I think this is the only ambition which Paul failed to achieve because Paul only managed to reach Rome and he was arrested and died there, he did not managed to go to Spain. Can we have an ambition? Not only that we can, but we must. The question is how we understand the ambition as a realistic one in God’s faith?
A book called “Rescue Your Ambition” says that the ladder of our ambition will go up high if we claim the ladder with a humble heart. The ambition will become uncontrollable if it is not treated with a humble heart. A humble heart means we yearn to follow what God has given us and not thinking of the ambition beyond God’s will. A humble heart means we understand that what God has given us and accept that we also have weaknesses. Is it a sin to admit the weakness? Is it a sin to have limitation? No.
As a human being, we have to admit and recognise before God that we have weaknesses. What Paul meant by “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” is that not only we have to have a sober judgment on ourselves but we also have to be honest to ourselves. We hardly meet anyone like Paul who admits that he is weak but God has given him the strength. It is easier to admit your strength and talent where it is harder to admit your weakness. That’s why before Paul starts the discussing on human relationship, how to serve each other, he firstly taught us how to be honest to ourselves. In our relationship with others we might say the wrong things or made a mistake. It is not easy to ask for an apology and admit to our weakness. As it has been taught by James the apostle, “Let us confess one another…” let this be the comfort in our heart.
Today we learn the aspects of a humble heart. The humble heart of Jesus Christ is different to our humble heart. In Philippians 2, Jesus set and taught us the principal of a humble heart in His willingness to take the very nature of a servant and humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross. For me, a humble heart is being honest to yourself, appreciate your strength and recognise your weakness. When we reach that point we could start to appreciate others. When you’re blessed with plenty you should be able to share it with others. When you’re blessed with wisdom you should be able to share the wisdom with others. Sometimes we are blessed with one thing but lack another thing. This is where we should be able to accept our weakness. This will open our heart. We will be able to enjoy our relationship with others. In someone is offended by you, do not feel disappointed because it is the way for us to understand our weakness. By understanding our weakness we will feel relieved and admitting our weakness is the sign of growing up. A grown up person recognizes the qualities of his/her life as well as the weakness. May this sermon help us love and appreciate ourselves rightly and help us understand our talents and weaknesses.(fang)