by John Piper
September 23, 1998
In my message on Romans 12:3-8 , I argued from verse 3 that God gives varying measures of faith to his people. Paul says that we ought “to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” In the context this is not a limited reference to the unique spiritual gift of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9). For Paul says, “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.” “To each” refers back to “everyone among you.” God has given all Christians varying measures of faith. This is the faith with which we receive and use our varying gifts. It is the ordinary daily faith by which we live and minister.
In the context, Paul is concerned that people were “thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think.” His final remedy for this pride is to say that not only are spiritual gifts a work of God’s free grace in our lives, but so also is the very faith with which we use those gifts. This means that every possible ground of boasting is taken away. How can we boast if even the qualification for receiving gifts is also a gift?
That’s how important humility is in God’s eyes. This is exactly the same aim of God mentioned in Ephesians 2:8-9 where Paul stresses that saving faith is a gift: “By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith is a gift from God, so that no one may boast. Or, as Romans 12:3 says, So that we will not think too highly of ourselves. The last bastion of pride is the belief that we are the originators of our faith.
Paul knew that the abundant grace of God was the source of his own faith. He said in 1 Timothy 1:13-14, “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; but the grace of our Lord overflowed [for me] with the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” He was an unbeliever. But then grace overflowed to him with faith.
So he knew this was the case with every other believer too. He said to the Philippians, “To you it has been given for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). This is why he thanked God and not human resourcefulness for the faith he saw in his churches: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). We thank God for the enlargement of faith because “God has allotted to each [his own] measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).
This truth has a profound impact on how we pray. Jesus gives us the example in Luke 22:31-32. Before Peter denies him three times Jesus says to him, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus prays for Peter’s faith to be sustained even through sin, because he knows that God is the one who sustains faith.
So we should pray for ourselves and for others this way. Thus the man with the epileptic boy cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This is a good prayer. It acknowledges that without God we cannot believe as we ought to believe. Similarly the apostles pray to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). They pray this way because Jesus is the one who can do that.
This teaching about faith being a gift of God raises many questions. God has answers for them all. Even if we don’t, let us seek to put the teaching to its practical Biblical use: namely, the humbling of our pride, and the stimulation of our prayers. In other words, let us pray daily: “O Lord, thank you for my faith. Sustain it. Strengthen it. Deepen it. Don’t let it fail. Make it the power of my life, so that in everything I do you get the glory as the great Giver. Amen”
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org