In a prior post the idea that faith is a gift was explored (link). There are not many passages that describe faith as a gift, but in that post we did note two passages that do (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:9). In this post we will look at how a number of scholars understand the phrase “God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith” found in Romans 12:3.
For by the grace given to me I say to every one of you not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but to think with sober discernment, as God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3 NET)
Does the measure of faith given by God in Romans 12:3 mean that saving faith is a gift?
There are two primary ways to understand the phrase “God has distributed to each of you a measure of faith”. One
view is to understand “the measure of faith” as saving faith, which has been the focus of the letter to the Romans up to chapter 12.The other view is to understand this faith as being related to our spiritual gifts and how we use them as this fits the immediate context of the passage (see also Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:9; Eph 4:7).
The measure of faith is referring to saving faith
Douglas Moo, writing in the NICNT commentary on Romans, prefers the view that the faith refers to saving faith.
The meaning of the phrase is uncertain, with two possibilities deserving consideration. … [Seeing faith as the basic Christian faith given equally by God to all] faces fewer difficulties … and should be accepted.
The Got Questions site (link) also sees this faith as referring to saving faith from which come the spiritual gifts described in the rest of the passage.
God has given to each a “measure of faith” to use for Him. This “faith” is the gift from which all the other gifts flow. Faith is the first gift we receive (for justification), and faith is the gift that brings the other gifts of the Spirit into our lives. When a person is born again, God gives him gifts as a new member of the family of God.
John Piper understands the “measure of faith” as referring both to saving faith and the faith by which we exercise our gifts (link).
… 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.
The measure of faith is not referring to saving faith
An article by Kieth Krell on Bible.org (link) understands the phrase as referring to God’s enabling believers for service.
It should be added that faith, as used in this passage, is hardly the initial act of faith that makes one a Christian but faith in the sense of grasping the nature of one’s spiritual gift and having confidence to exercise it rightly
The footnote in the article cites several commentators that have adopted this view.In addition to those cited, Colin Kruse also accepts the view that the faith found in Romans 12 is not saving faith. In his Pillar NT commentary on Romans, he notes the following:
There are good arguments in favor of both views, and each can be related to Paul’s purpose in writing. The view that ‘the measure of faith’ is to be interpreted as the basic faith of all believers has the advantage of reinforcing Paul’s aim of minimizing division and promoting unity among Jewish and Gentile believers. The view that it should be interpreted in connection with the various gifts of ministry of different believers has the advantage of relevance to the immediate context, and is therefore probably preferable.
While Sproul argues that faith is a gift (link), he does not use Romans 12:3 to bolster his argument. In another article that deals directly with this passage (link) Sproul seems to agree with the view that the faith here is not referring to saving faith.
To think rightly of ourselves is to view ourselves and our gifts as no more important in the Lord’s plan than others. This is what it means to consider ourselves soberly “according to the measure of faith God has assigned” (v. 3). … we are all equally important in the plan of the Lord no matter what gifts we have. As the Apostle indicates, we are all one body even though as individuals we have different roles. Just as the individual parts of the human body need one another in order for the whole body to be healthy and function properly, the church requires all of its parts to do their job in order to be healthy as a corporate whole (Rom. 12:4–5).
I would adopt a view similar to the one (I think) Sproul advocates: the humility called for in Romans 12 is related to how we assess both the different gifts and the different ranges of ability with a certain gift that we receive. The context for both passages (Rom 12:3 and 1 Cor 12:9 ) in which faith can be seen as a gift is within a larger discussion on spiritual gifts. And in both sets of passages Paul is urging believers to have humility in how they assess and use their gifts.
Even Douglas Moo, who sees the measure of faith as saving, writes
the parallel with 1 Cor 12 could also suggest that Paul is directing his comments to the same kind of people as those with whom he had to deal in Corinth: “pneumatics,” Christians who overvalued certain more evident or spectacular manifestations of the Spirit. This supposition gains force when we remember that Paul is writing from Corinth.
However, it would be beyond the scope of this post (which is already quite long) to delve into an argument for or against either of these views. It is enough to point out that there are two valid interpretations of Romans 12:3-8 that scholars see as possible. Therefore, we can conclude that this passage does not require us to understand saving faith as a gift.