Be a Living Sacrifice to God
“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
A few years back someone asked me what my favorite Scripture verse was. I hadn’t thought about it prior to this question, but I immediately responded that it was Romans 12:1 &2 (quoted above). The questioner’s response was pretty much what I expected. He quizzically asked, “Hmm….why’s that?” I paused and responded, “I’m not sure where to start!” As I recall, we had a long conversation after that.
It is my opinion that these 2 verses are among the most important verses in the Scriptures. The concepts that they present are critical to our spiritual walk with the Lord and our spiritual maturity. Let me explain.
First, I want to share my experience. Years ago, there was a point in my life where I determined that I was not going to look to the teachings of men, but rather, I was going to prayerfully read the Bible seeking the truth, requesting that the Holy Spirit reveal it to me as I read and studied. I did not use a study Bible or commentary, nor did I read any other Christian books or writings. I only used a concordance to look up the original meaning of words, and I also compared various translations. I was reading a King James Version that had all of the out of date language usage highlighted with the modern English wording referenced in a side note.
I started in the New Testament, reading through the Gospels, and then the book of Acts. This reading took some time and I gained much insight especially from the words that Jesus spoke and taught. As I went on to the book of Romans after Acts, I got slowed down considerably in this book, realizing that this was not just a normal letter of correspondence like the other epistles in the Bible but something more. As translator J.B. Phillips explains in his introduction to Romans:
“This letter, with the possible exception of the ‘Letter to Jewish Christians’ [or Hebrews], is the only one that appears to be written deliberately as a religious treatise and not merely in the ordinary way of correspondence.” Phillips – Introduction to Romans.
According to Dictionary.com, a treatise is a “formal and systematic exposition in writing of the principles of a subject.”
Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles” (or to the non-Jewish Christians), and Romans was his detailed doctrinal explanation of this Gospel. There are Scriptures that suggest that this Gospel was given to Paul by a direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe it’s true, and I’m a Gentile who was not raised in the Jewish religious customs, traditions and ceremonies so I believe this Gospel is intended for me.
“…when they saw that I [Paul] had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised [Gentiles], just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised [Jews] (for He who worked through Peter for the mission to the circumcised worked through me also for the Gentiles), and when they perceived the grace that was given me, James, Cephas[Peter] and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the Circumcised.”Galatians 2:7-9
There was much meat and valuable truth that I learned while reading and studying through Romans, much of which I have shared in my previous writings. When I came to chapter 12, I realized that this was the culmination or climax of Paul’s writing in Romans. At this point in his writing he appeals to the readers based on what he had just explained to them in the previous chapters. Other translations use the word “beseech” or “urge” for the word appeal.
The use of the word “therefore” confirms that he is doing the appealing or urging based on what was said prior. The original Greek word translated as therefore is “oun” and could be translated as “accordingly” or “so likewise then”, again confirming that this statement is tied to his previously established points. From my working through the letter, I concluded that Paul had reached a conclusive point at this verse, making these a very important verses.
Paul then further defines his appeal to his brethren, or brothers and sisters in the Lord, as having been induced by the mercy of God. He had just described in detail the mercy of God towards them as shown by the sacrifice of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ who suffered and died on their behalf, and now he considered that even the words he was speaking were a further act of mercy towards them. Phillips translation:
“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers……” Romans 12: 1 Phillips
What was Paul urging them to do at this critical point in his doctrinal treatise? He urged them to “present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God.” But what does this mean in the light of the previous truths that he had presented in earlier chapters?
We first need to understand the phrase “living sacrifice.” This seems to be an oxymoron if you consider a sacrifice of a body as having it put to death, which was case in Paul’s time, e.g. animal sacrifices. How could a body that was put to death in a sacrificial offering be living? Obviously, Paul was talking about a figurative sacrifice, but I want to be more specific about this. In chapter 6 of Romans, Paul says this:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 6: 3-11
Making our bodies a living sacrifice means that we need to consider ourselves as dead. We are to consider ourselves to be dead to this world and to this world system, and directly related to this, we are dead to the strong hopes and desires that this world offers that feeds our flesh or our carnal nature. These strong hopes and desires, or lusts, are the root and cause of sin, and therefore when we die to them we are free from the entrapping principle of the cycle of sin and spiritual death.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
Paul uses the idea of death to emphasize the radical change that must occur. We must completely eradicate our old nature including the way that we think and feel, and the way that we view ourselves in this world. Verse 2 of Romans 12 confirms this change that must occur in our minds, a transformation from our old way of thinking to the new way that is free from the world’s influence.
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind….” Rom. 12:2
The Greek word for “transformed” used in this verse is “metamorphoo” meaning to transfigure, transform or change, or to change into another form. This word was also used for Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain. Again, this suggests a radical change that needs to occur from when we were once conformed to this world, to a new creation now considering ourselves dead to this world and to this world system and all the hopes and pleasures that it offers us. Instead we consider ourselves as risen with Christ and already citizens of Heaven, awaiting the return of Jesus and the new heaven and new earth with God’s kingdom of righteousness.
Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, that is, dying to this world and to our flesh, and crucifying our old nature, separates us from the rest of the world, not by our physical location, but by virtue of how we think and act. We become completely different and opposite to the rest of those still living in conformity to the world system and way of thinking. This is what makes us holy or consecrated or set apart to God. We come out of the world by not thinking the way that they think, and by not following their priorities and accepting the lies that they see as truth.
After the completion of my reading and studying the book of Romans, years later, I was again drawn to these verses in Romans 12, and spent many days meditating and re-reading them. The Holy Spirit drew me back again and again for a long time to these verses, more than any other portion of Scripture. I suppose there is even much more to learn from them, and some I have since forgotten and need to be reminded of.
There is a battle, though, that we fight daily to keep ourselves in the transformed condition in our mind, in our thinking, and resist conforming to the world. We must be attentive to the areas of our heart that we allow to drift back from hoping for our future home in heaven to hoping for some promise that this world offers to us. The hopes of this world will disappoint us. We must patiently endure as sojourners in this world, just passing through, looking for and hoping for the future promise that we have from our heavenly Father.
“Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
I’ll have more on these verses from Romans 12 in a future post. For now, God bless!