I appeal to you therefore, brothers, 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 by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. – Romans 12:1-8
Paul transitions from the high exaltation of God’s glory in election and preservation in Romans 11 to the implications of following God in Romans 12. Christians are marked by how they live. They don’t live like people on their way to death; they live like people on their way to life. The body may wear down but the spirit soars to new heights as the gospel comes to bear.
Paul begins by appealing to us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. In verse 1 he says, “I appeal to you.” That’s interesting. Paul is an apostle. He could command us. But he doesn’t. He urges us. The gospel he just proclaimed provides the platform from which he can urge rather than command. Obedience is a response to grace, and Paul knows the love of Jesus will inspire a new way of living. The law and its commands creates outward obedience but inward ugliness. The gospel and its grace creates inward obedience and outward beauty.
So, what is he urging us to do? “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” What we believe shows up in what we do, even in our bodies. How we live is a statement on what we believe. Paul is helping us see how to live the Christian life. It is one of sacrifice, but not of the Old Testament kind. We don’t offer our lives up to God so that he can slay us, but so that he can empower us. We are taking our hands off our life so that God can put his hands on our life.
We’re called to be a living sacrifice. But the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar. As Tim Keller says:
See, the old sacrifices were no problem. You killed it, and then that was it. They burned and it was over. A living sacrifice means every day, every hour, every moment, right now you have to deliberately, consciously, continually, and perpetually offer yourself to him. It’s constant. It’s never over. It’s intense… You’re not living the Christian life unless you put to death the idea that you have a right to live as you choose. I can’t believe I’m saying this in the middle of America. I can’t believe I’m actually pointing out to you that there probably has never been a culture in the history of the world more averse to the very essence of what it means to live a Christian life. Do you hear that?
What it means to live a Christian life is that you put to death the right to live life as you choose. You put to death the idea that you belong to yourself. You put to death the idea that you know best what should happen in your life. You put that to death, and you give it to God. It feels like a death to really say, “You know best, and I just trust you. Here’s what you say in your Word, and I don’t like it, but I’m going to do it. I don’t choose anymore.”
It feels like a death, but on the other side it’s life. That’s why it’s a living sacrifice – it’s a sacrifice that leads to life.
And that life is a life of worship. As Nijay Gupta says, “What Paul is calling for in Romans 12:1 is an invitation to live out the freedom of Christ (especially freedom from unrestrained passions) by surrendering oneself wholly, especially bodily, to God in worship.” To be a living sacrifice is to worship God with all your life, and that’s the entire point of Romans 1-11—to lead you into worshipping God. Our lives—the way we live, think, act, and feel—are to point to the God worthy of worship. That’s why Paul tells us not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewal of our mind. We are either being conformed by the world or we are allowing God to transform us. To have our minds renewed means to shift away from a debased mind—a mind of the flesh—and shift toward the way of the Spirit. It is to be transformed into the image of Christ where we are able to recognize the things of God, appreciate the things of God, love God and his people, and desire God’s thoughts more than our own. It is to take our hands off our lives and ask for God to never remove his.
When we take our hands off our life, our sacrifice is made evident in the way we sacrifice for and serve other people. Paul shows us this beginning in verse 3. The for at the beginning of the verse indicates what follows is an implication and proof of verses 1-2. If Romans 12:1-2 is the way of life, the fruit is humility. Michael Bird says, “Gospel transformation requires a modest view of self and a generous view of others.” But achieving that modest view of self and generous view of others is a constant act of humbling ourselves. Just as we must give ourselves over to the Lord moment by moment, we must give ourselves over to others moment by moment.
Humility was not an ancient virtue. So, by pursuing humility, the church was setting itself apart from the world. It was an outpost of heaven, where the King reigns in exaltation because he was first humbled on Earth. And in this Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, the people pursue what the world despises because it’s what the King loves.
Pursuing humility doesn’t mean not using the gifts you’ve been given. It simply means using those gifts in a humble manner. Each one needs to know how God made him: what he can and cannot do. And he should pursue to use those gifts accordingly. Though the church is many, we are one body in Christ. When everyone serves according to the measure of faith that God has assigned to each, God creates out of that service a radiant community that shines as an outpost of Heaven.