Romans 12 transitions from teaching about what God has done for his people to what God expects from his people. How are the new people of God (the true Israel) supposed to live out their faith in the world? It appears that the first two verses of Romans 12 are the general commands on how to live out our faith in the world. The rest of chapter 12, along with chapters 13-15 are the details as to how to obey the exhortation given in Romans 12:1-2.
Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice — alive, holy, and pleasing to God — which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God — what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2; NET)
A Total Commitment
The first thing Paul is calling for is a total commitment. We are to present our bodies as the sacrifice to God. God is calling for us to give ourselves wholly to God. We are to offer ourselves to God. We are not to offer some of our lives or some of our bodies. We are to commit 100% of our lives and bodies to God. Sacrifice is the ultimate proof of true love. God proved his love for us through the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus told his disciples that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). We are called to give ourselves completely to God. Paul has already taught this idea earlier in his letter to the Romans.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12–14 NASB)
Notice how similar the language is regarding presenting our bodies to God. We often just think of the sentence that says to present the members of our bodies as instruments of righteousness. God is asking for all of us. We must present ourselves to God as those alive from the dead. We have been brought to life and we are no longer dead in our sins. This is the point that Paul is making in Romans 12.
Paul explains how we are to present our bodies as a sacrifice. There are three descriptions of how to we are sacrifices for God: alive, holy, and pleasing to God. The NET Bible has a little bit more precision when it comes to this verse. Most translations read to present our bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God." But there is no reason to read the text this way, as the NET has the literal order of the words. The reason I think this is important is because the order changes the emphasis about the sacrifice that is being offered to God. When we read the words, "living sacrifice," we naturally contrast this to the dead animal sacrifices that were offered to God under the old covenant. I made this link all the time. But that is not the point of the living, as we can see if we keep the proper word order. Follow the distributive nature of "to God." We present ourselves as sacrifices by being pleasing to God. We give ourselves as sacrifices by being holy to God. We present ourselves as sacrifices by being alive to God.
The point Paul is making is not that we are living physically, in contrast to the animal sacrifices that were dead physically. The contrast is that we are alive spiritual and no longer dead spiritually. We are alive to God. This is the point Paul was making in Romans 6:12-14. We are alive spiritually because of God’s faithfulness to his promise to save the world. We present our bodies as a sacrifice that lives for God. This is a concept that we can easily forget. I must live for God. What can I do in my life today that shows I am presenting myself as a sacrifice that is living for God? The Christian cannot live for self. The Christian is defined by the fact that he or she lives for God. One is not a Christian if he or she is living for self.
Not only must be present ourselves as alive to God, but we must also be holy to God. No one seems to think that holy living is important anymore. Christians think they can look like the world, dress like the world, and act like the world. Holy conduct is demanded of Christians. Holiness is the idea of being separate from the world, living according to the laws of God and not worldliness.
But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:15–16 ESV)
Finally, we present ourselves as sacrifice to God by being pleasing to God. Following this command requires that we have a proper mindset. We must always be asking, "What does God want me to do?" "What does God want from me?" Not only are we asking these questions, but we are digging into God’s word to discover God’s will for us. We will discover God’s will and do the things that are pleasing to God.
A Reasonable Commitment
The second point Paul makes is that God not only wants a total commitment, but that this is a reasonable commitment. There are two different translations that require our consideration before we can examine Paul’s teaching. Some translations have "reasonable service" and some translations have "spiritual worship." The question is over the Greek word logikos, which is rendering "reasonable" or "spiritual." This word does not occur in the LXX and the lexical form of the word only occurs in one other place in the New Testament. In 1 Peter 2:2 Peter exhorts his readers to "long for the pure logikon (spiritual) milk." However, this word does have a rich background in Greek and Hellenistic Jewish philosophy and religion. They used to it speak of rational worship. I believe this makes the most sense of the text. Paul is calling for Christians to give themselves as sacrifices to God because it is our reasonable act of worship.
It is eminently reasonable and rational for believers to fully dedicate themselves to God. The reason we should offer our lives as complete sacrifices to God is because of God’s mercies. The mercies of God are the basis of Paul’s exhortation. The reason that offering our lives to God is our reasonable act of service and worship is because of the mercies of God. When we grasp all that God has done for us, it is completely logical for us to give ourselves wholly to God. We have been made alive by God, though we were dead in our sins. The rational thing to do is to serve God. The irrational, illogical thing to do is to be atheists, or be unbelievers, or be selfish. It does not make sense to NOT serve God!
Don’t Copy; Be Transformed
When we were children we had a phrase, "Don’t be a copycat!" As kids, we like to mimic other kids. Of course, if you were the kid with originality, you did not like someone copying you. Paul’s instruction in verse 2 amplifies what Paul taught in verse 1. Being a sacrifice for God means that we will not be copycats of this world. The NLT reads, "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world." This is what it looks like to be alive to God, holy to God, and pleasing to God. Do not copy the world’s behavior and customs. Do not do the things they do. Do not think the way the world thinks. If we fit in with the world, then there is a problem. We have been conformed to the world if we fit in.
Instead, Christians are to be transformed. Christians are not to allow the world’s pressures to change them. Rather they are be changed inwardly in the mind. Paul calls this the "renewing of your mind." It is a radical transformation that must take place. It is interesting to observe that the only other time this word translated "transform" is used in the New Testament is in reference to the transfiguration of Jesus. We are not be changed by the world, but radically changed by God by renewing our minds.
The mind is the means by which this transformation takes place. We are to changing our thinking patterns away from worldliness and toward godliness. We must adjust our way of thinking about everything in accordance with the new life we have been given (Romans 7:6; 6:4). Paul warned in Romans 1:28 that the disobedient and worldly have debased and worthless minds. God does not want us to degenerate our minds, but renew our minds in Christ. Paul speaks of this renewal of the mind in another way in 2 Corinthians 3:18.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)
Paul pictures this to the Corinthians as beholding the glory as the mechanism by which we are being transformed into the same image of glory. Paul, in the first eleven chapters of Romans, has revealed the glory of God and his power to save people through the gospel. Based on the mercies of God we must adjust our way of thinking and renew our minds against worldliness. We must think about being sacrifices that are alive to God, holy to God, and pleasing to God.
Paul concludes this exhortation by pointing out that when we renew our minds, we will be able to test and approve what is the will of God. We will understand and agree with what God wants of us and we will put it into practice. When we are renewing our minds we will discern and know what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God. When we have worldly minds we try to bend God’s will and distort his words to fit what we want to do. We no longer are trying to discover God’s will and do it, we are trying to do what we want and we try to make God support our selfish ways. There must be a mind renewal if we are going to be alive to God, holy to God, and pleasing to God. It is adopting this new way of godly thinking that will cause us to test and approve of God’s will. We will seek what God wants and we will do it. We will not seek our answers, but God’s answers. God’s will is good, acceptable, and perfect and the renewed mind will desire to obey that will.
- God wants a complete commitment
- It is a reasonable commitment on the basis of the mercies of God
- Renew your minds to fight conformity to the world and to seek after God’s perfect will