A Living Sacrifice – Answers and Reflections

Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The What?

  • The Book of Romans is a letter, written by the apostle Paul (Rom. 1:1).
  • Paul wrote this letter to “all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7). This refers to the church at Rome who were mostly Gentiles (non-Jews). The Roman Church also included a Jewish minority (deduced from Rom. 4:1; Rom. 9-11).
  • According to Rom. 15:25-27, Paul was on his way to Jerusalem. He had received a collection or offering from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia “for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Rom. 15:26). The believers in Jerusalem were very poor, and Paul was personally delivering the collection he had received for them. Based on Rom. 15:28, Paul was planning to go through Rome on his way to Spain after his visit to Jerusalem. Based on these events, and the mention of Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), Gaius – Paul’s host (16:23; 1 Cor. 1:14), and Erastus (Rom 16:23; 2 Tim. 4:20), the most likely place of writing is believed to be Corinth or neighboring Cenchrea in early A.D. 57. See also Acts 20:2-3.
  • Paul wrote his letter to the Roman Church:
    • To prepare for his visit to Rome and mission to Spain (Rom. 1:10-15; 15:22-29)
    • To present the message of salvation to the Roman Church (Rom. 1:14-17)
    • Based on Rom. 14:1-6, the Jewish believers still felt obligated to observe the feasts and dietary laws, causing friction between them and the Gentile believers. Paul explains that in God’s plan of redemption there is “no difference between Jew and Gentile” (Rom. 10:12).
  • The overall theme of Romans is the message of the Gospel – God’s plan of redemption and righteousness for all mankind (Rom. 1:16-17).
  •  “Therefore:”
    • When we run into the word “therefore,” it is important for us to understand why it is there for. This always matters for the immediate context.
    • Rom. 12:1 opens with “Therefore,” letting us know that what follows represents a logical sequence to the preceding discussion.
    • In chapters 1-11, Paul presented the Gospel. In a manner of speaking, he had presented his “what” and “so what.” Beginning with chapter 12, he presents his “now what.” We’ll revisit this shortly.
  • God’s mercy:
    • See Rom. 8:35-39, 9:15f, 11:30-32
    • As mentioned above, leading up to Rom. 12:1, Paul has been presenting the message of God’s salvation. At its core is God’s love, compassion and mercy for us.
    • Here, Paul is saying: “Because of God’s mercy for us, …” Another way of saying it: “Since God has shown us so much mercy through His plan of redemption, …”
  • PARISTEMI – Potential meanings of the word in the New Testament:
    • “to make available,” or “to put at someone’s disposal” (e.g., Matt. 26:53).
    • “to present someone or something to someone” (e.g., Luke 2: 22, Col. 1:22)
    • “to arrive” or “to come” (e.g., Mark 4:29)
    • “to stand near” or “to be present” (e.g., Mark 14:47)
    • “to give help” (e.g., Rom. 16:2)
    • “to oppose” or “to take a stand” (e.g., Acts 4:26)
    • “to prove” or “to present evidence” (e.g., Acts 24:13)
    • “to stand trial before” (e.g., Acts 27:24)
    • “to bring near” or “to place beside” (e.g., 1 Cor. 8:8)Of these, what fits the context best are either “to put at someone’s disposal” or “to present someone to someone.” It can also be a combination of the two. Paul was exhorting his readers to give themselves over to God, to put themselves at His disposal. See 1 Cor. 6:19f.
  • “Living sacrifice” – The word “body” is perhaps best understood as “being” or “persona.” It is not just referring to the physical body, but the whole person (mind, spirit and body). The word “living” is a continuous form of expression. The idea here is an ongoing, repeated and continuous dedication of the whole being to God. In contrast to the Old Testament worship that involved the sacrifice of bulls and goats, believers are to continually offer to God all that they are – to place their fullness at God’s disposal every living moment, to give themselves to God completely and in every way.
  • “true and proper worship” – There is considerable debate about the meaning of this term. Paul seems to say that believers truly worship God (“in spirit and in truth” – John 4:23) when they fully give themselves over to Him on an ongoing basis. Worship is not simply external (old sacrificial system, singing, praising, reciting psalms, going to church, etc.), but holistically involves the full being (attitude, mind, heart, motives, actions, etc.). Believers that live their lives fully dedicated to God and His Lordship, live a life of worship.
  • “conform to the pattern of this world” – The Greek word for “conform to the pattern” here is suschematizo, which refers to forming out of a mold. Think, for example, of pouring hot metal in a mold to form a defined shape. And, the Greek word for “world” here is not kosmos, but aion which refers to “age.” In Richard Trench’s book, “Synonyms of the New Testament” (pp. 229-230), Trench writes: “…Aion includes all the thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, impulses, and aspirations present in the world at any given time…” The Message translates this as: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit in to it without even thinking.” In other words, don’t become indistinguishable from the unbelievers by believing, acting and living as they do.
  • “be transformed” – The Greek word used here is metamorphoo, from which we get our English word “metamorphose.” Think of the metamorphosis of a butterfly. That is an utter transformation. It is a visible, drastic, startling and total change from one state into a new one.
  • “renewing your mind” – Inner transformation begins with mind transformation. It is a new mind, one that is not based on a worldly mold, or on old ways of thinking, but one that is upward focused. Paul writes to the Colossians (3:1-2): “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
  • This new heavenly mind-focus will lead to renewal and transformation. One cannot think in the old ways and expect to be transformed. For example, a “dog-eat-dog” mindset does not lead to transformation. Responding hatefully, angrily, vengefully does not bring about inner change. As long as we hold on to the old ways of thinking and behavior, we cannot experience transformation.
  • The single Greek word, dokimazo, is translated to “test and approve” in NIV. In a manner of speaking, it involves authentication and validation as a jeweler would examine a precious stone to determine if it is a genuine jewel and to establish its quality. In this verse, Paul is saying that a renewed mind that leads to inner transformation is required to discern God’s will as it pertains to the transformed believer’s present reality. A mind that is not set on God cannot discern or accept His will, desire and purpose. On the other hand, a mind that is fixed on things above can scrutinize the leadings and promptings of the Holy Spirit and recognize them as the genuine will and guidance of God.

The So What?

  • In Rom. 1-11, Paul presented the Gospel to the Romans. He outlined God’s plan of redemption, His love, His mercy, His forgiveness, His righteousness and His holiness. He explained what was meant by John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” In Rom. 5:8, Paul wrote: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man… But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” These words are profound. Pause and think about them for a moment. Would you lay down your life to save a good friend that you love? Maybe. Now, would you lay down your life to save a murderer? Would you allow an only son to lay down his life for a murderer? Paul was explaining how God had done just that for us – not when we deserved it, but when we were least deserving. That demonstrates His love and His mercy for us. Given all that He had done, how should we respond? “THEREFORE, … in view of God’s mercy …” Beginning with Rom. 12:1, Paul talks about how we should therefore respond to God’s amazing grace. Paul urges the believers to give their entire beings over to God, to let Him rule them completely, to put all that they are at His disposal – not just once, but continuously, iteratively, every living moment of every day. God sacrificed His Son for us. We are strongly urged to sacrifice our desires, wants, needs, plans, hopes, aspirations, work, family, our all by surrendering completely to God’s ongoing, daily rulership. Paul wrote to the Colossians (3:17): “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…”
  • Ancient Rome was pagan. They followed many gods. Believers were seen as cult members, anti-social, anti-Roman. Christians were tortured and systematically murdered. It would have been a drastic and very dangerous change for a Roman to become a Christian. And, it could have even been deadly for them to not conform to the Roman way of life and to stand out as transformed believers. Paul still called upon them not to conform to the worldly mold, to renew their minds, to be transformed, and to respond to God’s mercy and grace by giving themselves over to God.
  • Without mind-renewal and life-transformation, it is not possible to know the will of God and discern His ways. Knowing and discerning the will of God requires the surrender of our will to God’s rulership.

The Now What?

What really hit home for me this week was the message of transformation and its foundation on giving my life over to God completely and renewing my mind.

Real transformation is:

  • Metamorphic. In a manner of speaking, it is molecular in nature. It is drastic. It encompasses all that we are. A transformed butterfly is a new creation. God calls us to be transformed. This transformation results in a new mind, a new life, a new purpose, and a new creation.
  • Not of the world. This transformation goes against the worldly mold; it is not compatible with it at all. A renewed mind cannot feed on lust, anger, hatred, vengeance, self-gratification, self-righteousness, self-glorification. A renewed mind feeds on the Holy Spirit, God’s word, God’s love, God’s mercies, God’s ways, God’s Person. It is a mind that is constantly discerning and confirming the genuine will of God.
  • Highly visible. You cannot be transformed in secret. Someone who once saw a slimy worm will now see a beautiful butterfly. You cannot hide real transformation. It will burst through you like light bursts through a dark room. You become “the light of the world” (see Matt. 5:14-16). That is when those around you will notice and ask you to explain the new you. Evangelism is the living out of a truly transformed life.