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.
After contemplating the great salvation that we have through faith and the “riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” (Romans 11:33), in Romans chapters 12-16 Paul turns to what this means in a practical, everyday way. He writes one of the strongest challenges found in the New Testament for the lifestyle to be lived by one who is saved. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1). In our spiritual worship to God, the only sacrifice that He is pleased with is a “living sacrifice,” all of our life, every part of us. Paul says that this is what is “holy and acceptable to God.” This passage should be thought of in the context of the Old Testament temple. The temple was the place where (1) worship was to take place, (2) God had promised he would dwell, (3) where he would hear the prayers of his people and (4) where his heart and eyes would always be (see I Kings 8:27-30 and II Chronicles 7:11-22, especially verses 14-16). However, when Jesus was asked about the proper place to worship, he said, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:21-23). The apostle Paul asserted to those in Athens, Greece that God was not like pagan gods who dwell in temples made by human beings (Acts 17:24-25). Rather, God has chosen the body of the believer to be his dwelling place (see I Corinthians 3:16-17, I Corinthians 6:19-20 and II Corinthians 13:5 to see that God, the Holy Spirit and Christ all dwell within us). As the animal sacrifices were made in the temple of the Old Testament, in the New Testament God requires a complete sacrifice of each Christian’s body since it is the temple.
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.
The second part of the challenge is: “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” (Romans 12:2). J.B. Phillips translates this passage by saying, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” The believer is faced with the constant pressure of the world wanting her/him to be like it. However, believers are to resist this temptation at all times. When God brought the Israelites out of captivity and into the Promised Land, his admonition to them was, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them” (Leviticus 18:3-4). The way a believer does this is by being transformed. The word used in the original language is the word from which we get the term “metamorphosis,” the term used to describe the change that takes place when a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. God expects us to be changed from a worldly individual to one who centers her/his thoughts on spiritual things (see also II Corinthians 3:18 and 4:16 and I Corinthians 15:49). The way this transformation takes place is by constantly trying to discern what the will of God is and what is good, acceptable and perfect (see Hebrews 5:14).
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.
With the challenge of the God-like lifestyle before him, Paul begins to give specific examples of how this lifestyle should be lived out in the life of a believer. The first thing to keep in mind is how one is to think about him/herself, that is to not “think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). When one considers how she/he would stand without all that God has done, thinking highly of oneself is eliminated. Sober judgment is much more appropriate.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the 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.
One of the interesting ways Paul asks us to think about the group of believers is to consider it a body (Romans 12:4-8). He uses a similar illustration in I Corinthians 12:12-27. Students are encouraged to read that passage in conjunction with this one in Romans. Just as the body is made up of many parts and all have their function and all are needed, so also it is with the group of believers: All are responsible for using the gifts (talents, abilities) that God has given to each one. The gift is not the important thing, because all gifts can be used. The important thing is that each uses the gift given to him or her for the overall health, growth and productivity of the church. The gifts included in Paul’s list are:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The last half of Romans 12 is a list of things a believer ought to develop in her/his life. Keep in mind that Paul does not say all these will just fall into place. Rather, we are to go through a metamorphosis to add these into a life that is a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). A list of Christian characteristics would include:
Let love be genuine (v.9)
Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good (v.9)
Love one another with brotherly affection (v.10)
Outdo one another in showing honor (v.10)
Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord (v.11)
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (v.12)
Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality (v.13)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them (v. 14)
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (v.15)
Live in harmony with one another (v.16)
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly (v. 16)
Never be conceited (v.16)
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all (v.17)
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (v.18)
Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God (v.19)
If your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink (v.20)
Paul’s “bottom line” is expressed in Romans 12:21 when he states, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
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