“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.” Rom 12:1
How many people when they think of Christianity think that being a Christian is a matter of sitting in church on Sunday, singing a few hymns, and putting money in the offering bag? Is that all there is to Christianity?
Christianity is not about sitting in church.
Christianity is about transformation! Paul understood that God’s plan of salvation, which encompasses Jews as well as Gentiles, has implications for how we live. Being a Christian involves following God’s way of life.
Paul writes in Rom 12:1 about this transformed way of life in Christ in terms of believers presenting their bodies as living sacrifices to God. In ancient Israel, worship at the temple involved bringing sacrifices to God. These were offered up as symbols of a person’s dedication to God. These sacrifices usually consisted of animals that were dedicated to God by being killed. In being killed, they were being removed from ordinary human use, and handed over to God for his use. Paul indicates that Christians should view themselves as sacrifices, but we are called to be a living sacrifice, not a dead sacrifice. The idea here is not that we serve God by literally dying for him like an Old Testament sacrifice, but that we serve God as we live in our bodies in the here and now. Every day of our life is supposed to be dedicated to God.
A Sacrifice to God
Paul describes the kind of sacrifice that we are to be in terms of being holy and pleasing to God. The concept of holiness in Greek has connotations of that which inspires religious awe or fear, or that which is fitting or appropriate in a sacred context. But underlying this Greek word is the use of the word קדוש in the Hebrew Bible. קדוש expresses the idea of separation from common use in order to be consecrated to God. Being holy means that we are to give ourselves over to God for his service. Being a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God means that we are to be dedicated in our service to God in a way that is appropriate in terms of what God desires.
A Living Sacrifice
Paul says that dedicating ourselves as a living sacrifice constitutes our spiritual worship. The word translated as spiritual in the NIV usually means rational or reasonable. The word translated as worship means service, and has connotations of the service that the Levitical priests offered to God in the tabernacle/temple. What then is this rational worship? It involves using our thoughts and minds to direct our bodies in the service of God. Paul speaks about the need for a mind-transformation in Rom 12:2, so he probably wants us to understand that being a living sacrifice for God as we engage our minds for him in our daily lives is the kind of worship that we are to show.
This service is mind-full, always mindful of God and what pleases him. This is the kind of worship that God desires, and it contrasts with the physical worship of God that took place in the temple in Jerusalem. For Paul, therefore, Christian worship is basically a new way of life based on a new way of thinking.
The motivation for us in offering ourselves in this kind of worship is particularly God’s compassion that has been shown to us in his plan of salvation. All human beings (apart from Christ) have sinned, but God has chosen to be compassionate. The meaning of the word translated as mercy in the NIV indicates that God has identified with our pain or grief. As the word compassion implies, God has felt our feelings. God has felt our passions of pain or grief, and has been moved to do something to help us.
Seeing us tormented on the pathway of death, God sent Jesus into the world to rescue us; and a key part of that rescue involves us being set upon the way of life, no longer serving sin but serving God instead. God does not have to save anyone, but he has! And in response to his mercy, it behooves his people to respond to his compassion by offering themselves in grateful service to him.
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Brother Coxhead has served as visiting lecturer in Hebrew and the Old Testament at the Sydney Missionary and Bible College since 2002. He’s taught Advanced Classical Hebrew regularly at the Macquarie Ancient Languages School since 2009. As a part-time lecturer at the Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney from 2002 to 2010, teaching the Old Testament, Romans, John’s Gospel, Biblical Hebrew, and New Testament Greek; and taught Johannine Theology and the Old Testament at the Wesley Institute in Sydney from 2010 to 2011. Steven also taught Old Testament, New Testament, and Systematic Theology in South-East Asia.
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