The opening verses of Romans 12, beginning with “therefore,” refer not only to the doxology in chapter 11 but also to all that Paul has written to this point: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer 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 gospel of justification by faith is the gospel of God’s mercy. The believer in Jesus Christ has been freed from his guilt, grafted into the family of God, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. He has been declared free from all condemnation and is unable to be separated from the love that God showers upon him through Christ Jesus.
None of this comes to the believer by his own power, but all by the grace of God. Therefore, Paul writes, believers are to live lives that are holy and pleasing to God. God’s plan for the salvation of His people is not given merely as an escape from the horrible consequences of sin, both temporal and eternal. God saves the elect to transform them into a people set apart to do His will. Paul had earlier given the example of Abraham, who was justified by faith (Rom. 4:1–3), and he quoted from Habakkuk that “the righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:17).
No longer can the believer follow the pattern of the world that is ruled by sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Gal. 5:19–21). Rather, he must find pleasure in pursuing love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22). By God’s grace, he has been enabled to walk this way under the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Renewing the Body
All that we do, good or bad, we do through our bodies. Therefore, Paul goes on to tell the believer that he is to offer up his body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. In the Old Testament, animals free from blemish were sacrificed to God on the altar. These sacrifices were to be made for a variety of reasons. There were sin offerings, purification offerings, and thank offerings, to name a few. Paul suggests that a new, more spiritual service be rendered: not the giving up of the dead body of an animal, but the giving of our own living bodies in service to God.
The way the Christian views the living sacrifice we are to offer is in direct correlation with his theology. Those who claim to be offering themselves up as a sin offering would seek to please God through their works. They would remain ever tied to the law. Christ has made the perfect sin offering once for all upon the cross. Others who argue that sacrificial living makes them pure do not have an understanding of total depravity and how “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” before God (Isa. 64:6).
The sacrificial living that Christians are called to live must come as a thank offering to God for the salvation He has provided through His Son, Jesus Christ. It must be a willing, heartfelt giving of ourselves to God in loving service devoted to Him.
This does not necessarily mean that all believers are to enter into the mission field, sacrificing their bodies to cannibals, persecutors, and tormentors. Certainly, the Lord may call some to that end; however, Paul writes about our entire lives being transformed. People express themselves through their bodies. Our eyes, ears, tongue, hands, feet, and brains must all yield themselves to God’s control so that whatever work the Lord calls us to perform is presented to Him as a sacrifice of praise.
Christians are to be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. In the Old Testament, animals were placed on the altar and rendered lifeless.
Christians are not to be rendered lifeless but to be filled with a new life that seeks to bring glory to the holy name of God in all things.
Our lives must be an expression of the life that the Holy Spirit has placed inside us—the new regenerated life—and, therefore, a life that is devoted to pleasing God. Such a life must be set apart (holy) from the evil that is present all around us. Instead of imitating and remaining in a secular lifestyle, the born-again believer must purposefully and without compromise steadfastly follow Christ. We must be aware of the antithesis into which God has placed us.
Being daily sanctified unto the Lord, we freely surrender ourselves to a holy life. As God saves and sanctifies His people He creates worshipers who have a new identity in Christ. Each day becomes a spiritual act of worship as Christians surrender their bodies over to Christ.
No matter what life skills God has given us, from biologist to truck driver, those skills are used to honor God and glorify His name.
To whatever position God calls us, our lives must be lived giving praise to God. We are a chosen race called to proclaim the excellence of our God. We live to extol in thanksgiving the grace He has shown to us in making us heirs and fellow heirs with His Son.
Renewing the Mind
Every mental picture a person has of what life should be like has been formed by his upbringing. His family life, schooling, and peers all have influenced him in one way or another. Everything from the comic books he grew up with to the television shows, computer games, and Internet sites he visits influences how he conducts himself. Even the most open-minded individual has certain prejudices and presuppositions that influence his thinking. That may be why some of the most intolerant people around us today are those who proclaim the religion of tolerance.
Through Christ, our entire thinking becomes changed. The meaning and purpose of life; what is good or bad, beautiful or ugly; what we accept and reject; how we spend our time and money; what we read, watch, or listen to; how we speak, dress, and teach our children are all radically changed for the person who has been grafted into Christ. This would be the natural outflow of receiving spiritual nourishment from Him who is the Tree of Life as opposed to remaining linked to the tree that has been designated for burning.
This ongoing process, called sanctification, continues for a lifetime after our rebirth. The Christian’s rebirth, or conversion, may be a one-time event, but living in the truth of that conversion is a gradual process of transforming our wills to the purpose that God has for our lives. As a person reads the Word of God, spends time in prayer, and communes with the saints, his attitudes and behaviors will gradually change as well.
More and more the things of the world will grow dim, and the things of God will illumine his path.
For those who desire to do God’s will, the law remains the basic reference point as to how we ought to live. No longer is it a pointer to sin but a guide to how we are to determine what God’s will is for our lives for any situation we may encounter. From the law we learn how to properly love God and love those whom God brings into our lives.
Paul has spent several chapters explaining the depth of our sinfulness and how it has corrupted every aspect of our lives. He has shown us how great the mercy of God is in providing His own Son to deliver undeserving people out of their sin and misery. He has pointed to the blessed life that awaits all who truly trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. When we truly understand the depth of our sin and the grace that God has shown, our minds should change. No longer are we to be influenced by the temptations of the devil and things of the world—they no longer have meaning for us.
Rather, our focus is to be upon the richness of the God who loved us so much He sent His only Son to redeem us. This new lifestyle that the Holy Spirit gives no longer pursues its own desires but seeks to conform to the will of God. Too many people who profess Jesus as their Savior fail to submit to His Lordship. They go to church and try to live decent lives, but as soon as life becomes a little uncomfortable, they try to work out their own solution. Rather than seeking what is good and pleasing to God, they run to secular counselors for worldly advice. Divorce courts are full of Christians who are seeking an unbiblical divorce; Christians leave church and rush to super sales that take place on the Sabbath Day, and even when they are at church they have a disrespect for those whom God has placed in authority over them.
No longer are we to live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). Those who truly rejoice in their salvation have changed lives! They seek to know the will of God. This does not come by merely ambling along through life. It is an active quest. Like the Bereans, we are to examine the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), but we must also search our lives and see to it that we conform ourselves to God’s Word. By the study of God’s Word, prayer, and the Christian community, the Christian can know God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Points to Ponder and Discuss
1. What is the motive that Paul appeals to for the lifestyle we are to live?
2. What kind of sacrifices were required in the Old Testament? What kind are required for the believer in the New Testament?
3. What makes our work or deeds acceptable to God?
4. How do Christians engage in “spiritual worship”?
5. What circumstances have made you (or someone you know) want to conform to the world? Has such conformity been in conflict with the call to be a living sacrifice?
6. Give examples of how the church may be guilty of conforming to the world.
7. What is meant by the “renewing of the mind”?
8. Is it possible to be a part of this present culture, with all its demands, standards, and customs, and have the kind of lifestyle required by these two verses? Why?
9. How do we conform ourselves to the will of God?