Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational (logical, intelligent) act of worship. And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].
We all make decisions that involve what we could call “opportunity costs”: when we say yes to one choice, we’re saying no to countless other options. The question we instinctively answer each time is, What gives me the most benefit? In this passage, Paul asks his readers to reflect on all he has written in the first eleven chapters of Romans about the incredible mercy of God to rescue us from sin and give us purpose, peace, and hope. In response to God’s mercy, the only “reasonable” choice is to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to Him. Paul says this devotion takes the form of a “living sacrifice,” a choice we have to make each moment of every day. Do we choose to follow a cause? Yes, but much more than that, we choose to follow a person, the One who loves us, forgives us, and calls us His own.
When we say yes to God each moment, we choose a lifestyle that reflects Christ’s values. Paul tells us not to be squeezed into the world’s mold of selfishness, but to let God transform us as our minds focus on God’s truth. The result of saying yes to God each moment is the incalculable benefit of knowing and following God’s perfect will for our lives. We join hands with Him to walk on the mountains and in the valleys of the adventure of life.
Our service is to be a living sacrifice of devotion to Jesus. The secret of which is to identify with him in suffering, in death and in resurrection.
Romans was written by a man who lived the first part of his life persecuting the church and in essence persecuting Christ Himself according to the conversation he has with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul was absolutely sure that what he was doing was the right thing and that putting down what he believed was a heretical movement that was drawing fellow Jews away from the faith was what God wanted. His mistake was to presume he knew God’s will without asking God what He wished. He accepted the decision and perceptions of the religious leaders who in reality had chose not to follow God. These individuals refused to accept that a lowly carpenter from Nazareth could be the Messiah since He didn’t fit their concept of the Messiah. Their agenda was far different than that of God as is evident in the encounters with Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. Even in the crucifixion of Christ, they truly believed they were preserving the faith and well-being of the Jews. This was the root of thinking that drove Paul’s actions prior to the encounter with Christ.
After his conversion and many years of following Christ, Paul writes these instructions to the church. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” What does it mean to do this? Read carefully each word. “Present” This indicates a willing choice. When we present something we give it freely, without pressure or force or any sense of duty or obligation. It’s the same word that is the noun describing a gift. So when we offer ourselves to God for His use and purpose, we do so with the same motivation that we use in giving presents to those we care about. It is not as though God demands us to be available or useful through some demand, but since we have received such mercy, love, and grace, we are responding in kind by offering back to God ourselves. This is the secret of serving God. When we see it as giving God a present of ourselves, the joy and satisfaction of serving becomes so powerful that it eclipses all the giving, work and time spent for the work of God. When we see the decline in volunteerism in the church, we must recognize that it stems from wrong perceptions about our relationship with God. Perhaps we become like Paul before conversion and accept our agenda or the agendas of others as our mission. But when we have a true encounter with the living Christ, our whole purpose in life is changed. The next phrase is a little unique for it puts two words together that are not usually done, “living sacrifice.” A sacrifice, at least in Paul’s day, was something that gave up its life- a lamb, for example. This is to some degree what God is calling us to do. Not to die the physical death of an animal sacrifice, but to give up living our lives as we choose, to make God’s desires our decisions, to place His kingdom above personal pleasures, to offer for His use the best and the first of all we are and have rather than giving only what we have left after spending on ourselves, and above all making what God values- the saving of the list- our value. To do that, Paul would say, “is to die to self” to become a “living sacrifice.”
In order to become a “living sacrifice” two things must take place; to “not be conformed to this world” and “ to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” In the first, we must reject the thinking of the world around us for it is contrary to the thoughts of God. The thinking of the world is by and large self-centered and selfishly motivated. Self becomes the master and every decision made is centered around what is best for self. Every deed, action, service is driven by the need to exalt self. Even great philanthropists are often motivated by self. While they may give great sums of money or do great works, they often make sure everyone notices what they did. It becomes part of their promotion and public awareness of who they are. We too, can find ourselves living this worldly lifestyle of doing good for the sake of self- fulfillment and self-recognition. But a “living sacrifice” has none of these motives driving their actions. They give, labor, work without the need to be noticed or recognized by others. They do so out of gratitude to God for His generous gifts of grace and mercy. The second of the two things is the “transforming by the renewing of our minds.” Both words, “transforming”; and “renewing” are present tense indicating a continuous process. This process begins with salvation and doesn’t cease until death. Every day we must consciously reject the pressure to conform to the world around us or to allow the Holy Spirit to form our thought and determine our values. Paul says that this is “our reasonable service.” In other words this is the normal response of one who has received Christ as Savior and Lord.
The final part of verse two says that when we present ourselves as “living sacrifices” then God will reveal to us His plans and purposes for our lives and those plans and purposes exceed anything that we could create on our own. How sad it is for so many Christians to miss the best because they are so wrapped up in the mediocrity of human thought. I think if we could really know the plans and purposes that God has for us we would drop all the things we have made so much more important than they really are and pursue with all our being what God has for us. And I can tell you that what Gods has for us is beyond anything we can imagine on our own.
“but just as it is written [in Scripture], “ Things which the eye has not seen and the ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man , All that God has prepared for those who love Him [who hold Him in affectionate reverence, who obey Him, and who gratefully recognize the benefits that He has bestowed].” For God has unveiled them and revealed them to us through the [Holy] Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things [diligently], even [sounding and measuring] the [profound] depths of God [the divine counsels and things far beyond human understanding].”
1 Corinthians 2:9-10
Dr. John Thompson