In the letter to the believers at Rome, the structure of the book should be familiar to those who have read other divinely inspired letters from the pen of the Apostle Paul. In Romans, the section on practical application is built upon a robust doctrinal theology. This transition from doctrine to practice occurs in chapter 12 with the familiar call to the believer’s renewal of the mind.
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. 2 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 12:1-2
It’s noteworthy that the exhortation begins with an appeal, parakaleo, essentially meaning to beg or plead. It’s one of Paul’s most regularly used words, upwards of 50 times. This appeal from him is rooted in the ever important, therefore, which helps link what was said previously, essentially all of the book, but most notably 11:32-36, with what will follow, the exhortation to holiness and the subsequent Christian ethical commands. In the passage noted from chapter 11, the mercies of God were central to understanding the salvation that comes through God as a product of His divine mercy, which of course was built on Romans 9:15ff. It’s upon these mercies that this section is founded with the appeal to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Three ideas conveyed in this sentence links this exhortation with the Old Testament priesthood and sacrificial system, present, living sacrifice, and spiritual worship, giving way to a New Testament priesthood and a sacrificial system flowing out of the Priesthood of Christ and the sacrifice of Himself on the cross for sinners.
First, present, was used earlier in the letter in Romans 6:13, 16, and 6:19 and is sometimes unfortunately translated as yield. It is used commonly in the Septuagint as a technical word in the context of presenting a sacrifice to the priest and it conveys the idea of presenting something, here it’s presenting yourself, to another’s disposal. It’s as if we presented ourselves to God and said, “Here I am, do with me what you will.” A similar idea may perhaps be seen in the presentation of Christ in the temple, Luke 2:22-23. As with the language of the Old Covenant sacrifices and as with the presentation of Christ, the presentation that we bring is our whole self, our whole body – the whole man, as it were. A similar idea was discussed earlier in Romans through the passage on our union with Christ and the necessity of our sanctification,
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. Romans 6:12-13
Above, we are also exhorted to present our members, individual components of our bodies, to God as instruments for righteousness. In other words, do not present your body to sin and Satan saying to them, “Here I am, do with me what you will,” rather, as we have seen we are to present ourselves to God in this way, fully disposed to Him for His bidding. There are only two realities, two options towards which we may present ourselves, God and righteousness or Satan and Sin. We ought to linger here longer.
Second, and perhaps more clearly seen as an Old Testament connection, is the calling to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. While there is certainly a relationship between the Old Covenant presentation of sacrifices and our own New Covenant presentation of ourselves as a sacrifice, we need to be clear that the sacrifice of Christ is the fulfillment of all of the Old Covenant sacrifices, as well as the priesthood, though our Lord’s is after the order of Melchizedek. However, what is being established here is that on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice and His Priestly mediation, we as believers by way of our union with Him, are a priesthood after the order of Christ. Our sacrifices are ourselves. It is not a dead sacrifice, nor is it one that is brought to die (though figuratively we do), but one that has been brought from death to life now to live a life of service unto God. Furthermore, we see that our sacrifice is holy and acceptable, two adjectives which can only be true of those in Christ. Just as the Old Covenant sacrifices were to be set apart, without blemish, and were made acceptable by the priest, so too have we been made holy by the blood of the Lamb and are acceptable to God on the basis on Christ’s finished work. The appeal that is being made here is for believers, on the basis of their faith in Christ, to present themselves as a holy, acceptable, living sacrifice to the God who made them and redeemed them.
Finally, we arrive at our last idea connecting these New Covenant realities with their typological shadows from the Old Covenant here through the phrase, spiritual worship. To reiterate, the presentation of the sacrifice in the Old Covenant was the prescribed worship that God had commanded. Under the New Covenant, there is prescribed worship as well and for the believer it begins with the sacrifice of themselves unto the service of God. Here, that concept has been translated as spiritual worship in the ESV, but it is translated elsewhere as reasonable service. The word translated as spiritual or reasonable is logikos, from where we get the English word logic. It is by logic or reason that this service/worship is being offered to God. Whereas under the Old Covenant, the worship could often be monotonous, routine, and outward, under the New Covenant it is to be logical, reasonable, and from within.
Summarily, on the basis of all that has preceded this new section in chapter 12, that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that justification is by faith alone, that we are born sinners in Adam yet redeemed by Christ, that our salvation freed us from slavery to sin, that there is a war even now in our members between the fleshly desires to sin and the spiritual desires for righteousness, that there is now no condemnation in Christ, that those whom He called, He also justified, and will also glorify, that it is on the basis on God’s good pleasure and mercy that anyone will be saved from His wrath, on the basis of all of these truth’s summarized as the mercies of God, our logical worship is to present ourselves unto this same all-sufficient and holy God to say here I am, do with me as you will. That is what Paul pleads for believers to do, as I plead in my own heart for myself, and for all those who read this sermon.
Let’s conclude where we began, by looking at the passage again from Romans 12, this time with the translation from Kenneth Wuest, who brings out and elucidates many of the ideas which we examined above.
I therefore beg of you, please, brethren, through the instrumentality of the aforementioned mercies of God, by a once-for-all presentation to place your bodies at the disposal of God, a sacrifice, a living one, a holy one, well-pleasing, your rational, sacred service, [rational, in that this service is performed by the exercise of the mind].