|Volume 24 Number 8 August 2022
Brian R. Kenyon
Paul gave one of the most encompassing expectations for each member of the Lord’s church when he wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). Clearly, Christians must present themselves as living sacrifices to God! The motivation for this conduct is the “mercies of God.” God is a God of mercy, and His people should also appreciate and reflect that (2 Corinthians 1:3; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12-14). Christians’ “bodies” are singled out here as what are to be presented as “living sacrifices.” Before we became Christians, we served sin with our bodies (Romans 1:24; 6:6, 12; 7:24; 8:13). After we obeyed the Gospel, our whole being, including our bodies (and souls and spirits), functioned as a “heart” unit in rendering obedience and service to God (Romans 6:17). When one’s fleshly self is wholly given to God, then his entire being is given to God (Romans 6:11-13). This truth is perhaps part of why God chose circumcision as a sign of the covenant under Mosaic Law (i.e., if that part of a male’s body were set apart for God, then his whole body would be!).
A Death Must Occur before
a Sacrifice Can Be “Living”
Like a literal sacrifice where an animal was killed, for a person to become a “living sacrifice,” a death has to occur. This death is a death to sin through baptism (Romans 6:1-7). Unlike a literal sacrifice, when we become “living sacrifices,” a new (spiritual) life is gained that is to be lived in dedication to God (Romans 6:13; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Galatians 2:20). In Romans 12:1, Paul described this dedication by two terms. First, a “living sacrifice” is “holy,” which means set apart to or by God – consecrated (Romans 7:12; 11:16; 16:16). The plural form of “holy” is usually translated “saints” (Romans 1:7; 8:27; 12:13; 15:25-26, 31; 16:2, 15). “Holy” also carries the idea of without blemish or defect and without defilement from sin. Anything taken out of common use and devoted to God is holy. Thus, the Christian’s body is to be set apart for God’s service! Second, a “living sacrifice” is “acceptable to God,” where the word “acceptable” means pleasing (Romans 12:2; 14:18; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10; Philippians 4:18; Colossians 3:20; Titus 2:9).
Being a “living sacrifice” is the only logical response in service to God for all He has done for the Christian in saving him or her from sin! “Reasonable service” has been translated in a variety of ways, some of which connect it with worship, such as “spiritual service of worship” (NAS) or “spiritual worship” (ESV). The word “reasonable [spiritual, ASV]” is from logikos, the same word from which English gets “logic.”
The word “service” is from the third most common word translated “worship” (latreia), but in the majority of its occurrences, it is translated by a form of “serve” (Matthew 4:10; Luke 1:74; Acts 7:7). It is derived from a word that literally meant “wages,” and then came to mean “work for wages.” By New Testament times, the word was used to denote service in general, including that done in the name of religion. This “religious” service may include that rendered to false gods (Acts 7:42 ASV; Romans 1:25) or that rendered to the true God (Matthew 4:10; 2 Timothy 1:3; Revelation 22:3). Because worship is a part of religious service, this word can carry the idea of “worship” in some contexts (Acts 7:42; 24:14; Philippians 3:3; Hebrews 10:2).
However, because in some contexts it may be translated “worship” does not mean that all service is worship. Worshiping God “in spirit and in truth” involves having the right attitude (“spirit”) of love, humility and reverence, while fulfilling the God-authorized avenues (“truth”) of worship. The only five avenues for worship God authorized are singing (Colossians 3:16), praying (Acts 2:42), preaching or teaching (Matthew 15:9), financial contribution (1 Corinthians 16:1-2) and the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Service includes a host of things, including taking care of widows (Acts 6:1-7). Worship and service both require the right attitude of love, humility and reverence, and both are necessary to please God, but worship and service are not the same! While we must avoid the extreme that says worship includes all service a Christian does, we must also avoid the extreme that says worship is only that which takes place in the church building.
Are You Presenting Your Body
to God as a “Living Sacrifice”?
Having considered the passage, let us look into applying the principles in our lives. A generation or two ago, the petition in public prayer was often heard, “Lord, use us in your service.” The willingness to allow ourselves to fulfill that prayer captures the essence to applying Romans 12:1. We must be willing to sacrifice our bodies, our time and our talents in service to God – not just when it is convenient, because it hardly ever is convenient in our busy schedules. Besides, if something is convenient, can it really be a sacrifice? There are souls in need, even lost souls whose salvation could be attained if only Christians would take seriously their God-intended status of being “living sacrifices.” Some church members may be too “conformed to this world” to present their “bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:2; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17).
There are several areas in the work of almost any local church where sacrificial church members could make a huge difference in reaching the lost and edifying the saved. Many congregations have members who need rides to church services. Would a “living sacrifice” never volunteer to help in transporting church members, especially if the ones needing a ride were on the driving member’s route to the church building? Many congregations have a need for members, who may already be organized into teams, to help clean-up after fellowship meals or other church events. Would a “living sacrifice” refuse to take a turn to help so the same people are not always the ones staying late for clean-up?
To be “living sacrifice” material, we must truly be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). In what ways do we show God we are His “living sacrifice”?