The book of Romans is
often considered to be Paul’s greatest didactic epistle with a special emphasis
on “the righteousness of God – a righteousness that can only be acquired
through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 3: 21 – 26). The 12th chapter of
Romans is possibly my favorite one in the entire book, because it provides some
practical teachings for disciples of Christ. There is a wealth of hands-on
information in this chapter that we all could use right now, and I am going to
take the next few weeks to write about Romans 12 in order to both encourage and
challenge your discipleship.
Romans 12 can be divided into three segments: a) Being a living sacrifice to God (v 1-2), b) Being of service in the body of Christ (v 3-8), c) How to actively love people without hypocrisy (v 9-21). Let us focus on the first two verses for now. Paul started the chapter with an urgent plea: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters…” He wanted to captivate his audience’s attention, because what he was about to say was and still is of the utmost important to Christian living. “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom 12: 1). I know many of us are remarkably familiar with this passage of scripture as it is one of the most quoted ones in the Bible. However, please allow me to share some exegetical and hermeneutical interpretation of the text.
In the Old Testament, worship was all about sacrifices. The nation of Israel was commanded to offer all sort of sacrifices when they worshipped in the tabernacle and in the temple. The holiest day in Judaism is Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16), and it is all about sacrifices. The word “sacrifice” means “To surrender or give away something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” God’s people were expected to sacrifice the first fruits of their crops, their animals, and their wealth (Prov 3: 9, Isaiah 56: 7, Lev 23: 10-14, Ex 23: 19). When they offered their “left-overs,” God did not accept their worship because it was not a sacrifice (Mal. 1). Although, we no longer have to offer burnt offerings and animal sacrifices unto God because of Jesus Christ (1 John 2:2, Heb 10: 1-18), we are still commanded to offer “spiritual sacrifices” to God when we worship (1 Peter 2:5). In the Old Testament, when God’s people went to the physical temple, they had to offer sacrifices on the alter, but today OUR BODY IS THE TEMPLE (1 Cor 6:19-20). Therefore, our body must be the living sacrifice itself, and that is how we worship and bring glory to the name of God. Notice that our body is the temple, not the building; therefore, wherever we are and whatever we are doing we must strive to bring glory to His name (Col 3: 17).
Now, in the 2nd verse, Paul explained what it means to offer your body as a living sacrifice: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” To be a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God, a disciple of Christ must not conform to the pattern of this world. Even in the Old Testament, God never wanted his people to conform or assimilate to the pattern of the world around them (Leviticus 18: 3 – 4, Ezekiel 11: 12). We must not resemble the world more than we resemble Christ. Our values, behaviors, and beliefs must stem from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not from politics, media, and culture. It is a sacrifice because we must strive every day to surrender to the will of God and not be engulfed in the ways of the world around. It is a sacrifice because there are things, habits, hobbies, beliefs, and even people we may have to give up for the sake of Christ. Mother Teresa once said, “A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.” Being a living sacrifice is not meant to be a comfortable life, but a holy and purposeful one. It is a transformation process that occurs over time through the Grace that we receive in Christ Jesus. A disciple of Christ must seek to be more like Christ everyday and less like the world. “He must become greater and greater, I must become less and less” (John 3:30)
I love you all,