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. 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 ESV
Here Paul makes a transition, from talking about God’s relationship to the Jews in general, to the conduct of believers in particular. He has been addressing the issue of justification, being made right with God, based on the grace of God and not the efforts of man. Whether Jew or Gentile, every man or woman is justified before God by faith in Christ alone. Human effort has nothing to do with it. But Paul would not leave his readers with the false impression that behavior or actions are no longer a part of the equation. The salvation that God offers through the death of His Son should result in a dramatic change in the way we live. Paul has already addressed this on two different occasions.
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 6:13 ESV
For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. – Romans 6:19 ESV
When Paul uses the word, “therefore,” he is telling us, that in light of all that God has done, our response should reflect our deep gratitude. In chapter five, Paul told us, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Romans 5:1 NLT). Because of the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf, giving Himself as our sin substitute on the cross, we have been restored to a right relationship with God. And God is the one who made it all possible. He sent His Son. He sacrificed what was most precious to Him so that we could be given new life and a right relationship with Him. And as Paul stated in chapter eight, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:1-2 NLT). We no longer live under the Damocles sword of sin’s condemnation. Eternal separation from God is no longer a threat for us. It is also no longer to be a motivation for right behavior. We don’t attempt to live righteously to earn favor with God. That is a thing of the past. We live righteously out of thankfulness for all that God has done for us, including giving us the capacity to live righteous lives by virtue of His indwelling Holy Spirit.
Our desire to live for God is no longer to be motivated by fear. It is not to be based on some kind of hope that what we do scores us enough points with God to make Him accept us. Our behavior in this lifetime is not about earning our way into God’s good graces, but about living according to the grace He has extended to us through the death of His Son. He has given us new life. He has and is transforming us into new creations. We are already His children, adopted into His family and heirs of all that is His. We don’t have to make God love us, He already does. The gift of His Son was the greatest expression of His love. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). So Paul urges us to present our bodies as “living sacrifices.” Our death is not required, because the payment for our sins has already been made in full. Our motivation for offering ourselves to God is the mercy of God. Unlike most sacrifices, where the one making the sacrifice is attempting to obtain mercy from God, we are offering ourselves because of the mercy we have already received from God. God has shown us mercy by delivering us from condemnation. Rather than giving us what we deserved, He showered us with His grace. And for that we should be eternally grateful.
So what does our “living sacrifice” look like? How are we to conduct ourselves in this world as a result of all that God has done for us? Paul gives us a negative and a positive aspect to our behavior. First of all we are NOT to be conformed to this world. The Greek word, syschēmatizō means “to conform one’s self (i.e. one’s mind and character) to another’s pattern, (fashion one’s self according to)” (Outline of Biblical Usage). We are not to pattern ourselves after the ways of this world. When Paul refers to the “world,” he is speaking of the mindset that is prevalent in our culture that seeks to exclude God from life. It is a man-centered way of thinking that diminishes God and deifies man. We make ourselves the center of the universe and live according to our own self-centered passions. We are not to live like this world. We have been separated by God from this world. As Jesus said, we are to live in it, but not be a part of it. We are to live separately and distinctly different lives. But how? Paul gives us a critical and non-negotiable requirement to pulling of this kind of life. It entails the “renewal” of our minds. We are to undergo a complete transformation in the way we act and think. Paul speaks of renewal, which is the Greek word, anakainōsis. It refers to “a renewal, renovation, complete change for the better” (Outline of Biblical Usage). It begins in our minds – how we think. We must constantly remind ourselves of all that God has done for us. We must repeatedly dwell on the fact that our transformation is as much the work of God as our salvation was. We must seek to eliminate our self-help mentality and lean on the assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is as we live with this constant dependency upon God and His transformation power that we will begin to see what His will for our lives is all about. And as Paul so succinctly puts it, “God’s will is for you to be holy…” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NLT). That is His overarching objective for our lives. Nothing more. Nothing less. And as we present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we are telling Him that we want what He wants. We desire to be used by Him however He sees fit – for our good and His glory.