The Mercies of God
Paul writes these words in Romans 12:1,
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.
(Rom. 12:1 ESV)
In light of all that Paul has said from 1:16-11:36, he now makes an appeal to his audience. He exhorts them to offer their bodies as a sacrifice to God and tells them to do so by the mercies of God.
What are the mercies of God?
Paul is referring the depth and variety of God’s mercy. According to R.C. Sproul, “…those mercies are these: (1) we are justified by faith; (2) our sins are forgiven through the atonement of Christ; (3) God works all things together for our good; and (4) God calls people to Himself.”
In light of or because of these mercies, Paul exhorts his audience to offer their bodies as a sacrifice. Now, Paul uses the word bodies to refer not just to their physical bodies but to the whole person, all that they are. It is an exhortation to be “all in.” It is not a half-hearted activity but an all or nothing endeavor.
Notice also how he describes the sacrifice. They are to present their bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy, and acceptable to God. A sacrifice is something that is put to death, so how can one offer his body as a living sacrifice? Douglas Moo states, “Living modifies ‘sacrifice’, and it refers to the nature of the sacrifice that does not die but goes on living so that the sacrifice continues in its efficacy until the person who offered dies.” Tom Schreiner says, “Living describes the spiritual condition of people who believe in Christ, who, through Christ, are now alive to God as Paul already said in 6:11,13, and 8:13. It is precisely those who are alive in Christ who are called to give their lives to him as a sacrifice.” This sacrifice is not only living but it is also to be holy, that is, dedicated completely to God, set aside from the ordinary. Finally, it is to be acceptable to God.
Paul then says that to offer one’s body as a living, holy, acceptable sacrifice is their “spiritual worship,” which could also be translated “reasonable service.” Based on Paul’s argument here, it seems best to translate it as “reasonable service.” Paul is trying to communicate that offering one’s self completely to God is the most reasonable response, most sensible response, the only appropriate response to God, and that it is an act of service in worship to God. Regard this part of the verse, Schreiner states, “All that needs to be said is that Paul used the term with the meaning ‘rational’ or ‘reasonable’ as was common in the Greek language. His purpose in doing so was to emphasize that yielding one’s whole self to God is eminently reasonable. Since God has been so merciful, failure to dedicate one’s life to him is the height of folly and irrationality.”
Friends, what are we to make of this verse? What does it mean for us? This is a case where it is pretty clear. We are to do exactly what Paul told his audience to do. Because of the mercies of God to you, you are to present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable, true worship. But what does that mean? What does it look like for you to offer your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God? It is not a debtor’s ethic, as if you could ever somehow pay God back for His mercy to you. It is a daily dying to self: selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-sufficiency. Set your face to pleasing God in your thoughts, in your desires, in your words, and in your deeds. Did you once give yourself to anger? Now give yourself to peace. Did you once give yourself to envy? Now give yourself to gratitude. Did you once give yourself to lust? Now give yourself to purity. Friends, in light of God’s mercies to you, offer yourself to God as a sacrifice, living, holy, and acceptable to God.
His Grace Alone,