Summary: Paul invites his readers to respond to God's steadfast love and overwhelming grace by offering ourselves as living sacrifices--worshiping God by what we say and do.
Paul is a man who stands in awe of God. He is amazed at God’s steadfast love, overwhelming grace, and unconditional forgiveness. In his introductory treatise to the Romans—a testament of what he believes—he has taken eleven chapters to describe and celebrate the love and grace of God. Paul’s reasons for celebrating are extensive: The just shall live be faith, At the right time, while we were still sinners Christ died for us, Those who have been baptized have been baptized into Christ death and life; God delivers us even when we are wretched people who do not understand ourselves or our actions, and God will never forsake his people.
Now, in chapter twelve, Paul exhorts his readers to respond to God’s love and grace in a specific manner. Paul’s words are challenging and at the same time life transforming.
Paul was writing to people who were well acquainted with the sacrificial system. Whether as Jews, participants in the mystery religions, or good Roman citizens, animal sacrifices were common everyday occurrences. Sacrifices were demonstrations of a person’s devotion to a particular God or religious belief. They were acts of love.
Paul is the first one to call for living sacrifices. He does not intend his readers to sacrifice living animals. Paul calls for a sacrifice of one’s life. This is an ongoing sacrifice. It is based, in part, upon the Jewish understanding of worship.
Christians have corrupted the understanding of worship. We have relegated it to an hour or more on Sunday morning. Christian worship involves singing hymns and songs, reading Scripture, listening to a sermon, giving an offering, and celebrating communion. This wasn’t the original understanding of worship. For the Jews, worship was what they did in their daily lives. Their work was an expression of worship, as was their family roles, leisure activities (if they had any), there service to others and their actions in the community. People worshipped six days a week and rested on the seventh—celebrating the fact that the world didn’t depend solely on them and that God was capable of caring for them even if they rested for a day.
Notice that Paul does not encourage his readers to attend worship services more often, increase one’s financial support of the congregation, serve on a committee, or pray and study the Bible for a longer period of time every day.
Paul is calling his readers to respond to God’s love and grace by their daily words and actions. Work is transformed from a way to make money to a way to serve God and our friends and neighbors. Relationships are opportunities to celebrate God’s love and grace together and to encourage each other in our faith. Serving is a way to share the blessings God has poured into our lives. When we allow our lives to be lifted out of the mundane, they become holy and living sacrifices.
Paul’s words go far beyond the common understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Paul is writing about something more than a religion of convenience, comfort, and a life without cost. Followers of Jesus Christ are to be living sacrifices. Our offering is ourselves—our time, talents and treasures. Nothing is to be held back—certainly God has not held anything back in his relationship with us.