Summary: Are you being impressed upon by the outside, or motivated by an inward change in character? That’s at the heart of these first very important verses of Romans 12.
God’s mercy leads us to give ourselves willingly into His hands as a sacrifice to be used in God’s service. This happens by a two step process: stopping the process of conformation to the world, and encouraging the process of transformation into someone who thinks like God. As we move forward we are able then to test the information we receive from outside and our own minds to determine what will further God’s plan and bring God glory.
This serves as the backdrop for much of what Paul shares in the next three and a half chapters so we are going to take just these two verses today. I know it’s kind of whiplash from the 2 entire chapters we did last time but it’s worth the time to stop and consider.
“I appeal.” This is an exhortation. Paul is now calling us to action. He has explained the wonderful thing God did for us, and how we cannot please God no matter who we are or what we do, but that Jesus pleased God in all of who He is and what He has done. We please God because Jesus did and we belong to Him. This holds for everyone—Jew or Gentile. It wasn’t because God owed it to us in any way but is simply a function of His mercy.
“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”
The verb “present” means “to make available.” We willingly make ourselves available for God to use for His glory and His purposes. Our “bodies” are literally that—our physical selves that serve as the tent for our soul. So we give really our whole selves, as acted out by our body, to the Lord.
Paul describes it as a “living sacrifice.” Now normally, when a Jewish person would present an animal for sacrifice, the priest would take the animal, the person would lay their hands on it, identifying themselves with the animal, and then the priest would quickly slit the animal’s throat and it would bleed out and die. Then the priest would offer parts of the animal to God and others would be burned, etc.
This isn’t a dead sacrifice, but a living one. Jesus offered for us His body as the Lamb of God, He was pierced and bled and died as the sacrifice for our sins. Paul has already told us that we have died with Jesus on the cross and have risen from the dead to eternal life with Him (Romans 6:3-4).
So now, instead of a dead sacrifice to pay for sin, we are a living sacrifice to do God’s will. We place ourselves on that altar, make ourselves available. The problem with a living sacrifice, of course, is that can move—and if serving God gets a little difficult, we like to climb down off that altar and just not serve Him until things get better. But that’s not the plan!
As we make ourselves available for God’s work, Paul describes it as:
“Holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship”
This can also mean “your reasonable act of worship.” Participating in God’s story is the only “reasonable” response in light of His mercy towards us. And when we begin to think, move, and act in sync with what God is doing here, it is both holy (pure) and acceptable (pleasing) to God.
Why do we get off the altar? Partly because we are not yet mature enough to realize who is really in control, who is working good in every bad situation, and whose story we are really a part of. And that’s what verse 2 is all about—introducing the transforming work of God in our lives.
As new believers we are like “babes”. We love to worship, sit at the Lord’s feet, soak up the Word, and marvel at this new life. But if we are to be used by God then we have to be trained by God into exercising this new life and listen and act on the Spirit of God in us, rather than the old flesh.
To do that there is a process of shunning and welcoming.
“Do not be conformed to this world”
The word “conform” means “to fashion or shape one thing after another.” It’s a reflexive verb, in other words, you fashion yourself. What has influence on you? What attitudes, beliefs, mores, fads, heroes, and information moves you to change your attitudes and actions? Those things are what you use to “fashion” your character.
Paul tells us to no longer fashion ourselves after the pattern of this age. That’s what “world” means, by the way—this age. What is this age? It is the culture and mores that typy those who do not love our Lord Jesus, but are in fact led and controlled by our enemy, Lucifer. We can tell the difference between this age and the age to come based on a comparison to the character of God revealed in His Word with what morals we see around us. The difference is becoming starker all the time. We feel the pull of the world’s magnet, trying to get us to move away from the character of God into the character of this world—typified by the self. I get what I want or what makes me feel good no matter what. It is lust (of all types), anger, lying, and self-medication. In fact, Paul has a pretty good list in: