Summary: As an act of gratitude for God's mercy, we submit our bodies to Him as Living Sacrifices. This will involve Renewing our Minds.
WHOLE LIFE WORSHIP
“I beseech you therefore, brethren” (Romans 12:1) begins the application of Paul’s letter to the Romans. These words introduce the practical building blocks laid upon the theological foundation of the previous 11 chapters: hence the “therefore”. This is an exhortation which carries all the authority of Paul’s Apostleship; and is a heartfelt appeal to those whom he considers “brethren”.
The basis of the Apostle’s appeal is God’s mercy. Since we have received such mercy, such gospel grace as is outlined in the first 11 chapters, he seems to say, the appropriate response must surely be to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice to the Lord”. This involves not only formal worship, praise and adoration; but also, an attitude of gratitude which manifests itself in sacrificial obedience.
The sacrifice we are being exhorted to make is described as a “living” sacrifice. It is ongoing. It expresses itself outwardly, rather than in inward contemplation. It is whole life worship.
We worship God in the workplace as well as in the Kirk (church) place. We worship God in our relationships, and in our choices of companions. We worship God in how we use our time, how we treat our bodies; and in the things which we do for others. We worship God in the market place, the voting booth, and in our willingness to stand for what is right. The list could go on and on.
All this is called “a holy sacrifice, well pleasing to God”. Like the burnt offering, it presents ‘a sweet savour’ or a ‘pleasing aroma’ to the LORD (Leviticus 1:9). It is the only reasonable, intelligent, logical response to the mercy which we have received in the gospel (Romans 12:1).
This submission of our bodies (which includes our mind) is called our “service” (or in one translation, our “spiritual worship”). Service is not only something which we do in church. Neither is worship.
Neither is it only “spiritual”. It is a whole life commitment to the work of the Lord - and to the Lord of the work. It is “holy” because it involves us being ‘set apart’ for God, and for whatever God wants us to do (cf. Colossians 3:23-24).
How does this work? Well, first, the Apostle points to our attitude towards the outside world (so to speak). “Be not conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2). In fact, as I read the Greek, it is “do not fashion yourselves to this age”. There are better paradigms to emulate.
Second, Paul shows us how this is done. “Be transformed by the renewing of the mind”. It all comes down to what we feed the mind, after all.
This was what Jesus also taught: for example, ‘whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery already in his heart’ (Matthew 5:28). The Apostle John teaches, ‘whoever hates another person is a murderer at heart’ (1 John 3:15). Lust conceives sin, says the Lord’s brother (James 1:15); and again, Jesus argues that what we allow to pollute our minds will also issue forth from our mouths (Matthew 15:11).
So, we need to be constantly renewing our minds. There is a saying, ‘you are what you eat’ - well, you can take that with a pinch of salt, if you don’t mind me saying so. But what we ingest spiritually goes a long way towards the renewing of our minds.
‘Read your Bible, pray every day’, as the song says. Be careful what else you read: not just avoiding the bad stuff, but seeking out the good stuff. Vet whatever media feeds your mind.
Be discerning: “Prove what is good, what is acceptable”; what is in keeping with “the perfect will of God.” Set your mind on what the Spirit desires (cf. Romans 8:5). What is good, acceptable and the mind of the Spirit is what works best towards the establishment of Christ’s kingdom.
If it is “good”, it is in keeping with the law of God. If it is “acceptable”, it is the right thing in which to invest our resources of time, money and talents. If it is the mind of the Spirit, it will incline towards the “perfecting” of God’s will ‘in earth as it is in heaven’.
Paul says elsewhere: ‘Whatever (things) are true, whatever honest, whatever pure, whatever lovely, whatever of good report; if any virtue and if any praise, these things consider” (Philippians 4:8).
So, in conclusion: what we feed our minds is foundational to our whole life worship, and to our living the sacrificial lives that God requires of His obedient people.