Summary: An examination of how commitment is a proper response to Christ's work on our behalf.
With Heart and Mind
What would be the proper response to the discovery that God, the Creator against Whom the crown of his creation—humankind—had rebelled, the Holy One who had declared that all such rebels should endure eternal death, the Righteous Judge who had the perfect right to rain wrath down on the rebels, had provided the Way by which these same rebels could escape the death sentence, an escape that called for God himself to endure the punishment they deserved? And, what would be the proper response to the further discovery that these same rebels could participate in this escape by simply trusting God’s promise to treat them as if they had never rebelled?
Paul begins to answer these questions as he comes to the practical section of this letter to the Christians at Rome. He starts by reminding them of what he had said earlier, summed-up in the phrase “the mercies of God.”
We might expect him to call us to respond to those mercies with tears of joy, shouts of celebration, and songs of deepest emotion. Each of these is a proper response to the reality of the gospel. William Tyndale the early Reformer and Bible translator understood that the gospel, properly understood, involves a heart-response. Listen to his definition:
“Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad and maketh him sing, dance, and leap for joy… [This gospel is] all of Christ the right David, how that he hath fought with sin, with death, and the devil, and overcome them: whereby all men that were in bondage to sin, wounded with death, overcome of the devil are without their own merits or deservings loosed, justified, restored to life and saved, brought to liberty and reconciled unto the favor of God and set at one with him again. [Those who believe these] tidings [not only] laud, praise and thank God, [they] are glad, sing and dance for joy.”
Without denying that our hearts may express our response to the gospel, Paul calls us to involve our minds as well.
In light of these mercies, Paul calls on his readers to make “a decisive dedication” of their bodies. The dedication to which Paul refers does not happen automatically, it comes only after a moment of decision or, more likely, after repeated moments of decision. Each new challenge—be it an opportunity for service or a temptation to sin—calls for renewed commitment.
He specifically says they were to present their “bodies.” The word is more than a reference to our physical selves; here Paul probably used body to refer to the whole person. The Amplified Bible uses this meaning as it renders the verse, “presenting all your members and faculties.” Eugene Peterson in The Message offers a dynamic rendering of the idea. He says, “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, and walking around life—and place it before God as an offering.”
Seen this way Paul’s challenge echoes Jesus’ statement of the Greatest Commandment: “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)
Paul and most of his readers would have been familiar with sacrifices in the temples, whether in the Jewish temple or the pagan temples, but most of those sacrifices were dead. Here Paul calls for “a living sacrifice.” The idea is that this sacrifice, this commitment, this decisive dedication works itself out in the day to day living of our lives. Had Paul been writing a century or so later he might have said, “Yes, those believers who demonstrate their commitment to Christ as they face wild beasts in the arena are spiritual heroes, but so are you if you can demonstrate that same commitment if you honor Christ as you scrape pots in a kitchen or spread mortar at a building site.”
In the final analysis, it is this day-to-day commitment that is the best evidence of our devotion to Christ and the most persuasive and appealing argument for the validity of our claims for the faith.
The rational for this kind of commitment is twofold.
First, such a commitment is pleasing to God. This might sound strange in our “please me or lose me” culture. Think of the reality shows so popular today in which young men or young women are paraded by a bachelor or a bachelorette to be judged and evaluated. The ultimate criterion is, “Does this person please me?” Yet, Paul says the question guiding our spiritual lives should be, “Does my life please God?”
Second, such a sacrifice is appropriate for informed Christians to make.
Commentators are divided over how part of this verse should be translated. Some translate is as “which is your spiritual worship” others follow the Authorized Version’s “which is your reasonable service.” Both the word translated as “spiritual” and the word translated as “worship” are not the usual words Paul chooses to convey this concept. The first word is the same word from which we get the English word “logic.” It can be translated as “spiritual” and is in I Peter, but it can also be translated as “rational.” At the same time, the second word can be translated as “worship” in the sense of religious activities, but it can also be translated as “service” in the sense of activity on behalf of someone.