Our Living Sacrifice — Romans 12:1-2

By Kersley Fitzgerald

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Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
These verses are familiar to anyone who has studied the Bible for any length of time. We recite them as children and catch a twinge of guilt whenever we're reminded of them. But what do they mean? First off, a look at the words.

Therefore — The end of Romans 11 talks about the relationship between the Gentile Roman Christians and the ethnic and religious Jews. Salvation came from the Jews in the person of Jesus. They rejected Christ and were under a "partial hardening" (Romans 11:25), which blinded many of them to the truth about Jesus being the Messiah. The reason given for the hardening is so that the "fullness of the Gentiles" would have the opportunity to learn about and accept Christ. The Jews were supposed to accept Christ and tell the world about Him. Instead, they rejected Him. But God's plan would not be thwarted; He can take our sin and redeem the situation. So He took the Jews' rejection and used it to carry out His plan, anyway.

Romans 11:28-32 says that this dichotomy between disobedience and grace is a long-running theme throughout history. Both the Jews and the Gentiles go back and forth between rejecting God and receiving His mercy. The ultimate result will be "mercy on all" (Romans 11:32).

Romans 11:33-36 quotes Isaiah and Job in exalting God's inscrutability and then acknowledges that He is the source of this crazy plan.

Therefore: because of the history of God working in the world, responding to disobedience with grace and rejection with salvation — we should do the rest of the stuff in Romans 12:1-2. And even this is only possible "by the mercies of God."

Mercy — We've been taught in Sunday school that mercy is not getting the punishment you deserve. The Greek oiktirmos seems to have an even more emotional side to it. It includes the compassion, deep in the bowels, that drives pity. Our disobedience has made us so pathetic, that it is only through pity that God can save us.

Present — The Greek paristemi, has a few subtle shades. It can mean to provide, to stand beside, to place at someone else's disposal. Considering the body is being offered as a sacrifice, the latter would be the closest meaning.

Body — The Greek for "body," or soma means what you would expect — the physical body of a person or a "body" as in a group, as in the church. But more Platonically, it means "that which casts a shadow as distinguished from the shadow itself." In Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," this would mean the true object, and not the shadows or poor reproductions that we see every day. But it could mean that we are to present ourselves and not just the result of our ourselves. Meaning, we are to give our very identities and not just the results of our labor. God wants all of us, not just our work.

Life — There are three words for "life" in Greek. Bios is the physical body and psuche is the mind, emotion, and will, but zoe or zao is used here. It's vitality. It's the life God gives us through Christ. It is blessed and active and eternal. The sacrifice of our being isn't passive; it's like a rushing river.

Holy — "Holy," or hagios, is described in Laurel Davis's recent article as:
...clean, good, pure, godly, sacred, sanctified (set apart). In the general sense, a synonym for "holy" is "moral," and in the strictest, biblical sense it describes an attitude and corresponding behavior — that's character — that show reverence toward God and respect for His moral standards.
She points out that holiness is something we aspire to, as opposed to "righteousness," which is only endowed by God.

Sacrifice — Although the English word "sacrifice" has a root in the Latin for "sacred," the Greek thusia is all about death. The root thuo means to immolate, slay, kill, and/or slaughter.

Acceptable — "Acceptable" is the Greek euarestos, which can mean acceptable or well pleasing. One of the word's roots is found in Matthew 25:21's "Well done, good and faithful servant..." Jesus used the other root in John 8:29 when He said, "I always do the things that are pleasing" to God. So, for those who wish to hear God praise their service to Him, "acceptable" is kind of a tame translation. Euarestos is the best we can ever hope to do.

Spiritual — When we think of "spiritual," we usually think of other-worldly. But the Greek logikos is related to both logos and our "logic." The word implies that the spiritual side of life is logical and makes sense, contrary to how modern culture may insist. It is only logical in God's point of view to serve God in this way. Douglas J. Moo in The NIV Application Commentary says it probably means "informed" or "understanding." So that this act worship is something we've thought about, mulled over, and deliberately chosen.

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Published 12-29-15