“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” (Romans 12:1 ESV, emphasis added)
“Living” is what stands out here. Why? Because there were hundreds of thousands of Old Testament sacrifices. What was true of all of them? They were all dead. To be a sacrifice required that you die. This is why in the history of sacrifices—all the lambs and all the goats and all the cattle—there was only one sacrifice that was made willingly: Jesus.
“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:18)
Jesus willingly gave his life for us. He was a willing sacrifice, but not a living sacrifice. It is Jesus’ dying sacrifice that allows us to be living sacrifices. The image here is powerful. Imagine an altar on which you, Christian, willingly crawl up onto and pray to God, God, here I am on this altar today. All that I am in this day of living I want to be an offering of worship to you. What does that look like? Paul describes a living sacrifice as holy and acceptable.
Don’t confuse this with justification. That is the once-for-all legal declaration by God that the sinner is righteous in God’s eyes. Legally holy forever. That is wonderful, but that’s not Romans 12:1. This is not justification, this is sanctification. This is not once-for-all, this is daily, hourly, living sacrifice. All the time. All the time what?
Holy. Holiness is obedience to God’s will. Holiness is striving to conform my thoughts and life to the example of Jesus. Essentially Christlikeness. The next verse goes into detail: a mind conformed to God’s will is a life transformed and lived by God’s will—his good, pleasing, and perfect will. What is a living sacrifice? Holy. What else?
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” (Romans 12:1)
The Greek word translated acceptable means “to bring pleasure; that which brings pleasure.” “Acceptable” brings God’s approval, but more than that, it brings God pleasure. Holy and pleasing to God.
Again, haven’t we come a long way from Romans 1? Prior to salvation, our lives incurred God’s wrath; his displeasure. But not in Romans 12. Having been justified by God, and having peace with God, and now as children of God, our lives can actually bring joy to God.
- “Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:21)
- “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9)
Think of this in terms of parenting. When I sense from my girls that they are choosing to act or talk in a way that they know I would like, I delight in it. The other night I had an alone night with Kiralee. We played UNO,” their current favorite game. Then I said, “Would you like to play ping-pong?” She said “Yes.” We played ping pong. After that, I said, “Would you like to play basketball?” She said, “Yes,” and so we played horse in the basement. Jennifer got home and I said, “I had the best time with Kiralee!” It’s even better when I see her treat her sister well and respect Mommy. When she willingly chooses to please me, I love it.
Somehow in a greater way, Almighty God observes our hearts and lives and knows when we make choices and live in ways with the motive in our hearts to please him. After all, this is the same God who thundered from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) We have the opportunity for our lives to elicit the same divine pleasure.
This verse offers guardrails for our lives. To look in the mirror and honestly ask, what in my life isn’t holy? What in my life do I know doesn’t please him? That cuts through the fog of daily habits and hidden sins, doesn’t it? What are you thinking about right now? Is something coming to your mind? You’re not sure? Ask that question, does this please God? If not, die to it. Ask God to help your life be a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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