“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1–2).
Modern companies have mission statements, a guiding sentence or phrase for all they do. Christians, in a sense, have a mission statement also. If pressed for it, I would turn to Romans 12:1-2. Here, in response to the glorious gospel, he wrote about in Romans 1-11, Paul concludes: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”
There it is. My mission as a Christ follower is straightforward: My body for God’s glory.
Until Christ calls me home, this is my mission.
This body of mine — all its thoughts, dreams, experiences, preferences and commitments — is to find use for the glory of God. Paul would go on to describe what this looks like in Romans 12-15, but here I want to simply consider this mission statement.
My body for God’s glory. What does this mission actually mean? What is my motivation for this mission? Are there obstacles to succeeding in this mission? Is there an aid to accomplishing this mission? What is the result of living out this mission? In this article we will study:
• The goal
• Our motivation
• An obstacle
• An aid
• The result
1. The Goal: I Am A Living Sacrifice For God (Romans 12:1)
Paul did not believe the body was a prison for the soul. He believed our bodies could be useful towards the glory of God. This is gospel power because the Bible teaches that sin riddled and ruined our bodies. Paul taught us that sin had wrecked our understanding, making its way insidiously into our mouths and feet and eyes (Romans 3:9-20). But by the power of the cross, our bodies are redeemed from what they were. Our minds, mouths, feet and eyes are given new life. Surrendered to God, they can be used to glorify Him. Even the possibility of this — when you consider what we were outside of Christ — is astounding.
The placement of Paul’s teaching is precise. He talked much of what we are in Christ in Romans 1-11 but little of what we should do. He had mentioned the belief of our heart and the confession of our mouth, but now he goes after the whole body. It is of little practical use to know the gospel message theoretically if the body is not surrendered to God. Paul knows that, so here he urges a sacrificed life.
But what does it mean to be a living sacrifice?
In the Old Testament era for Israel, there was a sacrificial system. There, the people of God would offer various animal and produce sacrifices to the Lord. Sometimes the sacrifice was completely consumed on the altar. Other times God received part on the altar and the priest or worshiper ate the rest. But those animal sacrifices always came in alive and then died.
For us, the opposite is true. We come to God in our deadness in trespasses and sins. He then makes us alive by His grace and glorious gospel of the cross of Christ. As we give Him our bodies for his glory, we walk away more alive than ever before. We came in dead but leave alive.
Therefore, a living sacrifice is a person completely devoted to God. This isn’t a calling upon a few Christians but all Christians. Paul uses the words “holy” and “acceptable” in this passage. He means we are to be set apart, consecrated, for God’s purposes. In the Old Testament era, they would consecrate, set apart, various instruments (candlesticks, altars) for the temple work. They were set aside for God’s use. You are to be the same. You are to be set apart for God’s purpose. Your body for His glory.
Give yourself wholly to God!
Our nature is to be selective in giving ourselves to Him, holding back portions of our lives. Sometimes we do this knowingly; other times we discover this later. But we should want to give everything we are to Him. Declare yourself sacred for God.
Imagine a house. Every room in this house has its own separate key. Imagine a massive key ring. Then imagine handing that entire key ring over to a new owner. In the same way, believers ought to give God every single key. Give it all to Him. Don’t reserve a room or two for the self. Let Him have dominion in your life and heart. Sign your name and hand Him the blank check that is your life.
2. Motivation: The Mercies Of God (Romans 12:1)
Why would I want to do this? What is my motivation? Why give my life completely to Him? Why take the mission statement “my body for His glory?” Paul appeals to them from the gospel itself, alluded to here "the mercies of God." The word Paul used to begin this exhortation is “therefore.” To him, the mission of “my body for his glory” is a response to everything he’d already written. Romans 1-11 must be thought of when considering our mission. We must think of the depravity we were bound in (Romans 1-3). We must think of the impossibility of receiving righteousness and worth and acceptance through law keeping (Romans 3).
We must think of God’s incredible provision of His Son, making a way for righteousness apart from the law (Romans 3). We must think of the radical and simple access we have to such grace, simply by faith (Romans 3-4). We must understand He made a great deposit of righteousness into our accounts (Romans 4). We must see that we’ve been taken out of Adam and put into Christ (Romans 5). We must know of a brand new relationship with sin; I don’t have to be dominated by it any longer (Romans 6). I am dead to sin, but alive to God now (Romans 6), and the current battle I experience with my body’s sinful desires can be won through my relationship with Jesus (Romans 7). His Spirit resides in me, helping me to overcome condemnation, heartache and trials (Romans 8). Nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8).
By this point in Romans, we ought to have been overwhelmed by the mercies of God.
His attitude towards us is the bedrock of Paul’s plea. This is a reasonable appeal when one considers the massive mercies of God. All of this massive kindness from God causes me to say, “therefore.” If this is what God has done for me, I want to give my life to Him.
This is reasonable service. This is the meaning of “spiritual worship.” It is reasonable (logikós). When you consider the Lord and His great gospel message, this brand of life is reasonable. It isn’t radical. It isn’t crazy. It may seem that way to others, but once the atom bomb of the gospel explodes in your soul, you’ll see this brand of life as completely reasonable.
This, of course, is the language of grace, not law; gospel, not religion. Religion says, “Do and you’ll get.” The gospel says, “You've gotten, now do.” Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). But when you’ve been forgiven much, when you know of this incredible work of God towards you, you’ll love much.
3. Obstacle: Conformity To The Age (Romans 12:2)
There is, however, a major obstacle to our progress. Perhaps we are convinced the mission statement is right. “My body for God’s glory,” we say to ourselves, “This is how I long to live.” We see the cross of Christ and the imputed righteousness of God. God’s gift is immeasurable. We find our motivation in Him and what He’s done for us. His mercies are beyond compare. Still, we feel an obstacle. What is it?
The obstacle is conformity to the age. There is a “world” or “present age” that seeks to mold and shape you. Jesus wants to disciple you, but so does the world; and you are swimming in its curriculum. It is all around us.
What is this world that is trying to conform us? It isn’t the planet, but the system in place on the planet. Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament defines it like this:
"That floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations, at any time current in the world, which it may be impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitute a most real and effective power, being the moral, or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably to exhale.”
Simply put, the world system, the present age, is that which seeks self-gratification. It is self-centered, self-indulgent, self-pleasing, and self-concerned and indifferent to the needs of others. It says, “If you hate me, I will hate you. If you love me, I will love you. If you’re indifferent to me, I’ll be indifferent to you.” There is nothing counterintuitive about it. It is guttural, responsive and animalistic.
But the life Paul describes in Romans 12-15 is completely unnatural. It is a counterintuitive life.
Know that the world seeks to make a disciple of you. We are likely discipled more by the world than we are by God. We must put on our snorkel as we swim in this world system. It is contrary to God. We must not follow the course of this world. There is a better way.
Like Daniel before us, we must resolve that we will not be defiled with the stuff of the age. Like ancient Israelites in Babylonian captivity, we will seek the welfare of our cities and pray for its peace. But we will not be conformed into its mold and image. Like a submarine in water, keeping the water out of the boat is a good thing.
4. Aid: Transformation Through Mind Renewal (Romans 12:2)
Is there anything that can help us avoid being conformed to the world? If we are swimming in this world — if our televisions and phones and tablets and billboards and feeds are all trying to disciple us — is there any hope? If our every conversation and classroom has an angle, how could we possibly avoid world conformation? It all seems so inevitable. Indeed, without this next aid, it is. Fortunately, an aid exists.
Paul writes: “...But be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This is our aid: mind transformation. We are not to be conformed but to allow our minds to be transformed.
Someone said it this way: God formed, the Devil deforms, the world conforms, education informs, society reforms, but only Jesus transforms. He is able to take us from the self-centered way of the world system to the Christ-centeredness of His word.
Our bodies will change over time, but we might remain the same. As believers, as Jesus people, this is unacceptable. We want our inner man to become transformed: mind renewal. We want to “put off our old self…and be renewed in the spirit of our mind, and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Christ did not rescue us so that we’d remain the same. He redeemed us to a new life, a new way of thinking.
So how does this transformation of the mind occur? Basically, through interaction with the Word of God, the Bible.
It is only by learning, reading, studying and applying the Word of God to our lives, we’ll be able to “...Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10).
Would you like to think like God? Well, you must study how God thinks. He reveals Himself to us in His Word.
Many believers are focused on feeling or doing, however. Those focused on feeling ask: How do I feel today? Do I feel like going? How do I feel about my job? How do I feel about my friends? How do I feel about my singleness or my marriage?
Those focused on doing say: Don't bore me with theology and doctrine and teaching. Tell me what I must do. Help me with the practicalities of life. That is all I am interested in. I want to do. These lives will never know the transforming power of the God. Their minds have not been renewed. Feelings trump God’s Word. Practicalities trump truth. The spirit of the age is still dominant. No, in order to find the protection of transformation, we must set our minds as much as possible on God’s Word.
The blessed man of Psalm 1 comes to mind: “...But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
5. Result: The Best Possible Life (Romans 12:2)
If I do this — if I make this my mission and embrace this mind transformation — what will become of me? If I embrace the goal (my body for God’s glory), the motivation (the mercies of God), know the obstacle (conformity to the age), and utilize the aid (transformation through mind renewal), what will my life end up looking like?
To put it bluntly: This will be your best possible life. As our minds become transformed, we learn about the purpose of life. We discover the reality of evil and sin. We embrace God’s purpose for sex and sexuality. We are set free by His vision for finances. We learn about singleness and church and community and philosophy and priorities and relationships and marriage and a myriad of other things. In learning these, we begin to live out our best possible life.
Everything changes. We begin to experience joy. Selfishness gives way to others-centeredness. We begin to experience purpose as personal kingdom building gives way to engagement in God’s kingdom. We begin to experience satisfying closeness with God as self-reliance gives way to prayerful relationship with Him.
This life is the amazing life. Paul called it “good and acceptable and perfect,” a life running concurrently with “the will of God.”
Basically, this person has a new heart cry. “I want what God wants!” becomes the plea. “My body for God’s glory” becomes anything but sacrificial drudgery, but the gladdest life one could ever live.