“Love to God, and love to Christ, and love to saints for God and Christ’s sake, and the enjoyment of the fruits of God’s love in holy communion with God, and Christ, and with holy persons—this is what we have a relish for; and such is our renewed nature, that such happiness suits our disposition and appetite and wishes above all other things; and not only above all things that we have, but above all that we can conceive it possible that we could have. The world does not afford anything like it.” Jonathan Edwards Heaven: A World of Love
In his letter to the Romans Paul expounds eleven chapters of foundational doctrine about what God has given believers. Beginning in Chapter twelve he now charges those believers with what they need to give God. It is something of a pattern with Paul to begin a letter with a strong doctrinal section and follow it with an exhortation to live out the Christian faith through application of that doctrine. This pattern is repeated in Galatians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. When he uses this pattern Paul is saying that the Christian life is dependent on these great Christian doctrines. Because these things are true, this is the kind of person you should be. This is his line of reasoning. Chapter 12 begins the application portion of the letter.
“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
Romans 12:1-2 is one of the best-known passages in the New Testament and its fame is justified. It is here Paul succinctly and with vivid imagery summarizes what the Christian response to God’s grace in Christ should be.
These two verses introduce us to the attitudes and actions which should set the Christian apart from the world in which we live. It has never been more important than in today’s world that we show that we have been set aside by God to be His chosen people. How do we do that and what is the standard we use, the measure so to speak, to live as a people set aside for God and not a people that conforms to the culture of the world? It is becoming vitally important that we know and understand the doctrine Paul sets out in Romans. That is the standard for the Christian life. That is the standard by which we are conformed. In this letter to the Roman Church he sets the standards through his theological exposition of Christian doctrine. It is important that we recognize these standards because they are the truths God intends for us to put into practice. We must not file these truths away and bring them out only on Sundays or selectively in our daily life. We must live them out each and every minute of our walk with Christ. We must apply these truths in such a way that they identify us as Christians. Romans 12:1-2 is a call to commitment, a commitment to be worked out by us to develop in us a new way of thinking and behaving. Paul calls us to apply the truths that were divinely revealed to him. God’s doctrinal revelation through Paul is outlines our responsibility to behave in a manner consistent with what God has done, is doing, and will do for those He called. The doctrinal portion of the letter is meant as a standard for the Christian life whereas the applicational exposition is an exhortation for action based on that doctrine.
Paul is telling us that the legalist would look at doctrine and say ‘Do these things and you will live’, but Paul is saying “Live and you will do these things.’ In other words, if you live and walk in faithful obedience to Christ you will live out your life as a reflection of Christ’s teaching and in a manner pleasing to God. You will, through faith and in obedience to Christ, show your love for Him, live out your life in accord with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit’s guidance through love. There can be no doubt that in Paul’s exhortations to apply doctrine in a manner pleasing to God he is tying theology and its application together. He is addressing the Roman Church, however this is directed to all those who are in Christ.
“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.”
What else do we have to offer to the creator of the universe other than our worship? Is there anything God desires that He cannot have? He desires our spiritual worship and as those called to life through Christ we are to give it to Him. How then do we present that to our Lord? This passage is a call to service. God’s purpose for releasing mankind from the bondage of sin through Christ’s sacrifice is to serve the Lord and our fellow believers within His Church and not to live for self. The Lord Jesus Christ served us by redeeming us and by redeeming us, we as His sealed chosen, have been given the opportunity and the privilege of serving Him who is now our Master. The believer must live his life selflessly according to the love of God in order for his Christian service to be acceptable to God.
The only service that God the Father will accept and reward is that which is performed by means of the Spirit of God and the Word of God. The way in which the believer is to not only love God but also to serve Him is with his entire being. Deuteronomy 10:12 tells us: “what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” Christian service is directed toward both God and man with the former (serving God) acting as the motivation for the latter (serving man). You are serving God by serving your follow man.
The apostle Paul in Romans 12:1 appeals to his Christian readers based on the merciful acts of the Father on their behalf and to offer their bodies as a sacrifice-alive, holy, extremely pleasing to the Father, which is their reasonable service to the Father. Paul’s readers were to do this by appropriating by faith the Spirit’s teaching which Paul expounds on in Romans. In other words, they were to do this by conforming themselves to the likeness of Christ, which in turn would enable them to experience eternal life and sanctification which would make them extremely pleasing to the Father.
Paul completes his thought by teaching that this is our reasonable service to the Father. Remember that this letter was specifically written to the Roman Church, however, it’s application is for each of us that call ourselves Christians and who trust in their salvation through Jesus Christ. The Christian who offers his body as a sacrifice to the Father by understanding his new position in Christ is performing the only service that a man can offer up to their creator. This is an outgrowth of accepting Christ through faith and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We do so for the express purpose of serving the Father. The Father crucified His Son and had Him die a substitutionary spiritual and physical death on the cross. He then raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand and through this the baptism of the Spirit is made possible and we are identified as justified sinners with His Son through Christ’s crucifixion, His death, burial, and resurrection. All of this was to make it possible for the justified sinner to serve God.
Thousands today, including many genuine Christians, are flocking to various churches, seminars, and conferences in search of personal benefits – practical, emotional, and spiritual benefits for themselves. They are desiring to get the most from God, the most out of God. It is very self-centered. The prosperity gospel, the feel-good gospel, the universalist gospel are all fashioned in a way that the follower of these false gospels are promised to get more from God. Self satisfaction being the real desire. They do just the opposite of what Paul is so plainly emphasizing in Romans 12:1–2. In this forceful and compassionate exhortation, the apostle does not focus on what more we need to receive from God but on what we are to give Him. The key to a productive and satisfying Christian life is not in getting more but in giving more. That is the worship that is pleasing to God.
Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23). God gave His son to die for us in order that we might give ourselves to Him. Paul defines Christians as those “who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” Philippians 3:3
Our supreme calling is to serve God with all our being, first and foremost in worship. Through Christ, the writer of Hebrews tells us that “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15). True worship includes many things besides the obvious ones of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. It includes serving God by serving others in His name, especially fellow believers. Sacrificial worship includes to “nnot neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:16) But above all else, our supreme act of worship is to offer ourselves wholly and continually to the Lord as living sacrifices.
That is very far from the approach that is so common today by which believers seek the key to the abundant life. Name it and claim it! We are told that victory in the Christian life is to have more of God and to have more from God—although Ephesians 1:3 specifically tells us “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” And in Christ, we already have “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” and we “have been made complete” (Colossians 2:3, 10). So we are complete – He has given us everything necessary for a fruitful life, everything necessary to serve Him and do His will.
Peter said that in the true and saving knowledge of Christ, we have “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). And we have the resident truth teacher, the Holy Spirit, whose anointing, John says, “teaches [us] about all things” (1 John 2:27).
So we have everything – it has all already been given to us when we were sealed.
In the deepest, eternal sense, therefore, we cannot have more of God or from God than we now possess. It is more than obvious, however, that many do not have the fullness of joy that this fullness of blessing should bring. The spiritual gifts that we have been given apparently are not enough, not satisfying. The constant pursuit of getting more from God apart from what God has already provided to us is self centered. It is however apparently very appealing. The growth of the Prosperity Gospel is just one more sign of Christians losing their focus. If we look at all the false gospels the appeal is to satisfying the fleshly desires of man. The joy and satisfaction for which so many Christians are vainly striving can be had only by surrendering back to the Lord what He already has given to us, including our inmost being. The first and greatest commandment is what Jesus said it has always been: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5). In the present text we discover four elements of presenting ourselves to God as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice—essentially the same four elements found in the first and greatest commandment. They are: offering God our souls, our bodies, our minds, and our wills. While recognizing that these four overlap, we still can see how they provide a useful outline for grasping this text.
The unregenerate person cannot give God his body, his mind, or his will, because He has not given God himself first. Because he has no saving relationship to God 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Only the redeemed can present a living sacrifice to God, because only the redeemed have spiritual life. And only believers are priests who can come before God with an offering.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The soul is the inner, invisible part of man and is the very essence of his being. Therefore, until a man’s soul belongs to God, nothing else matters or has any spiritual significance.
Earlier in Romans Paul has made clear that “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). No matter what his personal feelings might be, the unredeemed person cannot worship God, cannot make an acceptable offering to God, cannot please God in any way with any offering. That is what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 13:3 when he said, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” If a person does not possess the love of God, all of his offerings, all his goods deeds, all his charity no matter how costly, are worthless to Him. Because an unbeliever’s soul has not been offered to God, he cannot make any other sacrifice that is acceptable to Him. The unredeemed cannot present their bodies to God as living sacrifices because they have not presented themselves to God to receive spiritual life.
Paul tells us we are not the unredeemed. We are those chosen by God. Paul tells us that in view of God’s mercy in redeeming us we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Whereas the unredeemed can do nothing to please God we the redeemed can. Because of His mercy on us we are to offer up to Him our worship. That is what is pleasing to Him.
We experience God’s mercy as a power that exerts a total and all-encompassing claim upon us: grace now “reigns” over us (Romans 5:21). It is therefore entirely fitting that our response flows from the love and compassion He has shown us. It should be a love equally all-encompassing: the presentation of our entire persons as a sacrifice to God. These mercies of God are enumerated by Paul in the doctrine based chapters. These mercies are reflected in His power to grant us sinners salvation (Romans 1:16). His great kindness toward those He saves (Romans 2:4; 11:22) is the ultimate expression of love since it was given to rebellious sinners. It is God’s mercies through Christ that brings us the forgiveness of our sins (Romans 3:25; 4:7–8). It is an unparalleled love and compassion that grants us freedom from our sins (Romans 6:18; 7:6). Through the blood of Christ we have received reconciliation with the Father (Romans 5:10), and justification before Him (Romans 2:13; 3:4), we have received conformation to His Son (Romans 8:29), glorification (Romans 8:30). Paul reminds believers that we are in Christ’s very likeness and have eternal life (Romans 5:21; 6:22–23). We are in His very presence with the resurrection of our bodies (Romans 8:11) and we will serve Him in His everlasting kingdom. We have received the mercies of divine sonship (Romans 8:14–17) and the mercies through the Holy Spirit – who personally indwells us (Romans 8:9, 11) The very Spirit who indwells us also intercedes for us (Romans 8:26), and through whom “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts” (Romans 5:5). In Christ we also have received the mercies of faith (mentioned thirty times in Romans 1–11), peace and hope. God’s mercies include His shared righteousness and even His shared glory and honor. And, of course, the mercies of God include His sovereign mercy (Romans 9:15–16, 18; 11:30–32). These are the mercies of God imparted to us. Imparted to us an undeserving people. As Paul begins this revealing how we should lived out our life through this doctrine he prefaces it my telling us that in view of God’s mercy, we are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is our true and proper worship.
With all the blessings that God has bestowed on us how do we in turn present our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, as our spiritual service of worship?
Jesus set the example for loving each other. Therefore, His love serves as the source, the power and the motivation for the Christian to love his fellow Christian in the same manner Christ loved, no matter how obnoxious or unattractive our fellow believer might be. The Lord provides us with the perfect human example of love in every way, manner, degree, extent, and purpose. So how do we go about this? Why does He want us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices?
We are talking about the believer here, those sealed, those that the Father gave to the Son, those that can never be pried from his hand, those that encompass the true Church. It is only the true Church because all the Church is not Christ’s Bride. Remember that Jesus told us “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Matthew 7:21-23
So we are talking about the redeemed. Redeemed souls already belong to God through salvation, In the redeemed God already has the inner man, the spiritual man, He already has man’s very soul. He wants us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him. He has the inner man, the soul, and He also wants the outer man, in which the inner man dwells. Our bodies, however, are more than a physical housing of our souls. They are also where our old, unredeemed self resides. Our bodies exhibit our humanity, our humanity incorporates our flesh, and our flesh incorporates our sin, as Romans 6 and 7 so clearly explain. Our bodies therefore encompass not only our physical being but also our evil desires, our lusts, our self centered, self pleasing sinful nature expressed through our mind and our emotions. Our body rebels against the very though of offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God’s will. Paul informs us, “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” (Romans 7:5). Long after he was saved, however, the apostle confessed, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Romans 7:22–23). In other words, the redeemed soul must reside in a body of flesh that is still the dwelling place of sin, a place that our old unredeemed self reveled in sin without remorse. It is that remnant of sinful desires within our “mortal bodies” that tempts and lures us to do look back to unredeemed ways. When we succumb to the impulses of the fleshly mind, our “mortal bodies” again become instruments of sin and unrighteousness.
The body is still the dwelling place of sinful desires, emotional depression, and spiritual doubts. Paul gives insight into that reality when he said, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Paul warned in Romans 6:12, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” As the body is the center of sinful desire, Paul reminded the Corinthians: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Yet Paul clearly taught that the body can be controlled by the redeemed soul. He told the sinful Corinthians that the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:11–13).
So God, as a form of worship, wants us to offer up our bodies as a living sacrifice. Yet He also desires the transformation or renewal of our minds.
Verse 2 – “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
What better time then as we read this to think deeply about not conforming to the pattern of this world? The Lord has always wanted His people set apart from the world. We are to be in the world. We are His witnesses and obviously have to be in the world, yet we do not have to part of the world. With the transformation of our society happening at a rapid pace it is important to understand that the Lord also is seeking transformation – a transformation or renewing of our mind to His will. He wants this so we will be able to understand and conform to His will. Remember that earlier in Romans Paul established that God’s righteousness was the measure for us to attain to? That is His desire for us – that is His will for us – to attain to His good, pleasing and perfect will for us. To attain to a measure of His righteousness. To do so means to not conform to the world around us but instead we need to transform or renew our outlook on life – to set ourselves apart from the moral standards of this world.
1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Colossians 3:10 – You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Ephesians 4:23 – And to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
Matthew 22:37 – And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He is not content that we retain the old mind set – we are a new creation and we need a transformed mind.
1 Peter 1:13-14 – Therefore, preparing your minds for action,[a] and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.
1 Thessalonians 4:5 – Not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
Ephesians 4:17-18 – Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
Galatians 5:19-22 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” These fruits of the Spirit are those of a tranformed mind.
Can you see the pattern here – separating ourselves from the pattern or mores of this world and the culture surrounding us on the one hand and conversely offering our bodies and mind to God for His sanctification. His transformation of our mind to conform to His is for us to become more Christ-like and less like the sinful world we were saved out of. We are not to be molded by society but by God’s will for us.
It is in the mind that we make choices as to whether we will express our new nature in holiness or allow our fleshly humanity to act in unholiness.
The Holy Spirit achieves this transformation by the renewing of the mind, an essential and repeated New Testament theme. Having just read the above scripture we can clearly sees how knowing doctrine, knowing God’s will for us has application in our lives. There are many, many, many Scriptures, both Old and New that attest to the importance God places on our renewal, our sanctification. The outward transformation is effected by an inner change in the mind, and the Spirit’s means of transforming our minds is the Word. David testified, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11). God’s own Word is the instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to renew our minds, which, in turn, He uses to transform our living. It is the very means of sanctification.
Paul repeatedly emphasizes this truth in his letter to the Colossians. As he proclaimed Christ, he wrote to them that Christ “is Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28). By receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10). Consequently, we are to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16).
The transformed and renewed mind is the mind saturated with and controlled by the Word of God. It is the mind that spends as little time as possible even with the necessary things of day to day living and as much time as possible with the things of God. It is the mind that is to be set “on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2). Whether good or bad, when anything happens in our lives, our immediate, almost reflexive response should be biblical. During His incarnation, Jesus responded to Satan’s temptations by hurling Scripture back into His adversary’s face (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). Only the mind that is constantly being renewed by God’s Spirit working through God’s Word is pleasing to God. Only such a mind is able to make our lives “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual service of worship.”
An implied fourth element of presenting ourselves to God as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice is that of offering Him our wills, of allowing His Spirit through His Word to conform our wills to the will of God.
How are we to go about knowing and doing the revealed will of God, that is, His will that He has revealed to us as commands through His Word? Knowing, responding to and obeying His commands requires a renewed mind with the Holy Spirit giving us the discernment that we need tht we may understand.
God’s will for us is revealed with final, decisive authority only in the Bible. And we need the renewed mind to understand and embrace what God commands in the Scripture. Without the renewed mind, we will distort the Scriptures to avoid those commands for self-denial, and love, and purity, and supreme satisfaction in Christ alone. God’s authoritative will is found no where other than in the divinely inspired Scripture. So God’s revelation to us through the Holy Spirit is the transforming power that renews our minds to conform to His will. Paul says that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Not just some good works. “Every good work.” 2 Peter 1:3 says that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” The Scriptures is God’s revelation to us and the only source of our knowledge of Him.
This divine revelation also, as we will see in the next three chapters of Romans teaches us the application of these biblical truths in all aspects of our lives. What is necessary is that we have a renewed mind, that is so shaped and so governed by the revealed will of God in the Bible, that we see and assess all relevant factors with the mind of Christ, and discern what God is calling us to do. This is very different from constantly trying to hear God’s voice saying do this and do that. People who try to lead their lives by hearing voices are not in sync with Romans 12:2. Divination does not require transformation or the renewal of one’s mind. God’s aim is a new mind, a new way of thinking and judging, not just new information. His aim is that we be transformed, that we be sanctified, and that we be freed by the truth of his revealed Word. John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And John 17:17 ”Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. So the teaching we need to grasp here regarding God’s will for us is the discerning application of the Scriptures to new situations in life by means of a renewed mind.
This renewed mind is what instructs us in everyday living. The Word of God put into application in our day to day life. The Word of God through the inspiration and instruction of the Holy Spirit molding our thoughts, attitudes, and actions so they are spontaneously in accord with the will of God. This transformation or renewal is what will guide us so that we do not conform to the ways of the world. Jesus said, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:34-36).
Anger, pride, covetousness, anxiety, jealousy, envy – they all just rise up out of the heart with no conscious reflection or intention. And we are guilty because of them. They break the commandments of God. They go against His revealed will for us. It is important therefore that grasp that this process of sanctification is an integral part of the Christian life. We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We need new hearts and new minds. “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. (Matthew 12:33). That’s the great challenge. That is what God calls us all to do. You can’t do it on your own. You need Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. And you need the Holy Spirit to lead you into Christ exalting truth with will be the transforming power.
The product of a transformed mind is a life that does the things God has declared to be righteous, fitting, and complete. That is the goal of the supreme act of spiritual worship, and sets the stage for what Paul speaks of next—the ministry of our spiritual gifts.
We need to immerse ourselves in the written Word of God; saturate our mind with it. And pray that the Spirit of Christ would make us so new that with the transformation we can offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God because this is our true and proper worship.