The NASB entitles Romans 12:1,2 as a living sacrifice.
As you pursue the depths within chapter 12, you come to understand that WE are that living sacrifice. Finding the treasures buried within those depths may require a focused examination into what Paul is saying by looking at the Greek background of those simple words. Typically, we skim over words like sacrifice, possibly because we do not want to understand the impact that a word like this can have on us.
Let’s see what we can find.
First, pay attention to context. When Paul opens with the word “therefore,” it immediately tells us that what we see in chapter twelve is a continuation of a thought process. The origins of this current conversation, between Paul and the church, begins in chapter 11 verses 33-36.
The Complete Jewish Bible version of verse 33 says,
“O the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments! How unsearchable are his ways!”
For me, this puts God at a distance, with little hope of understanding who he is; fortunately, that is not the case.
The CEV version of verse 33 tells us,
“Who can measure the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God? Who can understand his decisions or explain what he does?”
It should be easy to understand that God, and His mercy and grace, is beyond our understanding; once again, this puts almost anything we think we know about the Father into the category of being a mere glimpse of who He is.
With that in mind, we begin our exploration of chapter 12.
Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice — alive, holy, and pleasing to God — which is your reasonable service.
(Romans 12:1 NET.)
“Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters,”
Here, Paul is not talking in generalized terms, to the world; this is directed at followers of Christ. In his conversation (as the NET version states), I exhort you. Exhort, according to Webster’s dictionary, means to: “encourage, to embolden, to cheer, to advise. The primary sense seems to be to excite or to give strength, spirit, or courage.” I can take this many ways, such as Paul is advising the followers of Christ, or he is trying to excite them into following the words he is about to give them.
“by the mercies of God,”
Most definitions of mercy lean toward pity; however, that seems wholly inadequate here, especially when we look at passages like Ephesian 1:3,4.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love.” (NASB)
Dr. J Vernon McGee, in his simplistic manner, says this of the phrase “By the mercies of God.” “The plural is a Hebraism, denoting an abundance of mercy. God is rich in mercy; God has plenty of it, my friend. He has had to use a lot of it for me, but He still has plenty of it for you.”
The Word Study Dictionary adds, “It is used in reference to God as the Father of mercies showing His character and that upon which believers can depend as they make their bodies a living offering to Him.”
2 Corinthians 1:3 NET. “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,”
“to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God -”
Again I draw from J Vernon McGee, who tells us, “the body is the instrument through which we express ourselves. The mind, the affections, the will, and the Holy Spirit can use the body.”
But does that fully explain what God is asking us to do here? Sure, the Holy Spirit wants to use our bodies, but certainly, we are being asked to lay ourselves down. The commentary by Albert Barnes states that “The word used here commonly denotes the action of bringing and presenting an animal or other sacrifices before an altar. It implies that the action was a free and voluntary offering. Religion is free, and the act of devoting ourselves to God is one of the most freeing acts that we ever perform.”
Consider these words from Psalms.
Psalms 50:22-23 NASB “Now consider this, you who forget God, Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver. (23) “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.”
This first part got my attention, as it declares, “Now consider this, you who forget God, Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver.” Now that God has your attention take note, “ He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright, I shall show the salvation of God.” What can I take away this? That God is deadly serious about this, that and the fact that God’s salvation is deeply integrated into this idea of sacrifice.
What is He asking me to sacrifice?
My body and my will.
Is He specifying how to go about this?
Absolutely and we see that when He uses terminology like “ alive, holy, and pleasing to God.”
An immediate observation is that sacrifices get killed. Well, that should be easy for us to associate with, seeing as we died with Christ and were buried with Him in baptism. However, the word used was alive, so He has to be talking about us, filled with vibrancy.
If you chose to ponder the term holy, how would you apply it to yourselves?
Most of us can’t imagine anyone seeing us as holy, and yet God does, and this happens when we give ourselves to Christ.
Webster’s dictionary defines sanctification as made holy; consecrated; set apart for sacred services.
Ephesians 1:4 tells us that He chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy before Him. Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus chapter 1:13, says, “having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit.”
In defining the person filled with the Holy Spirit, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews calls it sanctification.
Hebrews 10:9-10 NASB, then He said, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. (10) By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The point here is that having given ourselves over to Christ, we have been made Holy, whether we feel like it or not.
“which is your reasonable service.”
It seems that most of us perceive this idea of service as being God’s will for our lives. The problem with that is that few can define what God’s will is for us. Most will tell you that God’s will is His word, and that would be true; however, the Word rarely speaks directly to the various aspects of our lives. One pathetic example would come from those who say, “what is the will of God for my marriage.” The simple answer is to love your wife; this theme is spread generously across the New Testament.
Paul helped to define this idea of sacrificial service in the letter that he wrote to the church in Rome.
Romans 1:9 NASB For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you,
Service, for Paul, was to serve in delivering the gospel of Christ. Yes, I noticed that the NASB uses the descriptive language, “preaching of the.” Still, the NASB writers define for us, in the front of their bibles that those italicized words are only meant to help aid the sentence structure and our understanding.
For me, and it has taken years to realize this, that my reasonable service is to teach, but I have sensed this in my heart for years. The peculiarity is that Jesus appeared to me in a dream when I was about 24, and laid my life out before me. I thought I would never forget a word He said and did not write any of it down. When I awoke, I could only remember Him being there and the immense joy I felt. I cannot recall Him telling me how I would severely damage my own life, and how it could seriously impact my acceptance as a teacher, but I have tried the standard church venues, with no luck; and have only “found” myself in teaching small home groups and in taco stands.
Since we understand that Paul’s admonition is that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, what is next?
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.
Romans 12:2 NASB
How many of you have read Romans 12:2 and thought, what does that mean?
It is not that difficult. Webster’s dictionary defines conformed rather simply as “made to resemble; reduced to a likeness of; made agreeable to.”
So then, the question is, made to resemble or agreeable to what?
Look around you, you don’t have to look far; what does the world do? Some of these, I am calling the world, sit by you in church. Franklin Graham, who preaches a message much like his father’s, has been banned in Europe from several stadium venues he had tried to secure, to do massive salvation crusades. And why? Because he calls sin sin. And who do you think holds the significant responsibility for obstructing his access to these stadiums? Church leaders who do not feel that Franklin Graham reflects today’s norms. So, everywhere you turn, bastions of religion have given way to squeaky wheels, and blatant sinners have been given pulpits. In doing so churches have become agreeable to the politically correct norm; we have become agreeable.
Is that all there is, as though that is not enough?
Ideals and sensibility are being stripped away on a daily basis. Alright, I get it, I am not supposed to act like the world, but an obvious thing is going to happen; you will not have many friends outside of the church body, and even then many of them are busily conforming to the same world you may find yourselves fighting against.
Let me point out that our President Trump, in his 2020 state of the Union address, said; this will not be a nation where you get punished for praying in school, along with other things that clash against the NEW normal.
Simply resisting is not the answer, you have to change the way you think.
Paul tells us, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Assuming that I am a believer and the world is beginning to affect me, then I certainly don’t need to be bolstered and supported in the world’s ways. Something I find myself saying, I don’t need to have some preacher rant about sin; I already know how to do that.. I say all this because the word transformed implies that you are being moved back to some non-changed state, and I have come to the realization that I need to move away from the world’s way of thinking.
Transformed – “Changed in form or external appearance; metamorphosed; transmuted; renewed.
Ah, so there is the implication of being renewed, but it still carries the definition of being changed in form. We can’t do that; only God can. Fortunately for us, Jesus did and does change us. The cross removed the penalty of sin, something we all carry; however, it is the necessary move toward belief in Jesus and the price He paid for us, that makes us His own. That action on His part metamorphosed us into Sons of God. In case you don’t remember, this is what butterflies do; they change from an often ugly caterpillar into beautiful butterflies.
Alright then, who is this person who is conforming to the world?
Those who choose not to renew their minds. I suppose this could be analogous to maintaining a vehicle. If you allow it to run out of oil, what happens? A multitude of horrendous and expensive events. Can the car be renewed? Sure, if you have the time, money, and patience; and, you see “renewals” frequently when people with money, find people with the skills and pay them to rebuild some “classic” car.
The Greek word for renewing is also renovation, and that is what entrepreneurs do to neglected homes – many call it flipping a house (hopefully for a profit.)
This idea of seeing our bodies as a house is not so foreign, and Paul speaks of it in 2 Corinthians 5:1.
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (NASB)
So what is the advantage of renewing my mind?
Paul gives us the answer to that when he says “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The word prove has a variety of definitions, but they all run along the same vein. One goes like this:
“To evince truth by argument, induction or reasoning; to deduce certain conclusions from propositions that are true or admitted.”
As I have read through the Old Testament and observed how people like Gideon, Joshua, and Abigail (our examples are vast in number and varied in their reactions), all came to the conclusion that God was good and acceptable because they argued, reasoned and saw that God was true. It is not that different for us, and the book of Hebrews talks about this process of faith when the author speaks of a great cloud of witnesses. In my childhood, growing up in the church community, there was the sister Dixon’s of my life, each one different, and yet all made an impact that showed me that God was true.
Evince, according to Webster’s, is “to show in a clear manner; to prove beyond any reasonable doubt; to make evident.”
This is the type of terminology that we hear in a courtroom, but how do I apply this information to myself?
I have sat on one jury in my sixty-six years. The judge instructed us that all the evidence comes out of the interactions between the attorneys and the person sitting in the witness stand and that you must acquit the defendant IF there is any reasonable doubt. One of those “witnesses” came in the form of an outlaw biker type. He had seen his friend standing at the curb looking a bit battered. A police officer was nearby, but that officer had already told us that this intersection was not his jurisdiction; so, the officer’s only concern was to assess whether anyone needed medical assistance. Since that was not necessary, he merely stood by until the Highway Patrol showed up – that took almost 20 minutes once the call was made. Back to the biker. Seeing his friend in “need,” he and his buddy pulled over, poured some whiskey they had under the seat into the tall soda cup that they had already flicked some ashes into; and, took it over to the friend in need. Drinking an unspecified amount of Whiskey, for 10 to 15 minutes, can get me drunk; it probably worked that way for the friend standing at the curb. But the jury foreman, a school teacher, said, “that is NOT reasonable, no one would do that!” He had obviously lived a very sheltered life. This short version was a demonstration of the prosecution’s inability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty, and it speaks to me of the shortsightedness of the world, which became extremely evident in the most recent presidential impeachment hearings.
God has always, in talking with us broken people, made it clear that He would uphold His end of the commitment, even if we did it not. We see conversations like this, between God and people, throughout the Old Testament. Two of those interactions that jump to mind are with Abram and Gideon. God, in those circumstances, spoke in this manner, “as for me.” This manner of speech was not the demonstration of a bad attitude, but unquestionably took into consideration the frailty of the human in question; and, it demonstrated God’s determination to follow this agreement through to the end.
In proving what the will of God is, isn’t this solely speaking to the individual?
It is; so this instruction is meant for us to establish ourselves in the nature and character of God. Some may feel that there is a demand to prove to the world that God is faithful, the problem there is that many will not accept truth or evidence because their minds are locked into some twisted logic. If you think about it, wouldn’t a purposeful attempt at understanding God be comparable to knowing His will? Of course, it would, for understanding the nature and character of someone, would give you the reasons why they make the decisions they make, and God is not so different. He longs for us to know Him.
What is good?
The current convention is that we must be politically correct. Is that good? I don’t think so, as the moral standard has inverted and changes from day to day. (An example of current, so-called regular practice, is the wanton murder of babies in a brutal manner, while disguising this murder under the title women’s health.)
Isaiah 5:20 NASB Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
If you look up the Greek word for good you get agathos. One of the meanings and there are only two, is, does it have any benefit.
How much effort does it take to ask, does this have any benefit?
Well, I suppose the answer to that question is subjective, as an alcoholic, when handed a bottle, would probably say, there is unquestionably a benefit. So realistically this conversation is pushing toward a moral evaluation of what is good, however, that moral evaluation has to be based upon a standard, but whose standard? There is only one valid, true, and unchangeable standard – God’s. (I am not talking about religious legalism as the standard, but the consistent pattern, which God demonstrated to humanity throughout the Old Testament; an example of this can be seen in the entire process that led up to the “escape” from Egypt, by God’s people.)
Let’s ponder the term acceptable for a moment. Acceptable is defined by Strong’s as fully agreeable and, well-pleasing. While the world, in their quest for pleasure, would think this is exactly what they want to hear. The reality is, this is talking about what God wants to hear and see, and He would love to commune with you and I.
Perfect is the Greek word teleios and means complete (in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character, etc.); neuter (as noun, with G3588) completeness: – of full age, man, perfect. So when we talk about being perfect, we are talking maturity and growth in our relationship with God.
Where does this maturity show up?
In how we act; how we talk; the decisions we make; and, how we perceive and communicate with the Father.