A Living Sacrifice

A Living Sacrifice

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 (Romans 12:1-2).

Paul calls us to present ourselves a “living sacrifice” to God. This is not the one-time immolation of an animal from the herd, but a life-long daily offering to God’s service of our own selves! As Christians, we strive to please God, glorify God, serve God, in all that we do, say, and think.

What could motivate us to abandon ourselves to God? Paul urges “by the mercies of God.” When we consider God’s gracious sacrifice on our behalf, which forgives our sin and saves us from damnation (Romans 5:6-8), we respond in gratitude. He rescued me, so I will serve Him!

In fact, to offer ourselves as a sacrifice is “our spiritual service of worship.” Now, it is helpful to compare translations to better understand this tricky phrase. “Spiritual” makes us think “stuff done in the pursuit of God,” and if this were the usual word translated “spiritual,” pneumatikos, we would probably be on the right track. But this is the Greek word logikeen, which is related to our English “logical.” NASB and ESV say “spiritual” because logical thoughts happen in the inner man. The KJV and NKJV say “reasonable” because they are part of a rational thought process. NIV says, “true and proper.” Without a doubt, the connotation here is that serving God is the only reasonable conclusion after meditating on God’s mercies. Serving God daily makes sense! The world thinks dying to self and living for Christ is foolishness; but it’s the most logical, intelligent thing to do when we see clearly who has created us and saved us, and who offers us an eternal reward for our labors. If you know who God is, it is only rational that you would serve Him; if you’ve tasted God’s mercy, it is only right that you would serve Him.

By the way, don’t let the phrase “service of worship” make us think this living sacrifice is limited to the hours of the worship assembly (“I’ve gone to church so I can behave like I want to Monday through Saturday...”). Nor that it is a substitute for answering the call to assemble in worship (“Everything I do as a Christian is worship, so I don’t need to go to church...”). One who praises God will honor Him all the time and everywhere, including those few hours in the assembly. This encompasses everything I do as a servant of God.

We offer our bodies a “holy sacrifice.” While this is so much greater than an Old Testament animal sacrifice, the comparison to features of that old system is meaningful. There were certain rules for Israel in offering acceptable sacrifice. God rejected old sickly animals that were going to die anyway (Exo. 12:5, Lev. 1:3, Mal. 1:8). We offer to God the best moments of our time and energy and resources, not merely the leftovers.

So, how do we sacrifice ourselves? Paul says, “do not be conformed to this world.” Children are hardwired to mimic parents to learn how to survive; new employees watch how successful employees operate. But when our model is corrupt—the standards and behaviors of a lost and dying world—being a follower yields the same corruption and brings misery (Gal. 6:8, 1 John 5:19).

Thus, Christians model after God’s standard, “that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The resulting life will contrast with society as sharply as salt from bland and light from dark. A camouflaged Christian, a Christian who blends in so well he is indistinguishable from his surroundings, is not a very good Christian (John 17:14-16). From a Biblical perspective, non-conformity is morally noble, it is conviction over acceptability. It is rejecting the world’s standards of modesty, entertainment, morality, and materialism, and choosing God’s standard. This takes bravery and trust in God.

How does a Christian attain this noble non-conformity? We need “the renewing of our minds.” This doesn’t come by loopy new- agey emptying of the mind, but by retraining it, by filling it with new good information from God’s revelation. For example, when the Bible points out to me that I came naked into the world and will depart it naked, when I discover from the Bible that the earth and its works shall be burnt up, when I see how God in the Bible warns me against the distraction of too much stuff, my standards change. When my neighbors see me give up extra shifts to become a better congregant and parent, when they see me downsize from a new Beemer to a used Accord, they may think me crazy. No, it's the right response of a renewed mind that is finally thinking clearly!

Or, when the Bible reveals to me the purpose of the body and sexuality, when the Bible teaches me that fornicators will be judged, my standards change. When my co-workers hear that I’m no longer moving in with my girlfriend, they may think me bonkers. No, it’s the right response of a renewed mind that is finally thinking clearly. All in all, my priorities of what deserves my time, money, and effort change as my mind incorporates the pages of truth. My perspectives and values change (Eph. 4:22-23). Good Christian living always comes from good Biblical information.

The outcome is that I will “be transformed” into something completely different, which is the image of Christ. From this Greek word we get our English word “metamorphosis,” and it describes not an adaptation or add-on, but a change from one form to another form, like a crawling caterpillar metamorphosing into a flying butterfly. A Christian is not just a human with a paint job. A Christian is a new creation in Christ, who has new aspirations, a new standard of living, who behaves much differently than he used to. People who once knew him can see the difference. He is transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18) and will share His glorious inheritance!

–John Guzzetta