“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2)
I typically do not like to get too deeply involved in word studies when examining the Bible. For one, getting too wrapped up in linguistics can become very tedious and even boring for those who do not possess a passion for such pursuits. Secondly, I believe the danger exists of missing the overall context of the message when we use too powerful of a microscope on a particular passage of Scripture. I remember visiting a website a couple of years ago whose focus and purpose was better understanding Scripture by discussing the properties of the original Greek behind the New Testament translations. In and of itself, such a study can be very beneficial for those desiring to dig deeper into the Word and, without a doubt, it was obvious that the contributors to the website were highly proficient with Biblical Greek. But as I began reading through some of their discussion forums, I noticed a disturbing trend. They had become so focused and obsessed with the linguistics that they had begun to lose sight of the message being conveyed! Heated debates and arguments had erupted over the nuances of grammar and syntax and what the particular declension being used represented. In many instances, the text was so over-examined that the plain, straightforward, and obvious meaning soon became lost and clouded by a sea of analysis and re-interpretation. The forest, it seemed, could no longer be seen because of too much fixation on each individual tree.
Even so, as we come to the Twelfth chapter of Romans, I can think of no better method with which to examine these first two verses. There are so many powerful key-words packed into these brief verses that we risk missing out on some wonderful truths if we are tempted to skim too quickly through them. With that said, I would like to put Romans 12:1-2 under the microscope and break the verses down by the individual terms used:
The word used here carries with it the intention of an appeal. The phrase could also be given as, “I urge you therefore…” What should be distinguished here is the idea that this is not a command or directive, but an invitation. We are not being ordered to do something, but exhorted. The same root word is present that the Lord Jesus used when describing the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Whom He would send after His resurrection (John 14:16-17). Because of the Greek term used by Jesus, some theologians have referred to the Holy Spirit as the Paraklete, meaning “One called beside to comfort, encourage, and advise.” The related word, parakalo, is translated here in Romans 12:1 as beseech. It literally means the urging and counsel of one called beside us in whom we rely and trust.
What is not in mind here is the idea that what the Apostle is telling us is optional. This isn’t to be interpreted as a mere suggestion or opinion on Paul’s part; it carries with it the weight of Divine impetus. Never in the New Testament do we encounter the rigid mandate of Law, but rather the gentle persuasion of grace. We follow the directives of our Lord because we love Him, not because He rules over us with an iron fist. If you love Me, the Lord Jesus said, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15). We are to serve our Lord out of love and gratitude toward Him, not because we have been commanded to. The Apostle Paul followed the same pattern throughout his writings; exhorting, urging, encouraging, and beseeching his readers to do what is right and proper. In writing to Philemon, Paul interceded on behalf of the runaway slave, Onesimus, that his master might regard him no longer as a slave but as a brother in Christ:
“Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (Philemon 8-9)
In other words, speaking on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul could have very well ordered Philemon, as a fellow-Christian, to do what was right; but he instead beseeched him and appealed to him by his love for the Lord. I would venture to guess that Philemon did not interpret this as something that was optional for him to do since the Apostle did not specifically issue a command, but regarded it as his rightful duty out of love for God.
Here we have that great conjunctive adverb, therefore. We are reminded when we see this word that what we are about to be told is related to what we have just been told. In fact, therefore shows us that what we are about to read is true because of what we have just read. As the familiar Bible study axiom goes: when you see a therefore, look back to see what it’s there for.
But just how far back are we looking from Romans 12:1? The last few verses? The last chapter? The last few chapters? In reality, this very well might be one of the biggest therefores in the whole Bible because it looks back all the way to at least the Third chapter. Paul has been laying out his argument brick by brick or, to quote the prophet Isaiah, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little (Isa. 28:10). His doctrinal arguments are now concluded and he has begun the practical section of the Book of Romans. What will now follow is how the Christian, now justified (Ch. 3), by faith (Ch. 4), having peace with God (Ch. 5), no longer dominated by his sinful nature (Ch. 6), united with Christ (Ch. 7), walking not in condemnation but after the Holy Spirit (Ch. 8), Divinely elected (Ch. 9), having confessed with his mouth and believed in his heart that God has raised Christ from the dead (Ch. 10), and being engrafted into the Root and fatness of the Olive Tree (Ch. 11) shall live the rest of his life on earth.
Yet these words whereof the Apostle beseeches his readers can only find relevance by those who have followed him thus far. It is not an admonition to the world but to those within the Body of Christ; the brethren. For if we have rejected the Holy Spirit’s call to faith in Christ in the first eleven chapters, what have we to do with what will be said in the final five? If we separate the directions given for godly living given in these final chapters from the motivation of serving the Lord Jesus Christ, then we no longer have a God-honoring lifestyle but a system of ethics. We cannot take the guidelines for living in Christ and adapt them to a life lived apart from Christ; such is not possible.
Passages of Scripture such as Romans 12, or the Sermon on the Mount, or even the Golden Rule were never intended to be implemented into a secular lifestyle that fails to recognize the sovereignty of the Lord. God is not honored when a non-Christian attempts to live according to Bible principles through his own strength. A person needs the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling them in order to live the Christian life. In fact, it is not we who are called to live the Christian life but rather we are called to allow the Spirit of Christ to live this life through us, by His power. If we are not in Christ then we are not the brethren to whom this passage is addressed. We must be first reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus Christ before we can walk in the lifestyle described in the rest of Romans.
The word used here speaks of one presenting themselves for duty. It literally means to stand before God, offering our bodies to Him for His use. The same term was rendered yield back in Romans 6 (verses 13 and 19) when we were admonished to present our members for God’s righteous use and not for sin. But here, in Romans 12, the meaning goes even deeper as we are called to offer up our bodies as a living sacrifice for the service of God. Just as the priests in the Old Testament would offer up dead animals upon the Altar of the Temple, so are we to offer up ourselves for the use and glory of our Lord.
“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:20)
We have been purchased and redeemed by the blood of Christ and the life we now live is not our own. We have been crucified with Him, yet we live (Galatians 2:20). Our lives belong now to our Lord who gave so much to save us and those lives should be poured out for His glory and service. We walk now as dead men to the life we lived before we knew Him, yet we have been made alive again in Him. And it is this very fact that we are alive that makes such a difference between the sacrifice we offer and that of dead animals offered up under the Old Testament. For a living sacrifice is free to crawl off of the altar at any time; it is only our love for the Lord that will keep us there.
The word translated as reasonable here is the Greek term, logiken. We get our English word logic from it. To offer up the use of our bodies for the service of the Kingdom and the glory of the Lord is not only our reasonable duty, it is the only thing that is logical. A Christian who is not serving God with all he has is like a bird who does not fly or a fish who does not swim. It only makes sense to serve God because that is what we have been designed to do!
It is worth noting that we are told to present our bodies as a living sacrifice in this verse and not just to present ourselves, or our hearts, or our souls. In the next verse, we will be told about renewing our minds, but first it is our bodies that are specified. This is significant because every word we speak, every action we do is performed by our physical selves. Our mouths witness to the glory of God and preach His Message to others. Our hands are used to serve others and are the instruments through which we work; whether for God or for our own selfish desires. Our ears and eyes are the gateways into our souls and what we decide to fill them with will determine the way we think and the choices we make.
God wants our hearts to belong to Him, but He also wants our bodies to be yielded to Him and serving Him. The Christian life is not intended to be merely a life of inward contemplation but a vibrant, active life of service and worship. It is to be a life of sacrifice for the purposes of God.
Next time, Lord willing, we will finish this look at the first two verses of Romans 12.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,