Romans 12-13: "Present Your Bodies A Living Sacrifice"
Deer Park, Texas
The epistle to the Romans is one of the most enlightening books in the Bible. It is demanding, practical, and by its very design makes confidence and encouragement possible for every Christian in every age. The book has a basic two-fold goal. First, it brings all men under the condemnation of sin (3:10; 3:23). Secondly, it gives all men the assurance that they can be saved from such sin by obedience to the gospel of Christ which is described in Paul's thematic (1:16) as "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek." The entire process is viewed in miniature in 6:23 where Paul says, "the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The twelfth and thirteenth chapters of this great discourse constitute the most practical part of the entire treatise, citing those things which comprise the obligations and responsibilities which pertain to the individual disposed to giving himself as a living sacrifice unto God. In these chapters, it becomes obvious that the entire relationship between God and man is not at all national, nor does it have anything to do with genealogy, but is a very personal matter between the individual and God. Paul affirms such in 2:6 when he says that God "will render to every man according to his deeds . . . ." In this same connection, he declares vehemently in verse 11 that, "there is no respect of persons with God."
The axis on which the context of our study turns is found in the first verses of chapter 12. "1 beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to 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." In the following two chapters are to be found a number of timely admonitions which pertain to the giving of oneself a such a living sacrifice unto God.
At the outset we observe the function of the individual in this most practical advice. Paul indicates that a man is capable of the presentation of his body in sacrifice to God by the mere fact that he enjoins its doing. It is not a matter of coercion, nor is it the action of some automaton performing by some sort of law of necessity, but a predetermined, purposeful, and very personal voluntary process. Every person must present his own body (cf. Rom. 6:17), for the assignment can be carried out no other way.
Such service is reasonable. It is reasonable because of the case Paul has so carefully prosecuted to this point. Its assignment comes as a direct result of the foregoing information concerning salvation. Since God has concluded the Gentile under sin because of his disdain for the law (Chapter 1), and since he has likewise pronounced the Jew guilty because of his disregard for the law (Chapter 2), and since he has shown both the possibility of justification by obedience to the faith of the gospel (Chapter 5, following), it is only sensible or reasonable that each person present his body as a living and active offering to God Almighty.
Such a presentation is accomplished by a transformation from the world. The process is described in both positive and negative terms. First, "be not conformed (fashioned) according to this world." Positively, be rather "transformed." This action is again sensible and requires the "renewing of your mind," which implies a change in the "morph" or the essential part of man. All such action is an effort to "prove" the word of God. The term "prove" is an assayers' term used to describe the action of ascertaining the genuineness of metals, and is here used in the sense of testing and trying to deduce the pure truth.
The responsibility of presenting one's body as an active sacrifice to God is the most serious action if life. It means that one's love for God is so intense that he offers himself entirely to God. In doing so, he completely releases himself without reservation to the doing of the bidding of God regardless of consequences. As such a devotee, he rids himself of his own selfish intentions and purposes and bows his entire being in meek submission to God. Let there be no mistake about it, to offer oneself as a living sacrifice to God, holy, acceptable is not a flippant or trivial act, but a mature, deliberate and serious pledge of total allegiance to the Sovereign of us all.
Man's Areas of Operation
Every man operates in several spheres of influence simply as a result of his being a social creature. In this text, Paul will treat all of them as they each relate to the offering of oneself as a sacrifice to God. Notice carefully that at no time does the Christian ever lose his identity when he changes from one area of operation to another. Whenever, wherever he is, he must operate as one who has emphatically dedicated himself to the service of his master.
Responsibility To The Church (12:3-8)
The chuch is people. One who has determined to present himself in service to God must necessarily participate with others who share his same determination. Such action is not only necessary, but commanded (Heb. 10:23-25). This "body" of believers is the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). At the time of this writing the church had the need of spiritual gifts for its growth and spiritual well-being. Since there is a seeming propensity to elevate those who have some special talent (whether miraculously bestowed or a natural endowment does not matter) to a place of prominence, there is also a human tendency for those who receive such accolades to be high minded or heady. The man who presents his body to God must not be so inclined toward excessive and inordinate self confidence, realizing that his abilities are not of his own doing, but are provided by God. The man of God will be impressed with the need for all the various parts of the body to work together toward the accomplishment of the common goal. It is God who bestows all gifts (then as now) and recognition of that fact will cause the converted man of God to be more interested in the proper use of them than in glorying because he is possessed of them. Paul resultantly advises that he who prophecies should let it be according to what has been allowed him for its doing; he who ministers let him be content with his duty to minister; he who exhorts should pay attention to his own area of service; he who gives should give sincerely and not for public spectacle; he who teaches should attend to his own duties; and he who shows mercy should do so without begrudging his actions. In the church every man should do what he can.
Responsibility To All Men (12:9-16)
All of man's actions should have one motive - love. Such unpretended love is not only necessary for those with whom he shares his filial relationship in the church, but for all men everywhere. For the Christian who seeks to offer his body as a living sacrifice to God, such love must extend to every area of his life and the guiding principle which regulates his every activity is to love the good and abhor that which is evil. This love will seek the best interests of all with whom he has to do.
Several things are set forth as illustrations of the type of actions which are characteristic of one who has so renewed his mind. He will not be lazy as regards his various obligations; he will be deeply devoted in his service to God (12:11). He will be seen happily rejoicing in the hope that is in Christ Jesus; he will endure meekly the vicissitudes of life; he will derive strength for the day by regular prayer to God (12:12). He is charitable to those of his kinship; he is careful to entertain strangers (12:13). He is not spiteful, but invokes blessings even on those who would do him harm (12:14). He is empathetic, involved in both the joy and the sorrow of those with whom he has contact (12:15). And he has a certain sameness toward everyone. He treats all with the same devotion and attention, be they rich or poor, educated or illiterate. And he calls no special attention to his own accomplishments, nor does he take any special pride in his own deeds. In short, he is not fashioned according to the world, but transformed to a higher and more quality existence.
Responsibility Toward Adversaries (12:17-21)
God has never assumed that man would live in a troublefree society. He has, nonetheless, imposed certain regulations and attitudes as those to be cultivated for times of unrest and trouble. That man who has presented his body as a living sacrifice must learn to "seek peace and ensue it" (1 Pet. 3:11).
Paul first advises that the Christian should not be vindictive. The reason is simple: he is not qualified to mete out vengeance. To his friends, he will be too charitable, to his enemies too strict. But he can trust God who is eminently qualified for such punitive responsibility. And he can learn that prolonged anger is not for his good (Cf. Eph. 4:26). This man with the renewed mind discourages trouble by providing for his needs without partaking of that which is evil or ill-gained.
Paul's assignment is clear: Do not ask for trouble! Discourage difficulties! But he immediately accedes to the obvious truth that such will not always be possible. So he says, "if it be possible, be at peace," indicating that a strenuous effort be made to make it so. And when such is not possible, the child of God is to take care not to seek to repay, but rather to "give place to wrath," an enjoinder to wait until God sees fit to recompense, for He is well able. Conversely, the man of God will react to ill-treatment by loving his enemies and by doing good to them that despitefully use him (cf. Matt. 5:43-48). The result of such action is then shown by Paul (notice that the result is given, not the motive for doing good to your enemies): that by so doing he may cause the adversary keen reflection upon his unkind deed. He says, "be bigger than your problems!" To react to adversity with a proper attitude is to overcome evil; to do less is to be overcome of it.
His Responsibility To Civil Authority (13:1-9)
The person who is disposed to subjugate his will to that of the Father must require and maintain a right attitude toward authority. This authority takes two basic forms: supreme authority, which belongs to God, and delegated authority, or the empowerment of others by God. One such delegation of God's power is seen in civil government. Every person must be subject to such powers for they are appointed or established by decree from God. And while it is certainly so that such powers can be abused or mishandled, the godly man must continually submit to them as long as their requirements do not contradict the laws of God. In fact, Paul asserts that to resist civil authority is tantamount to resisting God who is the source of that power.
The fact that man is a social creature demands that he have some sort of civil control. God has provided for that control in civil government. As a citizen, the Christian is to be subject, for says the writer, the very purpose for that power is to initiate such regulations as will provide for the general welfare of all those who are disposed to do right: Such respect shows regard for system, harmony, and peace. To disdain such power is to invite chaos, disunity, even anarchy. In civil law, there is the inherent right of punitive agency, or the right of enforcement, too. Paul warns that those who would disobey law should be afraid, for he says, "he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." Furthermore, the Christian's motive is a consideration. Paul says that such submission must be "for conscience sake" and not just in fear of being punished. That is, a righteous man will submit simply because it is the right thing to do, even if no one is watching!
The Christian's obligation extends into the area of funding the processes of government and the. recognition of its various officers as well. That person who seeks to present his body a living sacrifice must extend his honesty and usefulness into this as well as all areas of life. In this regard, he is to pay his taxes, legal assessments, foreign duties and the like. To do less is to incur the displeasure of government whose charge it is to attend to such matters. In addition, the Christian is called upon to extend proper honor and accord to dignitaries, for such regard is also a demonstration of his respect for authority.
Such submissions make possible a free course of action for the God-fearing man. Also, these benign actions insure a better atmosphere in which to communicate the message of Christ. And it furthermore demonstrates to government, no matter the type, that Christianity is not a detrimental competitor to civil power, but a respecter of it. These obligations are as applicable today as at the time of their writing.
Love: The Supreme Obligation (13:8-10)
Every man who would present himself as a sacrifice to God has one social obligation which is superior to all others. He is obligated to love his neighbor. This grace-love is the kind of intellectual devotion which seeks the benefit of the object of such consideration, no matter if he is friend or enemy. Because of that fact, this debt is forever owed and can never , be completely satisfied. Paul illustrates that fact by showing that love is to be at the base of all the universally pertinent commands relating to and governing man's relationships with his fellows. This sublimated form of human affection is the very same as was enjoined by Jesus in Matt. 22:34-40. He, too, says that it is the foundation for a proper relationship with others. In fact, the summation in 13:10 is a demonstration to a proof: "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Notice, too, that love is not just the basis of the law of conduct to others, but also the end, or fulfillment of that law as well. We see just how important the supreme motive is when we come to consider that love is both the foundation and the goal of law.
An Encouragement Is Given (13:10-14)
The final part of this great practical text provides still another motive for presenting our bodies living sacrifices to God. True, there is a warning here, but to my mind it is more an encouragement than a warning. It is similiar to the exhortation given in Gal. 6:9, "And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not." It seems to me that the fact that "our salvation is nearer than when we believed" is a great motivation for being sober in attitude and faithful in conduct. This kind of comfort provides fuel for perseverance and patience and being then so emboldened with such assurances, the Christian is admonished to prepare for the inevitable conflict by equipping himself with the armor of light. His conduct, then, becomes an illustration of his faith and it becomes apparent to all that here is a decent, tasteful, and modest person who is committed to serving God. Such a person is not given to carnal impulses such as carousing, drunkenness, and sexual promiscuity. He has put off all the usual proclivities toward jealousy and its accompanying strifes and has, on the other hand, adorned himself with the principles of Jesus Christ. Realizing that the flesh has nothing to offer but a moment's satisfaction, he makes no provision for the gratification of it.
Let us present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, holy, acceptable to God, for it is our reasonable service. And let us not be conformed to this world, but let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds, that we may prove that good and perfect will of God. For, if we miss heaven, we have just missed all there is!
Truth Magazine XXIII: 1, pp. 25-27