Called to be a Living Sacrifice Roman 12-16
Under the Law of Moses, an individual who wanted to demonstrate an act of complete dedication to God brought an unblemished animal to the Temple. There the worshiper identified himself with the offering by placing his hands on the animal’s head. The animal was then slaughtered. Afterward, the priest completed his duties by burning the carcass upon the altar. This was known as a burnt sacrifice, “a sweet savor unto the LORD” (Lev. 1:9).
Perhaps the apostle Paul had this image in mind when he wrote his closing thoughts to the saints in Rome. He had spent the majority of his epistle communicating the righteousness of God as revealed in the gospel. One can almost picture him pausing in his dictation to Tertius (16:22), rising from his chair, gazing into heaven, and exclaiming with awe and wonder, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (11:33).
But having instructed his readers concerning the glory of their salvation, Paul then wanted them to respond. It is here he wrote one of the most stirring challenges of all Scripture.
Challenge of a Living Sacrifice
Paul’s primary challenge to the Roman Christians was that they become living sacrifices to be used of the living God. He began with a plea: “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” (12:1). His exhortation was neither fleeting nor sporadic. It was continuous, exhibiting the prominence it held in Paul’s heart. Nor was it based on flimsy reasons. Paul exhorted believers based on “the mercies of God.” The word mercies here is different than the word Paul used in the rest of his letter. This word implies compassion. Paul’s plea, though, was not based on some ethereal, sentimental concept, but rather on the specific, down-to-earth compassions of God, which he had enumerated in previous sections of the epistle.
“That ye present” was the purpose of Paul’s entreaty. He wanted the believers at Rome to make an active decision of surrender. In Romans 6:13, Paul called the saints to yield themselves. In 6:19 he summoned them to yield their “members.” Here he pleaded with them to “present your bodies.” This does not refer merely to the external, material part of the believer, but to the whole person—the totality of the individual. The term speaks of cost, forfeiture, and loss—the relinquishing of one’s total self— and encourages a complete surrender, with nothing held back. Clearly, Paul had but one objective in mind—to convey the concept of becoming a “sacrifice.”
This particular sacrifice has four distinctive qualities:
It Is Living. It is not a one-time offering, never to be repeated. Rather, it is to be on-going, inasmuch as it continually lives. As Paul wrote earlier, “yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead” (6:13). Unlike unbelievers, who are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), believers are spiritually alive in Christ. Thus they can be living sacrifices.
It Is Holy. It is set apart, designated for godly purposes.
It Is Acceptable Unto God. The meaning of acceptable is “wellpleasing.” It is used in this same sense in Philippians 4:18, where Paul thanked the Philippian church for its gift, which he described as “a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.”
It Is Your Reasonable Service. In the days of the Temple, the priestly duties were known as the service. Paul also used the word this way in Romans 9:4, as did the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 9:1 and 9:6. The word suggests that this sacrifice of the believer is merely a part of his reasonable, logical duty as a believer-priest who has direct access to God through the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). Moreover, where there is the Temple of God, there should also be sacrifice; and each believer is a Temple indwelled by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16).
It is interesting to note, however, that Paul did not command his readers to make this dedicatory sacrifice, though he had the authority to do so. Instead, he appealed to them as a father would his children, understanding that such an important decision must be made willingly.
Characteristics of a Living Sacrifice
From 12:2 through 15:13, Paul delineated the characteristics of a living sacrifice:
Living Sacrifices Are Not Conformed to This World (12:1-2). “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” (12:2). The word world here is not kosmos, the word normally associated with the devil’s evil system that is in enmity with God (1 Jn. 2:16). Instead, it denotes a period of time, or age—in this case, one marked by wickedness. The same word is used in Galatians 1:4.
The Lord Jesus Christ died so “that he might deliver us from this present evil age.” Instead of being pressed into the mold of this evil age, living sacrifices allow themselves to be “transformed.” Just as caterpillars undergo a metamorphosis to become butterflies, living sacrifices experience on-going inner changes to become like Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18). This is accomplished by the renewal of the mind. Emotions do not bring about the transformation; nor do experiences. The change hinges upon the renewal of the seat of rationality and thinking. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). God’s Word is truth; and it is the entrance of that truth into the mind, coupled with faith, that removes the lies of this age and produces a daily renewal (2 Cor. 4:16). As this transformation occurs, the living sacrifice is then enabled to continually prove (“discover through testing,” as in 1 Tim. 3:10) God’s good, acceptable, well-pleasing, and perfect will.
Living Sacrifices View Themselves as Servants (12:3-21). They exercise their spiritual gifts in the body of Christ so that others may be edified. They are genuine and authentic in their sacrificial love. They are pure, devoted to people, diligent in meeting the needs of others, and empathize with the joys and pain of others. They make no class distinctions and hold no grudges. Instead, they behave with goodness toward those who treat them badly.
Living Sacrifices Strive to Be Good Citizens (13:1-7). This fact holds true regardless of the nature of their country’s government, and it includes paying taxes. Living sacrifices understand that submission to authority is submission to God. This admonition was particularly significant to the believers of Rome, since the city was the capital of the Roman Empire.
Living Sacrifices Avoid Indebtedness (13:8-14). In other words, they don’t make obligations they are not prepared to meet. The preeminent debt should be to love those around them. They realize life is short; are aware of the times; have a sense of urgency; and anticipate the soon return of the Lord, which inspires them to live in the fullness of Christ.
Living Sacrifices Do Not Judge (14:1-23). They do not condemn their brothers and sisters in the faith, but seek to build them up. A proud, judgmental spirit may have been a problem among the Roman believers. Being inhabitants of the city to which all roads led may have given them a certain prestige and panache that generated an ungodly pride. Paul warned them not to “be wise in your own conceits” (11:25). Every man is “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (12:3). Furthermore, he told them, “Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (12:16). Instead, “receive ye one another” (15:7). Living sacrifices, therefore, are not puffed up with their own importance, putting themselves in the place of God by judging their brothers and sisters in Christ and tearing them down over minor issues. Instead, they allow others to be answerable only to Christ at His judgment seat, where they also will give an account one day. They determine not to make their brethren stumble but, out of love, to help them grow strong in the faith.
Living Sacrifices Seek to Please Others (15:1-13). They seek harmony and singleness of purpose with both Jewish and Gentile believers in hopes of building them up, with this intended goal: “That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6).
Copy of a Living Sacrifice
From Romans 15:14 through the end of the book, Paul became more personal with his readers. He spoke humbly of himself and his own ministry as a practical example of a living sacrifice (15:14-21). Nevertheless, he was careful not to bring glory to himself and avowed, “For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me” (15:18).
Paul also expressed, as he did at the beginning of the book, his deep desire to visit his spiritual family at Rome. He besought them a second time to pray that he might come to them without a hitch when he passed through Jerusalem (15:22-33).
But there was a hitch. Though Paul did get to visit his cherished friends at Rome, the visit took place only after a three-year wait following the writing of the epistle—and then, in chains. Luke recorded the tender scene: “And from there [Rome], when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as the Forum of Appius, and The Three Taverns; whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage” (Acts 28:15).
The Roman brethren did not even wait until their beloved Paul reached the capital city before they greeted him. They journeyed forty miles in order to see his face sooner. Perhaps there to meet him with open arms were Epaenetus, Andronicus, Junias, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and the rest of the twenty-seven people he greeted in Romans 16:1-16. In no other letter did Paul list so many individuals by name. Because of a willingness to “spend and be spent” for others (2 Cor. 12:15), Paul’s living sacrifice of himself left in its wake a register of real human beings whose lives were forever changed by Jesus Christ.
After making one final appeal—to watch out for troublemakers in the church—Paul relayed the greetings of his companions and closed with a final doxology (16:17-27).
Call to a Living Sacrifice
Through the apostle Paul, God still pleads with us today in the same way he did with the early Roman church. He admonishes us to remember the wonders of His grace; to unashamedly proclaim the gospel in all its glory; and instructs us to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savor” (Eph. 5:2). Since the Messiah did this for us, we should do the same, holding nothing back, responding in the only logical way possible— by presenting our bodies a living sacrifice. If we do this, we can be sure our offering will be well-pleasing, a service to God, and “a sweet savor unto the LORD.”