Dear radio friends,
The book of Romans is known for its teaching on justification by faith. In it Paul teaches us how we are justified on the ground of Christ’s work on the cross alone. Christ paid the price for our sin. He removed our guilt and condemnation. We are justified in Him, therefore, as the only ground of salvation. But this salvation becomes ours by means of faith. It is not ours on the basis of works, neither is it ours on the basis of faith itself, as if faith is just another work. It becomes ours through the medium of faith.
Now, that is what the apostle has taught us in the first 11 chapters of Romans. It forms the basis for instruction he gives in the remaining chapters of this letter. We are going to be considering today verse 1 of chapter 12, which reads: “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.”
It is the truth of justification by faith alone that the apostle Paul uses as a basis for the instruction that we receive here. So, as we consider this particular verse, we’ll have to do that in the light of the great truth of justification by faith.
There were many types of sacrifices offered before God in the old dispensation. But the particular sacrifice Paul has in mind in this passage (Rom. 12:1) is that of the burnt offering, that is, that sacrifice that was targeted for death and burning. According to the law, the one sacrificing had to bring his offering from the herd of cattle or the flock of sheep or goats or, if they were very poor, certain birds, to the temple. There the priests would examine their sacrifice. And if that sacrifice was found acceptable, then the sacrificer would lay his hands upon it, designating it as the sacrificer’s substitute, and then kill it beside the altar. The priest would then flay it, cut it in pieces and lay it upon the altar and there burn it with fire. As it burned, the priest would take the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkle it upon the corners or the horns of the altar of burnt offering. Thus the sin of the offerer was covered in the blood, signifying for him the forgiveness of sins.
But the particular verse that we are considering here in Romans is not really interested in the actual offering of that sacrifice as such. It is more interested in what that sacrifice looked like. Paul is interested in the presenting of that sacrifice to the priest for his approval and acceptance. That which was required of the sacrifice presented to the priest was that it was holy and acceptable to the priest, or well-pleasing to the priest. And what made that sacrifice holy and acceptable we find in Leviticus 1:3, 4. “If his offering,” it is said there, “be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” The sacrifice, in order for it to be pleasing to the priest or to God, had to be without blemish and without spot. It could have no flaws. It could not be lame or blind or sick. In fact there could not even be a slight flaw in its appearance—no sore, no scab, no scar. It had to be spotless. This type of sacrifice was well-pleasing to God and, therefore, acceptable to the priest.
Furthermore, by the very act of laying his hands upon that sacrifice, the offerer dedicated that sacrifice to God. He set it apart for the purpose of worshiping God. Therefore, this sacrifice was also holy or consecrated to God.
Now, in all of this we find the significance of the verse before us today. You and I today, too, are called by God to present a sacrifice to Him. Not a sacrifice of a lamb or a goat or a bullock, but the sacrifice of ourselves. You and I are called to present ourselves to God, in order that He might examine us and scrutinize us. And, after having examined us, that He might find us acceptable and holy before Him.
That which we must present to God is our bodies. Notice that. We present to God, Paul says, our bodies for Him to examine. Now perhaps we may think at first, why our bodies? Does not God look beyond our mere outward actions? Does not God prefer to examine our hearts and souls? Should we not present our hearts and souls to God holy and acceptable?
But Paul specifically states here that we must present our bodies to God as this sacrifice—just as they did with the sacrifices in the old dispensation. Let us not be mistaken. This wonderful expression of the apostle certainly does not mean that God is interested in whether we have any physical flaws in our bodies and that if we do not, then we are acceptable to Him. Neither does God leave out the matter of the heart.
We must remember two truths concerning our bodies. First, our bodies are the medium through which this physical world infiltrates, so to speak, our hearts and souls. In other words, it is our body that has contact with this physical, material world, and through which our hearts have contact with this world. It is our body that meets the sinful allurements that surround us in this world. And it is through the body, therefore, through the eyes and through the ears and so on, that sin invades our hearts. That in the first place.
Second, our bodies are that which gives action to what we have and have conceived of in our hearts. Jesus says, It is not what goes into the body that defiles it but that which comes out of it, meaning, of course, that the body only serves to put into action what we already have within us in our heart.
So, it is not strange that Paul demands of us here that we present our bodies as a sacrifice. These bodies, which we do present, must be holy and acceptable to God.
First of all, they must be holy. That means they must be without blemish. We must be ready to present ourselves to God without blemish in our lives, without the filth of sin, without the sickness of sin, without the blindness of sin. We must be concerned with fleeing sin in our lives. That, in the first place, is how we offer ourselves as this sacrifice.
Now, I realize that what I have just said is pretty general. But you and I must apply this specifically to our own lives. I cannot do that for you and you cannot do that for me. You must be ready to present yourself before God in all of life as without blemish of sin. And so must I. Whether that be at home, or at school, or at work, or in the neighborhood, or in the whole realm of what we seek out as entertainment—we are called by God to present our bodies as a medium through which only godly thoughts can enter our souls and hearts. That means a conscious avoiding of those places that would even in a slight way tempt us to walk in the path of sin.
Also included in the commandment is this: instead of using our bodies as an instrument of unrighteousness, we must use them in the service of God. Instead of using our bodies to sin, we must use our bodies as the instruments of a redeemed heart. They must be used to put into action godly intents, godly intents that flow forth out of our hearts. That means that if our bodies are to be right, our hearts must be right with God. Our bodies, and therefore our hearts, we must consecrate and dedicate to the sole or the total service of God in life.
Once again, I cannot possibly apply this Word of God to you in every instance of your life. You and I both have to apply it for ourselves. You know what you confront in your homes or at school or at work. I do not. You, as well as I, know what entertainment is out there. And you and I know what entertainment we ought to seek in order to keep ourselves holy unto the Lord. There is certain entertainment that we may not seek, whether that be entertainment out of the house or inside the house, whether it be on the television set or on the computer—we must seek entertainment that does not place our affections on earthly things, or that makes us sin. We seek those things that allow us to remain pure and holy. That is the injunction of this passage.
Neither may a believer make the excuse that he is simply not able to present his body as such a sacrifice to God. Believers may not use as an excuse the fact that they have in them this old man of sin and are, therefore, unable to present their bodies without spot, holy unto God. The child of God can never appeal to his sinfulness as an excuse to walk in sin. Paul explains that to us, too, in this verse, by saying that we are living sacrifices. We must present ourselves to God as those who are no longer dead in sins and trespasses. We must present ourselves as those who are very much alive spiritually in Jesus Christ. Having been justified, we have also been sanctified. We are made holy, and we live as having the life of the risen Lord in our hearts.
You understand what that means. It means that the sacrifice of our bodies is not targeted for death and for burning as Christ’s sacrifice was or the Old Testament sacrifices were. Christ did present Himself as a sacrifice targeted for death and burning. As our sacrifice, Christ was offered on the altar of the cross, and that unto death. And, unlike the blood of bulls and goats in the Old Testament, Christ’s blood removed our guilty stains. It took away our blemishes and made us holy before God. He bore our sin and corruption. He burned for us. He burned in hell. And He purged us of our sin. There is no need for us to die anymore. The sacrifice of our bodies to God is not a dying sacrifice. It is a living sacrifice. Our lives, therefore, can be and ought to be dedicated to the service of God in this world. We have received such strength. No, we have received such power through the cross of our Savior.
All this, Paul says, is our “reasonable service.” That is to say, presenting our bodies as acceptable to God as a sacrifice constitutes Christian service. This is the core and content of what makes up our serving God in this world.
This particular phrase impressed me when I first considered this verse. I suppose it did so because of a large emphasis in our day on a need for Christian service. We have all heard of that. We have to commit ourselves to Christian service. But Christian service is often defined as laboring in this present world to make it a better place for mankind to live. We must be busy, as church and as individuals, cleaning up the ghettos, improving education, finding houses for the homeless, crusading against drugs, and so on. All these things may be important to do, and although certainly there is nothing wrong with a child of God becoming involved with these things, this is not necessarily Christian service for the child of God.
Christian service is, in all our lives, in whatever we do, in every sphere of everyday living, rendering ourselves in service to God. That is what our calling is to do in this life.
Christian service is something that we render in all of our lives, in whatever we do, in every sphere of everyday living. We are busy in Christian service every day of our lives, even in our homes. We are busy in our Christian service when we present our bodies holy and acceptable to God in every aspect of life. It is a matter of the heart. It is heart labor, not social labor. It is working to bridle all our thoughts, words, and actions in the service of God. That is Christian service.
This presenting our bodies to God is not limited to going to church. Sacrifices in the Old Testament were limited, of course, to worship. Not anymore. Our sacrifices we take with us everywhere and every day. That is Christian service.
This is a reasonable service, too. It does not require of us extraordinary feats of faith. Oh, at times, it may. But certainly it does not require this of us at all times. We, according to our Spirit-guided reason, are able every day to labor, to serve God, in the most menial tasks that we perform. Certainly it does not mean that we must be making headlines every day concerning the great things that we have done for Christ.
Christian service is a quiet service of God that a godly mother can and does right there in the confines of her own home. It is a service performed in church on Sunday, as well as in the barn or at the office. This is the Christian service spoken of here in this passage. And that is what is required of each one of us.
That which compels us in this service is the very mercies of God. Paul writes of that once again here in Romans 12:1: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God….” What he means by this is that his appeal to us is based on the fact that we are the recipients of the mercies of God in Christ and that these mercies are what ought to motivate us to obey this Word of God. In other words, obedience is not first here. God’s mercies are first. We obey because we are the recipients of God’s mercies.
So we find here the incentive for our reasonable service. God’s mercy—a beautiful attribute. It is an attribute of God that speaks of His will and desire. He is a God of mercy. God desires to give to the creature outside of himself the highest joy and blessedness. God’s mercy, therefore, is the eternal affection He has toward His people in Christ. In this affection, God desires to make His people in Christ happy. That is His mercy. But God’s mercy is not only God’s desire. When God desires something, it always results in action on His part. God, in His mercy, will make us happy. He will. And He does. God’s mercy, therefore, toward you and me is that He takes us from the misery of sin and death, He delivers us from our deepest woe, and He makes us partakers of the highest good, that is, fellowship with Him.
This mercy God reveals in Christ, and through His cross and resurrection. That is God’s mercy. That becomes the incentive that motivates you and me to Christian service in this world. We desire to present our bodies holy and acceptable to God.
But this whole idea of mercy is more wonderful yet. We cannot overlook the fact that Paul speaks of mercies, that is, plural, in our text. He has in mind, then, the various gifts that God has given to you and me in His mercy. That is to say, Paul uses as incentive the blessings we receive as a result of God’s mercy. What are these? Well, what does Paul talk about in his entire epistle to the Romans? Full, free justification in the blood of our Savior and all that entails: the forgiveness of sins, the adoptions of sons.
But, more yet, the deepest act of God’s mercy in Christ is our very election. God chose us, by His grace, to be a people unto Himself in Christ. That is perhaps the greatest act of God’s mercy.
And then we speak of that mercy in justification, deliverance from the guilt and punishment of sin. God regenerates us through Christ. He calls us. He gives us faith, and so on. All of these are mercies, gifts of God’s mercy, towards you and me. And they form the very incentive to Christian service.
Consider what God has done for us in His mercy. We need not be forced to live a life of holiness. We will want to live a holy life and a well-pleasing life before God. That is our desire.
Then do it, Paul says. “I beseech you, by the mercies of God, to perform this reasonable service.” This is not a harsh command that Paul gives us here. It is not a command that desires to force us to do something against our will. Paul knows that there is really no need for that kind of a command. He has just explained it in this letter—some of the most beautiful truths of all of Scripture to God’s saints in Rome. He knows, therefore, that there is no need to command them. A command is given to those who stubbornly refuse to do what he says. So Paul beseeches us. No, he does not plead. He gives us an admonition. We do need an admonition, do we not, because of our sinful nature? We do need to be reminded of the sacrifice we owe to God. But on the grounds of the salvation we have received, and which we truly experience, we do not need to be coerced into submission.
If we look at the shed blood of our Savior, we behold what God has done for us in Christ, and we simply obey. All that I am, I owe to Thee, Lord. Here is my body. Here is my life. I dedicate it, Lord, to Thee. And in this all, make me to know Thy mercy.
So we have the incentive of this Word of God before us today.
Let us pray.
Our Father and our God in heaven, again we are thankful unto Thee for Thy Word, a word that is encouraging to us, for Thou hast shown us such great mercies in our lives. Now, having known and tasted of that mercy, may we go forth and present ourselves as living sacrifices of praise unto Thee. May we be found holy and acceptable in Thy sight. May we flee sin and may we walk in Thy ways. Forgive us where we have failed, and grant unto us the joy of salvation in the cross of Christ. In His name do we pray, Amen.