This morning we come to the final section of the book of Romans. This section runs from 12:1-16:27, and is loaded with exhortations. Dr. Roy Harrisville in his commentary of Romans as he comes to the 12th chapter says, "Now to what is vulgarly and erroneously called the 'practical' portion of the Romans letter." It is erroneous to call this section practical because nothing is more practical than theology. It is the theology of chapters 1-11 that makes Romans 12 though 16 significant and important. Theology is practical.
W. H. Griffith-Thomas explains the importance of Romans 12-16 this way: After doctrine comes duty; after revelation, responsibility; after principles, practice (Romans, p. 318).
All through Paul's Epistles he lays down doctrine and then calls for believers to live in a proper manner. In Ephesians for three chapters Paul gives them doctrine, then in chapter 4 he calls them to duty:
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, Ephesians 4:1 NASB
In the Epistle to the Galatians, he has four chapters of doctrine, and when he gets to chapter 5, he says:
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 NASB
He does the same thing in Colossians. After presenting two chapters of great truth, chapter 3 begins by saying:
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1 NASB
This is the problem with the church today, there is an absence of the teaching of theology, and the church is filled with spiritual pygmies who don't know who Yahweh is. If we are going to know Yahweh, we must know theology. Theology is to motivate us to proper living. Men live and act according to what they believe. Three points and a poem don't do much in teaching us doctrine.
We come this morning to two of the most famous verses in the Bible. Romans 12:1-2 have been preached to death. And the sad thing is that they are usually ripped out of their context and misapplied. It is my opinion that you shouldn't teach on 12:1-2 until you have first taught on chapters 1-11. Context is king, and we don't get the context when we rip verses out of their text.
In Romans 11:30-32 Paul mentions mercy four times:
For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Romans 11:30-32 NASB
All have been shut up in disobedience, both Jew and Gentile, so that He may show mercy to all, both to the Jews and to the Gentiles. This talk about Yahweh's mercy causes Paul to break out in a doxology of praise. Once he finishes his doxology, he goes back to the subject of mercy:
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. Romans 12:1 NASB
How many of you have heard a message preached on this verse? This is a great alter call verse. Let's look at this verse in context and see if we can understand what Paul is saying.
"Therefore"--this connects what Paul is about to say with what he has already said based upon the last 11 chapters...
"I urge you brethren"--the word "urge" here is parakaleo, which basically means: "to beg, to come alongside to call you to this." It means: "to encourage someone to do something or to exhort someone to action." In light of what we have learned in the last 11 chapters this is an astonishing word to come from God! From a God against whom we have sinned, and under whose judgment we were! He urges them in view of God's mercies; he does not command them in view of God's judgment. Paul is saying, Please do this!
"By the mercies of God"--what mercies? I believe the mercies of God are everything that God has done for the believer listed in chapters 1 through 11, the whole thing, all the provision of God's mercy for man's sin, all of it. We all sinned in Adam, and are therefore spiritually dead, separated from Yahweh and under His wrath:
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-- Romans 5:12 NASB
Because of his sin, man was separated from God. He was dead in trespasses and sins. The focus of God's plan of redemption is to restore through Jesus Christ what man had lost in Adam:
So then as through one transgression [Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness [Jesus] there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One [Jesus] the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:18-19 NASB
Because of Adam's sin, we are all born dead, separated from God. But through the mercy of Yahweh, Jesus Christ died for our sin debt and gave us His righteousness:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). Ephesians 2:4-5 NASB
The dedication of the Christian is urged because of the mercies of God described in previous chapters. It is not in order to win God's favor, but to express our deep gratitude for this mercy. The sole motivation here is gratitude!
There is no other faith in the whole world like Christianity. We are the only people in the world who preach free grace. Every other religion says, "Do this and live." But Christianity says, "You're alive because it has all been done for you!" Everything we have, all that we are, and every blessing we receive, flows from the mercy of God. And in just a few verses He will call believers to a lifestyle of mercy to the people around them.
Believers have experienced the mercies of God. And since we have experienced the mercies of God, therefore... we ought to do this. It is the motivation of gratitude. Because you have experienced the mercies of God, because you have been benefitted by all the things that God has done, you ought to give yourself as a living sacrifice.
Paul bases every application in the succeeding chapters on the doctrinal foundation set in the previous chapters. If God's mercies do not motivate us toward holiness and a willingness to yield to Christ, then you have to wonder if one really understands the mercy that has been given to us in Christ.
"Present your bodies"--the word "present" is the Greek word paristemi, which means: "to put at one's disposal." It has the idea of surrendering, of yielding, of offering. It is a technical term for the Levitical offerings; to bring it as an offering, to bring it as an actual sacrifice. This Cultic terminology dominates the rest of verse 1.
"Bodies"--is soma. Scholars who have studied the way the ancient Jews used the term "body" (soma), have shown that it was used differently by the Greeks for whom it mostly meant "physical body." However, for the Jews it was a term that embraced the whole of the person--it encompassed mind, emotions, will, and physical being.
The Greeks held to a dualistic existence: spirit is pure and matter is evil. Influenced by Greek ideas, most Western Christians begin to think that the body is evil. This is not a Jewish idea. The Hebraic view of man has no place for the dualism of the Greeks who see man as being tripartite: body, soul, and spirit. The First Testament understanding of man is holistic, that is, his being is indivisible.
Most Christians believe that personal sins come from indwelling sin, or man's sinful nature. Such an understanding of sin is Hellenistic, not biblical. As I have said before, I don't believe that man has a corrupted nature or a sin nature. All men are born into the sinful condition or status of Adam. We are born in covenant union with Adam. Instead of thinking of man as having a sinful nature, we must see him as in a fallen condition.
Most commentators here say that your spirit has been redeemed, but your body has not, so we are to give our bodies to God. Paul is saying, "Present yourselves to Yahweh."
"A living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God"--in the Old Covenant dispensation, men expressed worship and devotion to God by means of sacrifice. So the presentation of ourselves is couched in Cultic terminology.
"Sacrifice"--is from the Greek word thusia. This word would produce a potent image to the first century believers, but it is very remote to us. We've never seen anybody sacrifice a lamb or a goat or a bull. We've most likely never seen someone cut an animal's throat and let the blood drain out. We don't have that in our culture, it's unfamiliar to us, but it wasn't to Paul's Roman audience.
Paul is talking about an alter, a living animal (a valuable one), blood, suffering, pouring out a drink offering, a libation. That is the imagery that's in his mind. This ancient ritual stopped in A.D. 70 when Christ returned in judgment on Jerusalem, forever putting an end to the Old Covenant.
The primary sacrifice we are called to offer, Paul says here, is ourselves. An animal was put down and burned up. It was a one-time deal. What God wants is a perpetual offering. What He wants is not something that you bring once and it's burned up, but something that is perpetually offered. So as believers who understand the mercies of God, knowing what we have been given in Christ, we are to be offering ourselves to Yahweh. What does this mean? How do we offer up a living sacrifice?:
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. Hebrews 13:15 NASB
It is through Yeshua, "through Him", not through the priestly ritual of an outmoded order, or any other person or system, that we offer up sacrifices to Yahweh.
These spiritual sacrifices are defined here as, "praise to God"--this includes, but is not exclusive to singing; it is thankfulness, gratitude. How much time do you spend sacrificing to Yahweh, how often do you thank Him for all His blessings?
The LORD supports the afflicted; He brings down the wicked to the ground. Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; Sing praises to our God on the lyre, Psalms 147:6-7 NASB
"He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God." Psalms 50:23 NASB
Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! Psalms 107:8 NASB
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 NASB
The "with" here is meta. Meta and the genitive means: "with," but this is meta and the accusative, which never means: "with." It means: "after." So Paul is saying, "After thanksgiving make your request to God." What Paul is saying here is, "Instead of crying out to God in your difficulty; with doubt, questioning, dissatisfaction, discontentment, or blaming God; cry out to God after thanksgiving." Why? If you have a grateful heart, your prayers will be right. The time we spend in praise reflects the gratitude or ingratitude of our hearts.
How important is thanksgiving to Yahweh? Do you remember what we saw in Romans 1, about Israel's sin?:
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Romans 1:21 NASB
Israel, and only Israel, knew God, being in covenant with Him. But "They did not honor Him as God or give thanks"--the word "honor" here is the Greek doxazo, which means: "glory." They knew God, but they did not glorify Him. This is why God created man, to give Him glory. "They did not ...give thanks"--everything we have comes from the hand of God; to not be thankful is a grievous sin. Israel received every benefit from God, but was not thankful.
So I think that to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice involves having a grateful heart.
But it extends beyond praise and adoration to service:
And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16 NASB
Here spiritual sacrifices are defined as compassionate service to our fellow man, "...doing good and sharing." Our sacrifices are not just verbal, they are works of love. When we minister to someone in need, we are as a priest offering up spiritual sacrifices to Yahweh.
A beautiful illustration of this is found in Philippians 4. The Philippian saints had sent a financial gift to Paul:
But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. Philippians 4:18 NASB
Let me ask you a question, Do you enjoy it when you can please someone you really care about--your wife, husband, parents, child, or friend? Sure you do. Well get this, we can please Yahweh! We can offer up spiritual sacrifices that are pleasing to Him.
Paul tells them that their gift was overwhelming to him. Paul viewed their financial gift to him as an offering to Yahweh, a sacrifice that was well pleasing. Notice the words Paul uses here; "fragrant" is from the Greek word euodia, and "aroma" is from the word osme, and "sacrifice" is from the Greek word thusia. What is really interesting about these words is that all three of them are used in Ephesians 5:2 of Christ's sacrificial offering of Himself to God in man's behalf:
and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice [thusia] to God as a fragrant [euodia] aroma [osme]. Ephesians 5:2 NASB
"Christ also loved you and gave..."--because Christ loved, He gave. I don't think that you can disassociate loving and giving. These words express the language of worship--so what Paul is saying in Philippians is that giving is an expression of worship. They gave money to Paul and Paul saw it as an expression of worship to Yahweh.
While the priesthood of the New Testament draws from imagery from the First Testament institution, it is unlike that order, for it is not about offering physical sacrifices, but rather spiritual ones. The Old Covenant priesthood was a type, and believers are the anti-type. Also, unlike the Old Covenant priesthood, which was exclusive, the New Covenant priesthood is all inclusive. Every believer, regardless of ethnicity and no matter position in society or gifting in the church, is a priest:
you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5 NASB
Believers, we are a kingdom of priests whose calling is to offer up spiritual sacrifices, even as priests of old offered up physical sacrifices of animals before God. The New Testament knows nothing of a division between laity and ordained clergy. All believers are "priests unto God" and are called to offer up sacrifice to Yahweh.
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. Romans 12:1 NASB
All three adjectives, "living, holy, and acceptable," follow sacrifice, and thus there is no exegetical warrant for isolating the word "living." This sacrifice is living, it is set apart, and it is acceptable. By "living" Paul may be referring to the spiritual state of believers, who are "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (6:11). It is only those who are alive in Christ that are called to give their lives to Him as a sacrifice.
This sacrifice is also "holy," which expresses the fact that we are set apart, consecrated, and belong only to the Lord. This sacrifice is also "acceptable to God." You can offer yourself as a living sacrifice because you are "acceptable to God" through Christ.
"Which is your spiritual service of worship"--the word "spiritual" here is logikos, which means: "reasonable or logical." And the word "worship" is latreia, which is sacred service or worship.
The Cultic language continues with the use of "latreia," which is technical terminology for the service of worship. It was used for those carrying out their duties in Temple service, such as a priest or Levite.
who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, Romans 9:4 NASB
"Temple service" here is latreia, the same word Paul uses for worship in 12:1. The word latreia is also used in Hebrews 9:6 to refer to the priests who perform the service in the Temple, the sacred service:
Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship [latreia], Hebrews 9:6 NASB
This latreia, which was once strictly Israel's privilege, is now the privilege of all believers. We as believer priests are to offer up worship to Yahweh, the very thing Israel failed to do:
For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Romans 1:25 NASB
We are to do what Israel failed to do; offer to Yahweh spiritual worship.
I want you to see something very significant here. In verse 1 we have the words, present (paristemi); sacrifice (thusia); and worship (latreia); which are all Cultic terms used in the Levitical offerings of the Old Covenant. In Romans 12:1 Paul does with Temple worship what he did with circumcision in 2:25-29. Do you remember that text? Paul redefined who a Jew was:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2:28-29 NASB
Once the New Covenant arrived, the only true Jews were those who trusted in the Christ. All other Jews were covenant breakers, no matter what rites they held to.
Paul is saying again, it is no longer physical, no longer confined to a place and people: it is now spiritual, it has no ethnicity and no boundaries. All believers are priest who are to offer up spiritual sacrifices to Yahweh. Yeshua spoke of this:
Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. John 4:21-23 NASB
So Paul is redefining Temple worship just as he has redefined the term Jew and circumcision. Our worship is spiritual, it has no boundaries.
Something else I want you to see in Romans 12:1 is it's corporate nature:
Therefore I urge you [plural], brethren [plural], by the mercies of God, to present your [plural] bodies a living and holy sacrifice [singular], acceptable to God, which is your [plural] spiritual service [singular] of worship. Romans 12:1 NASB
There is a corporate dimension to this verse--all the believers contributing to the single, united, acceptable, and holy offering to Yahweh. This is a call for the redeemed community, i.e., the church in Rome, to present itself to Yahweh. Now understand this, the corporate presupposes the individual, but the individual does not presuppose the corporate.
The importance of community in Ancient Near East thought and life and a corporate understanding of the nature of humanity provides an important perspective on the interpretation of the text.
Tom Holland writes, "I urge you to offer yourselves to Him as a corporate sacrifice. You are all equally part of Christ's church. You are all children of Abraham, and despite the differences that have divided you in the past and made you suspicious of each other (I hope you now know that these must stop), you are to recognize that God has accepted you all. So, you are all called to priestly service, Jew and Gentile alike, and you are all to offer yourselves in order to make the church in Rome a living sacrifice."
Now please understand that the church at Rome cannot be a living sacrifice unless the individuals in the church are living sacrifices.
So Paul is calling the believers in Rome, and I believe all believers, to present their lives for service to God. Our dedication to God is a response to the mercy of God that we receive in salvation. It is not a condition for receiving that mercy. It is a voluntary commitment (there never was a voluntary offering in the Old Covenant. No animal came forward and said, "Let me be next, Aaron.") that every Christian should make out of love for the Savior, but it is not one that every Christian does make. It is possible to be a Christian without ever making this commitment since it is voluntary.
John Stott makes this statement, "In spite of our newness in Christ … holiness is neither automatic nor inevitable" (Romans, p. 317). That is a very surprising statement from someone who is "Lordship." But it is true, our holiness is not automatic nor inevitable.
Paul wants men and women, who having received His divine mercy through Christ, who having themselves been raised from spiritual death, who have been given grace, to now gladly offer themselves as living sacrifices to the Lord. If we know the Lord, this is the only reasonable thing to do. Nothing else makes sense. This is our "reasonable act of service"
Paul's primary meaning of presenting themselves as a living and holy sacrifice is the obedience to the commands that follow. Those who have given themselves to Yahweh as a living sacrifice obey His commands. This obedience is motivated by gratitude!
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