A study on presenting one’s body as a living sacrifice and the lifestyle of worship from Romans 12:1

Romans 12:1 (NASB) 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 (SBL GNT) Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, διὰ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν τοῦ θεοῦ παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ, τὴν λογικὴν λατρείαν ὑμῶν·

Note to Reader: For those desiring a shorter version of this post without the Greek, please check out this link: http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2015/05/the-lifestyle-of-worship-to-our-great.html

Introduction:                                               Today’s post is about explaining what Paul meant in Romans 12:1 by the phrase: παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν = “present your bodies as living sacrifices”.  It will be suggested that this phrase refers to that which follows from the reception of eternal life in the Gospel – namely the living out a lifestyle of worship to God.

Briefly summarizing Romans 1-11 as leading up to Romans 12:1                         What Paul did in the prior 11 chapters of Romans was to unfold the power of the Gospel. This theme is described in the key verse of his epistle, Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” In journeying through the foothills of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit reveals through Paul’s pen the greatness of God’s redemption. At the heart of God’s redemption is the qualification for being right with him (i.e δικαιοσύνη or righteousness in Romans 1:17). This qualification is received upon trusting in Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone apart from the law. In Romans 1-11 the following themes are explored:

1. Introduction to the Gospel. Romans 1:1-17

2. The Power of the Gospel. Romans 1:16-17

3. The Judgment of God – All Have Sinned. Romans 1:18-3:23

4. The Remedy from God – Justification & Reconciliation. Rom 4-5

5. The Christian Life – Sanctification. Romans 6-8

6. God’s Sovereign Salvation for Israel, the Gentiles and the Church. Romans 9-11:32

7. The Grand Doxology – Romans 11:33-36

The Holman New Testament Commentary notes on the relationship of these first eleven chapters to Romans 12:1 – “This verse is one of the most important in all the Bible, and contains more key theological terms and truths for its size than perhaps any other verse of Scripture. Having completed his explanation of sin, salvation, sanctification, and sovereignty, Paul now does to the Roman believers, in a manner of speaking, what the Holy Spirit does in our lives—he urges the Rome believers to act on the truth they have received.”

So the question is: with the power of the Gospel and the reception of it by grace alone through faith alone, does the Gospel of Jesus Christ bring about not only an internal change of heart but also external change in behavior? Romans 12-16 answers with a strong affirmative.

At the head of Paul’s discourse on the practical Christian life is this idea of presenting oneself as a living sacrifice. As was mentioned in the beginning of this post, Romans 12:1 is concerned with urging Christians to live out a lifestyle of worship that flows from the Gospel. Below we will briefly offer some exposition on this opening verse of Romans 12:1.

1. The power source for a lifestyle of worship – God’s tender mercies

Paul’s urgent tone for his readers (and for us) to apply what was just written is expressed by the opening verb παρακᾰλέω (NASB = I urge). Whenever this verb appears in the New Testament, it performs the double duty of reinforcing encouragement and urgency to one’s duties. The Evangelical Commentary of the Bible notes: “The transitional phrase in view of God’s mercy (12:1) links the previous section on divine sovereignty and the present unit on Christian behavior, for on this alone hangs the “therefore” of the exhortation, “I urge you, brothers.” 

So what is so special about the word translated “mercies”? The Greek word behind this word οἰκτιρμός (oiktirmos) refers to Divine pity, compassion and tenderness. One scholar has suggested the meaning of “a heart of pity”, hence underscoring God’s heart of pity towards His people. God’s tender mercies make available to His people everything He is and everything He has. Such mercies enable them to achieve His purposes for them. Undoubtedly God’s tender mercies are the power source behind living out the lifestyle of worship.

2 Corinthians 1:3 uses this word to describe the Person of the Father in the life of the Christian – ὁ πατὴρ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν καὶ θεὸς πάσης παρακλήσεως = “The Father of tender mercies and God of all consolation.” Paul writes elsewhere in Philippians 2:1 how the other two Divine Persons of the the Trinity, the Son and Holy Spirit, directly administer these tender mercies – Εἴ τις οὖν παράκλησις ἐν Χριστῷ, εἴ τι παραμύθιον ἀγάπης, εἴ τις κοινωνία πνεύματος, εἴ τις σπλάγχνα καὶ οἰκτιρμοί = “Therefore if anyone (is) encouraged in Christ, if anyone is comforted from such love, if anyone is partaking of the Spirit, if anyone has strong affections and tender mercies.” The Three Persons of the Trinity work together as the One True and living God of tender mercies in delivering such mercies to the people of God.

It is from these mercies that God supplies strength to live out the daily walk of faith and to put into perspective today’s challenges and tomorrow’s concerns. (Lamentations 3:22-24; Matthew 6:34). So God’s tender mercies are the power source for the lifestyle of worship.

2. Christ is the Pattern for the Lifestyle of Worship                                                                The next phrase we encounter in Romans 12:1 gives us the pattern for living out a lifestyle of worship, namely παραστῆσαι τὰ σώματα ὑμῶν θυσίαν ζῶσαν ἁγίαν εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ = “present your bodies as living sacrifices that are holy, pleasing to God.” Two thoughts are worth noting here. First, the pattern as it is set forth in the particular phrase “living sacrifice”. What makes this phrase θυσίαν ζῶσαν (“living sacrifice”) so intriguing is how there co-exists the jamming together of two different ideas – θυσίαν (a sacrifice one would offer up as a burnt offering) and ζῶσαν (life, quality of life, particularly the spiritual life given by God in salvation).

Sacrifices placed on an altar are normally dead, and yet believers are portrayed as presenting their physical lives as a living offering to God. This implies a giving up of all rights, since in an offering the offerer would relinquish any rights of ownership and freely give up the animal being offered. It has been also noted by many how with a living sacrifice, one must make sure it doesn’t try to sneak off the altar!

The second and perhaps more important observation about this pattern set forth by Paul is that it is a Christ-like pattern. When we consider the aorist active infinitive παραστῆσαι (present), that word is used in contexts of presenting oneself before the Lord as an overall pattern of life. Unless otherwise stated in the context, aorist infinitives present a simple event or pattern.  So how do we know the language of “presenting” corresponds to Christ? Consider two examples. First, the Pre-incarnate Son is recorded speaking these words in Hebrews 10:7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of MeTo do Your will, O God.’” The next example is Luke 2:22, wherein the infant Christ being brought to the temple by Mary and Josephto fulfill what was prescribed by the law of Moses in παραστῆσαι τῷ κυρίῳ “presenting (Him) to the Lord”.

This pattern of “presenting” our bodies as living sacrifices is very Christ-like, which is why Paul commends it. Hebrews 12:2-3 encourages us with these words about this pattern – “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

To further reinforce this imagery, Paul describes the manner of our presentation as living sacrifices that are “ἅγιος, εὐάρεστος τω θεω” or “set apart and very pleasing unto God”. We are again reminded of how our practical righteousness operates within the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ. Since Jesus was the only acceptable and pleasing sacrifice before God, it follows that in God’s imputation or crediting of Christ’s righteousness to us in justification, such righteousness is the root of the branches, leaves and budding flowers of our ongoing sanctification.

Matthew Henry in his commentary notes: “We are temple, priest, and sacrifice, as Christ was in his peculiar sacrificing. There were sacrifices of atonement and sacrifices of acknowledgment. Christ, who was once offered to bear the sins of many, is the only sacrifice of atonement; but our persons and performances, tendered to God through Christ our priest, are as sacrifices of acknowledgment to the honour of God.” Later on Henry remarks how Christ works in our works to make what we do acceptable – “A living sacrifice, that is, inspired with the spiritual life of the soul. It is Christ living in the soul by faith that makes the body a living sacrifice, Gal. 2:20.”  The pattern of the lifestyle of worship is undeniably patterned from Christ Himself and the power thereof comes from God’s tender mercies through the Holy Spirit.  Now let’s focus on the final phrase in Romans 12:1 and one final observation about the meaning of “presenting our bodies as living sacrifices”.

3. The purpose of the lifestyle of worship:  worship God in His greatness

The Westminister Shorter Catechism poses this opening question:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Paul tells his readers that by presenting their bodies as living sacrifices to God, they are exercising what is, in some versions, the most reasonable act of worship. Other English versions translate this final phrase as: “your most spiritual act of worship.” The Greek word λογικὴν is the adjective describing the worship referred to here in Romans 12:1. The word can be rendered in one of two ways: “reasonable” and “spiritual”. The standard Greek dictionary by Bauer, Ardnt, Danker and Gingrich (abbreviated as BDAG 2000) has within its extended treatment of λογικὴν this statement: “to being carefully thought through, thoughtful λογικὴ λατρεία (worship) a thoughtful service (in a dedicated spiritual sense).” An older edition of another standard Greek dictionary (lexicon) by nearly the same authors, Bauer, Ardnt and Gingrich (abbreviated BAG) gives the following definition of λογικὴν: “the singing of hymns is the religious service of man as a λογῐκός = a being endowed with reason.”  

The point behind laboring this  word study of λογικὴν (which NASB renders as “spiritual”; NKJV renders as “reasonable”) is to show the reader that the worshipful goal of presenting one’s body as a living sacrifice is the height of piety and most reasonable purpose of the Christian life. To take in the Gospel and not live out a life of worship dedicated to God makes any other purpose both unspiritual and unreasonable.

Closing thoughts:                                                     Today’s post aimed to explain what Paul meant when he urged his readers to “present their bodies as living sacrifices”.  It was suggested that this phrase refers to that which follows from the reception of eternal life in the Gospel – namely the living out a lifestyle of worship to God. As we exegetically worked through the text of Romans 12:1, three thoughts emerged that set out to explain the meaning of Paul’s exhortation:

1. The power source for a lifestyle of worship – God’s tender mercies

2. Christ is the Pattern for the Lifestyle of Worship

3. The purpose of the lifestyle of worship:  worship God in His greatness


About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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