(Rom 12:1 ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Notice the “therefore.” The need to become living sacrifices follows from all that precedes. Ultimately, of course, it’s about becoming like Jesus.
Notice the “by the mercies of God” — very strong language for Jewish rabbi, very nearly an oath — meaning that if God’s mercy — his grace — has any meaning to us at all, we’ll respond by sacrificing ourselves.
Paul’s point is that if we don’t honor this command, we’re frustrating the very cosmic plans of God. This is what God’s mercy is pointing us to!
Jesus has, of course, offered the “once for all” atoning sacrifice. We don’t make this sacrifice to gain forgiveness. Rather, this is a thanks or fellowship offering, given to God in response to his blessings.
And this becomes our “spiritual worship.” “Worship” translates latreia, a word used of worship at the Tabernacle (Josh. 22:27; Heb (9:1-6) and at the Temple (Rom 9:4) and for Jewish feasts (Exo. 12:25-26; 13:5).
“Spiritual” translates logikos, and thus is not a direct reference to the Holy Spirit. We could do several posts on the word, because it has deep roots in Greek philosophy. A primary meaning, per BDAG, is “carefully thought through.” Thus, Paul is saying, if you really think carefully about it, the sacrifice God now wants from you is not animals or other ritual of any kind, but rather your sacrificed bodies.
“Bodies … living” means (a) that while we may become martyred, God actually would rather us be alive, living as sacrifices and (b) that Christianity is not just about the mind (which is how a reader might take much of what Paul wrote in Romans 8!). This is not Gnosticism. The body and the mind must both be given over to God.
Thus, thoughtful people are to give their entire selves — mind and body — to God, as sacrifices in thanksgiving to enjoy fellowship with the God of the universe.
This passage therefore helps define the Torah of the Spirit of life. The Mosaic concept of animal sacrifice is re-interpreted through Jesus to become conformity to the image of God’s own Son. We become like God by becoming like Jesus by becoming sacrifices ourselves. It’s Torah — seen through the lens of Jesus.
(Rom 12:2 ESV) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
“Transformed” is literally “be metamorphisized” — a word that only appears here and in the Transfiguration — when Jesus was transformed into a truer image of his divine nature.
Thus, for us to be “transformed” is to become more like the Divine nature we’ve been given by the Spirit — to shine likes stars in the universe.
How does this happen? “By the renewal of your mind.” He does not say “by renewing your own mind.” No, this is about God writing his law on our minds by the Spirit. It’s Jeremiah 31 seen through the lens of Jesus. After all, the renewed mind will inevitably be like the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16; Phil 2:5).
The renewed mind will, of course, be very different from the mind of the world. Paul will explain the differences in the rest of chapters 12 – 15. But the goal isn’t, of course, merely to be different — to be “counter-cultural.” The goal is to be like Jesus, and sometimes we manage to be very counter-cultural and very unlike Jesus. We cannot define “Jesus” by opposition to the world. (More time in the Gospels would help.)
Paul says that, by submitting to God’s work in us through the Spirit and so letting our minds be transformed, we can discern God’s will. Therefore, we must seriously doubt the exegesis of those who, although Christians, haven’t submitted to the Spirit’s work within them. How do we tell? Well, do they reveal a heart and mind like that of our Messiah?
(Rom 12:3-8 ESV) 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Paul now writes a critical passage, in parallel with 1 Corinthians 12: The Spirit gives us gifts and we are bound to use those in Kingdom service.
Moreover, because we “are one body in Christ,” our primary responsibility is to “one another” — indeed, we’re “members of one of another.” “Members” means “body parts.” We are so closely connected that we’re parts of one another’s bodies!
The idea of the individual Christian having a “personal relationship” with God but not in communion with the larger body of the saints is utterly foreign to Scripture. Torah teaches that we are God’s people, not his person. God formed Israel into a community and traveled with them. The most severe punishment was to be cast out of the camp, because apart from the community was only desert and no God. God’s special, redeeming, living presence was in the camp.
The gifts that Paul speaks of are gifts given to serve each other. He is eminently practical in his listing because the list speaks to the gifts any congregation needs, from money to encouragement to leadership to service.
But to have these gifts is to be like God. After all, they come from God, and God can only give what he has. God’s Spirit writes his law on our hearts and minds, that is, he impresses God’s character on us so that we have these gifts.
The community needs the entirety of God’s character — his generosity, his leadership, his encouragement, his service — but God chooses not to give all the gifts to everyone, at least, not at first. Therefore, we are forced to rely on each other. We are not autonomous. We are not enough alone. God is most fully realized in the community, not the individual!