Faith that Works: Living Sacrifices

Roman 12:1-2

(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?

Spiritual Gifts

(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!

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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22 Responses to Faith that Works: Living Sacrifices

  1. Skip says:

    Jay, Thanks for your post on living sacrifices. I would take slight issue with the phrase: “Ultimately, of course, it’s about becoming like Jesus.” I believe the ultimate goal is to enjoy a loving relationship with Jesus which is what we will have for eternity in heaven. When we love him now we will consequently serve him and and want to become like him. The ultimate goal is love with imitation as the by-product. There are many Christian asceticists who beat themselves up to be like Jesus but don’t know or love the Jesus they are trying to be like.

  2. Jerry says:

    Our word logic and its derivatives come from the Greek logikos (via the Latin), the word used in Romans 12:1 of our service. This is one reason some translations here have “reasonable”.

  3. Doug says:

    Unlike Skip, I have no problem with the phrase “It’s about becoming like Jesus”. You see, I have offered my service both as and as not a living sacrifice. The difference to me, is huge. Service given as a living sacrifice seems like no sacrifice at all. In fact, sometimes I feel like I got more out of my sacrifice than the person I sacrificed for. Service given as a non-living sacrifice is usually tedious and a chore. That’s the difference being like Jesus makes.

  4. It is all about becoming like Jesus, but we must remember Whose work that is. Self-flagellation represents a lack of understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. We are not called, as the old Army ads said, to “Be all that you can be.”

    We are called to much more than that.

  5. hank says:

    It’s often argued here that becoming more like Jesus, having the mind of Christ, renewing our mind, etc is not something that WE do but something that God does TO/FOR us via the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is HIS job to change us in ways that was not possible for the OT saints. But then, when contemplating why so many Spirit indwelled believers are lazy, apathetic, and worldly, the Holy Spirit is never to blame because when it comes down to it, it IS OUR responsibility to “allow” the Holy Spirit to change us. And how do we “allow” him to change us? By our own determination to meditate on his word, prayer, self denial, etc.

    In other words, the Holy Spirit ONLY changes a person if, when, and to the extent that a person changes himself! Which is the way it was throughout the OT. Why the five thousand commands to change, purify, and grow ourselves if it is actually the responsibility of the Holy Spirit?

    It just seems confusing to vehemently oppose the idea that the renewing our minds is determined by OUR willingness and determination to do so, and at the same time argue that the Holy Spirit can and/or will only renew our minds to the precise extent that we “allow” him to do so.

    Again, I say that the way children of God grow, love him and their neighborhors, and produce fruit today is done in the same way it was from Adam and Eve on. By our own willingness to trust and obey. God never did it for us.

    He for sure teaches us, motivates us, and helps us — he just does it in the same exact way he always has from the beginning.

  6. hank says:

    I remember, as a new Christian, wondering why MY Holy Spirit wasn’t changing me like he had changed and helped others be so seemingly spiritual. I believed it was up to him, just didn’t know why he was slacking.

  7. MariLu says:

    Just by accident I came across this posting on a day that I plan to use this very passage in a class I teach tonight! In my humble opinion, the need to become a living sacrifice is not an either/or of loving Jesus vs. becoming like Jesus. Latreia has also been used as a term referring to adoration of God. We become a living sacrifice to do all of the above in an effort to bring pleasure to God, the one we want to serve with our entire being.

  8. Price says:

    “We are His people, not His person.” Like that !!

  9. Doug says:

    Hank, I believe the disciplines you mentioned along with others are spiritual exercises that are useful in allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work on us. If a Christian does not exercise the Spirit, it certainly stunts the mind transformation process. I guess it is a chicken vs egg situation.

  10. skip says:

    The ideal is between two extremes: On the one hand is Arminianism which stresses our work with little focus on God or Calvanism which stresses God’s work with little focus on our responsibility. The ideal is knowing God wants to work but we must cooperate.

  11. Hank argues against the idea of divine regeneration of the believer by saying, in short, that people are too sorry for that.

    In other words, these believers are so lazy, apathetic and worldly that God clearly is not regenerating them, so they must get off their carnal derrieres and do the job themselves.

    I think this reasoning should be applied to elementary schools as well. Teachers cannot be expected to educate such a bunch of ill-mannered, selfish, unfocused and illiterate brats. Give ’em books and let ’em take some personal responsibility, I say.

  12. hank says:

    Charles argues against the idea of God’s children being born with an ability to trust and obey God as they are naturally created by saying in short, that they were simply incapable of FULLY loving God throughout the thousands of years they existed before the promise of the Spirit on Pentecost.

    In other words, the children of God were so lazy, apathetic, and worldly that the clearly were not able to trust and obey God fully and so God decided to go down into each one and personally do what they were incapable of doing prior to Pentecost. After all, if you want a job done right, its best to do it yourself.

    I mean, if the people of God were actually capable of “truly” keeping the Greatest Commandments throughoughht the OT, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t have been needed to to take a hands on approach and do the job on behalf of God’s children himself starting at Pentecost.

    I (Hank) however, believe that the OT saints were just as capable of loving God and their neighbors as any of us are today. I deny that the Holy Spirit has been given out since Pentecost in order to “truly” obey the commandments in ways and at levels impossible for the children of God prior to Acts 2.

  13. hank says:

    Too, in all of the passages which allegedly teach that the Holy Spirit was promised in Acts 2 in order to enable believers to “truly” love and obey God in ways not possible prior to Pentecost, where does it ever say that the Holy Spirit’s ability to do so would be based on the believers willingness to “allow” him to do so?

    In other words, does the OT teach that the Holy Spirit WOULD change our hearts and cause us to truly love and obey like never before, or that he merely would EFFORT to do so? But that it would ultimately depend on our willingness to allow him to change us for us?

  14. Skip says:

    If the saints in the OT could love and serve God just as capably as NT Christians then there was no need for Jesus Christ to come to the earth, be crucified, resurrected, and to leave behind the promised Holy Spirit. Why don’t we just keep up the law system of works? Why do we have a New Covenant if the old one was adequate? A very small number of Jews in the OT had the Spirit come “upon” them but EVERY Christian in the NT is promised the indwelling Holy Spirit. The sheer volume of NT scriptures attesting to this is enormous. Here are two examples:

    I Corinthians 3:16 “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”

    Romans 8:11 “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

    The later scripture says God’s indwelling scripture “gives life” to our mortal bodies through the Spirit. Now we can argue how much we must cooperate and surrender as opposed to how much the Spirit exerts but the fact remains that Christians are infinitely better equipped to love and serve God based upon an internal change wrought by the Holy Spirit.

  15. hank says:

    ” If the saints in the OT could love and serve God just as capably as NT Christians then there was no need for Jesus Christ to come to the earth, be crucified, resurrected, and to leave behind the promised Holy Spirit.”

    How do you figure that? Why do you say that?

  16. Skip says:

    I figure it based upon the plethora of NT scriptures on the subject. Jesus came to do what the OT law could not do. Make us righteous before God. Jesus came to change us from the inside out which the OT law could not accomplish. Jesus came to free us from the slavery of sin which the OT law could not accomplish. Romans 7 clearly spells this all out. All of Galatians makes the contrast between the OT law and freedom in Christ.

  17. Jay Guin says:

    Hank asked,

    Too, in all of the passages which allegedly teach that the Holy Spirit was promised in Acts 2 in order to enable believers to “truly” love and obey God in ways not possible prior to Pentecost, where does it ever say that the Holy Spirit’s ability to do so would be based on the believers willingness to “allow” him to do so?


    Are you arguing the Calvinist position? Or are you arguing that the OT and NT contradict? Or just what is your position?

  18. hank says:

    Jay wrote:

    “Hank, Are you arguing the Calvinist position?” — No, I am definitely not.

    And……..”Or are you arguing that the OT and NT contradict?’ — No way.

    And……..”Or just what is your position?”

    My position is that you are reading into the texts the things you believe to be true more than what the texts actually say. You are eisegeting. For example, in verses where God declares that he is going to give his people both a new heart and a new spirit (Ez. 36:26), you interpret the “new heart” to merely mean a new attitude as opposed to an actual “new” heart (is that right?) But, the “new spirit” you assume to mean the Holy Spirit (the third person of the godhead), and not a new attitude.

    Further, you assume that when God said there that he will “cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (ESV), that God meant that he would indwell each believer via the Holy Spirit in a way that was unavailable to the OT faithful and that by said indwelling, he (the Holy Spirit) would himself personally enable each child of God to trust, love and obey the Father in ways which were impossible for the OT faithful who were without such an “indwelling”.

    My position is that the people of God, from Adam and Eve on, were created in God’s image AND were born FULLY capable of trusting and obeying him (which has never necessitated sinless perfection). I do not believe that the OT anywhere prophecies that God would send the Holy Spirit beginning in Acts 2 to indwell each child of God IN ORDER TO CAUSE/ENABLE each believer to trust and obey him to an extent that was not possible for the saints prior to Pentecost.

    My objection here is to the statements where you say that the Holy Spirit was promised to the children of God SO THAT THEY COULD “truly” obey the Greatest Commandment(s)”. As if, they were not able to “truly” obey (as you put it), prior to Acts 2.

    My position is that the way in which God “causes” a person to love and obey him is no different than the way he “caused” a person to love and obey him from Adam and eve on.

    He speaks to us, and he gave us both the conscience and the ability to trust him and love him, as well as our neighbor (which takes an intentional effort).

    I just don’t believe that he saw that we were not able to “truly” obey the Greatest Command throughout the OT and that he therefore decided to “cause” us to obey via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit beginning at Pentecost.

  19. skip says:

    Hank, one does not need Ezekial 36 to prove the promised indwelling HS

  20. Jay Guin says:

    Hank wrote,

    My position is that the way in which God “causes” a person to love and obey him is no different than the way he “caused” a person to love and obey him from Adam and eve on

    Then what do the prophecies mean? For example, how do you interpret Jeremiah 31 as quoted in Hebrews 8? Jeremiah’s use of “new covenant” certainly suggests a change. What did Jeremiah prophesy that would change?

  21. nick gill says:

    Hey Jay –

    I know I’m extremely late to the party where this series is concerned, and I’m sorry for that. I’m doing my best to catch up!

    I have a question about logikos, deriving from NT Wright’s analysis of psuchikos and pneumatikos in Surprised By Hope. There, Tom says that the -ikos suffix conveys the sense of “powered by” – like a ship’s relationship to the wind in its sails.

    Could it be the same here? Something like “service of worship driven by God’s will/word?”

  22. Jay Guin says:


    Interesting question. The challenge comes from the many shades of meaning found in logos in Greek thought. It could mean “word” as in “word of God” — and in Romans, Paul uses logos to refer to God’s promises and commands in the Old Testament. But logos can also mean reason, meaning logikos would mean “powered by reason” or “resulting from reason.” And that’s a favorite use of the word by Greek philosophers. Hence, those translators who prefer “reasonable” don’t mean “reasonable” in the sense of fair but “derived from reason.” “Logical” would be a good translation.

    Another sense of logos is genuine or real. Hence, we’d translation “worship based on the true nature of things.” And this would fit the use of the word in 1 Peter 2:2.

    The NET Bible translation notes say as to 1 Peter 2:2 —

    The word for spiritual in Greek is λογικός (logikos), which is a play on words with the reference in 1Pe 1:23-25 to the living and enduring word (λόγος, logos) of God, through which they were born anew. This is a subtle indication that the nourishment for their growth must be the word of God.

    All of which leads me to conclude —

    “Worship” in 12:1 translates latreia, which is a reference back to 9:4 –

    (Rom 9:4 ESV) They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.

    That’s the only other use of latreia in Rom, and refers most likely to the work of the priests in the Temple (search latreia in the Septuagint). Paul then uses “word” twice shortly thereafter in chapter 9 — the last two uses before chapter 12 —

    (Rom 9:6 ESV) But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,

    Here, “word” refers to God’s promises/covenant with Israel.

    (Rom 9:9 NAS) For this is a word of promise: “At this time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son.”

    Again, “word” refers to a promise of God as part of his covenant — which is the subject of chapters 9 – 11.

    Therefore, logiskos latreia — the worship empowered by God’s true covenant — is for the believer to become a living sacrifice in contrast to the Temple latreia of the Mosaic covenant.

    Paul is plainly using the Mosaic vocabulary to express how the Torah of the Spirit of Life applies under new covenant — now that God’s law is being written on our hearts by the Spirit.

    Hence, logikos would seem to carry the flavor, as you suggest, of the worship driven by the word of God — not the New Testament, of course (which wasn’t yet written) but the word written on our hearts by the Spirit, which is the same word as God’s covenant promises. That is, the worship that most truly responds to the new covenant is to become a living sacrifice.

    Now, this happens to also be reasonable and logical, making it perhaps a bit of wordplay. Yes, we Christians do things “logically” as the philosophers teach that we should, but our logic is based on the covenant promises of God, and because his Spirit lives within us and writes God’s law on our hearts, we no longer worship by sacrificing animals in the Temple but by sacrificing ourselves — not by martyrdom (necessarily) but by living as sacrifices, dedicated to God’s service just as a slain lamb is dedicated to God’s use at the Temple, except our dedication continues beyond the third and ninth hours. Our sacrifice is much harder.

    It’s easy to die once, but to die daily to God is hard — and only possible if Spirit-empowered.

    Thanks for the note. I’ve enjoyed spending a litte time poking around in Romans again.

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