Living Sacrifices, 1-8

Rom 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Stott notes the way in which Paul integrates creed and conduct, belief and behaviour, in chapters 12-15:-

  • We are to offer our bodies because of God’s mercy, Rom 12:1.
  • We are to serve one another because we are one body in Christ, Rom 12:5.
  • We are not to take revenge, because vengeance belongs to the Lord, Rom 12:19.
  • We are to submit to the state because its officials are God’s ministers wielding God’s authority, Rom 13:1-3.
  • We are to fulfil the law by loving our neighbour because the day of Christ’s return is approaching, Rom 13:10-11.
  • We are not to harm our sisters and brothers in any way, because Christ died to be their Saviour, Rom 14:15, rose to be their Lord, Rom 14:9-10, and is coming to be our judge, Rom 14:11-12.

‘It is marvellous to see the great doctrines of the cross, the resurrection and the parousia being pressed into the service of practical, day-to-day Christian behaviour.’ (Stott)

Therefore – ‘as the effect or result of the argument or doctrine. In other words, the whole argument of the eleven first chapters is fitted to show the obligation on us to devote ourselves to God. From expressions like these, it is clear that the apostle never supposed that the tendency of the doctrines of grace was to lead to licentiousness. Many have affirmed that such was the tendency of the doctrines of justification by faith, of election and decrees, and of the perseverance of the saints. But it is plain that Paul had no such apprehensions. After having fully stated and established those doctrines, he concludes that we ought therefore to lead holy lives; and on the ground of them he exhorts men to do it.’ (Barnes)

‘Religion among the ancients was service (cultus), and cultus had for its centre sacrifice. The Jewish service counted four kinds of sacrifice which might be reduced to two: the first, comprising the sacrifices offered before reconciliation and to obtain it (sin and trespass-offering); the other the sacrifices offered after reconciliation and serving to celebrate it (whole burnt-offering and peaceoffering). The great division of the Epistle to which we have come is explained by this contrast. The fundamental idea of Part I (chaps. 1-11), was that of the sacrifice for the sin of mankind. Witness the central passage. (Rom 3:25,26) These are the mercies of God to which Paul appeals here, and the development of which has filled the first eleven chapters. The practical part which we are beginning corresponds to the second kind of sacrifice, which was the symbol of consecration after pardon had been received (the halocaust, in which the victim was entirely burned), and of the communion established between Jehovah and the believer (the peace-offering, followed by a feast in the court of the temple). The sacrifice of expiation offered by God in the person of his Son should now find its response in the believer in the sacrifice of complete consecration and intimate communion.’ (Godet)

In view of God’s mercy – our obedience to the will of God is motivated by our awareness of his mercies towards us. God has given himself to us in his Son; we should in return give ourselves to him. ‘The particular mercy to which the apostle here refers, is that shown to those whom he was addressing. He had proved that all were by nature under sin; that they had no claim on God; and that he had showed great compassion in giving his Son to die for them in this state, and in pardoning their sins. This was a ground or reason why they should devote themselves to God.’ (Barnes)

Offer your bodies – ‘Present your bodies’ (AV) – to God, for his use and in his service. And this, because we are not our own; we are bought at a price. Body here probably refers to the whole person, as in Mt 5:29; 6:22; Rom 8:23; Jas 3:6; Rev 18:13. This is analogous to our own language, in which we use ‘everybody’ to mean ‘everyone’. This giving of oneself to God (and also to others) is illustrated by the Macedonians, 2 Cor 8:5. See also Rom 6:13; 1 Thess 5:23.

‘Bodies’ means more than flesh and bones, but not less. And this is in contrast to Greek thinking. ‘To the Greek, what mattered was the spirit; the body was only a prison-house, something to be despised and even to be ashamed of. No real Christian ever believed that. The Christian believes that his body belongs to God just as much as his soul does, and that he can serve him just as well with his body as with his mind or his spirit.’ (DSB) The point is clinched, of course, by the fact of Christ’s incarnation (’enfleshment’).

We are to offer our entire selves to God. Question: Which parts of our lives are we holding back from him?

Living sacrifices – ‘in glorious contrast to the legal sacrifices, which, save as they were slain, were no sacrifices at all. The death of the one “Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world,” has swept all dead victims from off the altar of God, to make room for the redeemed themselves as “living sacrifices” to him who made “Him to be sin for us;” while every outgoing of their grateful hearts in praise, and every act prompted by the love of Christ, is itself a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savor.’ (Heb 13:15,16) (JFB)

A ‘living sacrifice’ is vigorous and active.

‘The appeal is that the readers offer their bodies as sacrifices, a suggestion whose force would be more obvious to Paul’s first readers than to most modern students.  First-century people were familiar with the offering of sacrifices, whereas we are not.  They had stood by their altars and watched as an animal was identified as their own, as it was slain in the ritual manner, its blood manipulated, and the whole or part of the victim burned on the altar and ascended in the flames to the deity they worshipped.  To suggest that they themselves should be sacrifices was a striking piece of imagery.  Paul’s verb, offer, could be used of offerings of various kinds (it is used, e.g., in 6.13, 16, 19), but it was a technical term for the offering of a sacrifice.’ (Morris)

Holy – Without blemish of defect. We are to offer to God the best that we have and are, not just the leftovers.

Pleasing to God – There are many sacrifices that are not pleasing to God, either because they are wrong in themselves, or because they are offered in the wrong spirit.

Spiritual – The word is logikos, the adjective derived from ‘logos’. The most natural meaning would be ‘logical’, ‘reasonable’, or ‘intelligent’. This would accord with v2, ‘the renewing of your mind,’ and also with the beginning of the present verse, which alludes to the rationale of the Christian’s devotion to God. Cf. 1 Pet 2:3.

‘For Paul, true worship in offering ourselves to God is reasonable or logical because it is consistent with a proper understanding of the truth of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Total commitment is the only rational course to take when you really see who God is. Nothing else makes any sense…Halfway committment is irrational. To decide to give part of your life to God and keep other parts for yourself-to say “Everything is yours, Lord, but this relationship, this deal, this pleasure”-is beyond spiritual logic!’ (Hughes)

Worship – ‘The vocabulary of worship in the Bible is very extensive, but the essential concept in Scripture is ‘service’. Heb. ‘abod1 and Gk. latreia both originally signified the labour of slaves or hired servants. And in order to offer this ‘worship’ to God his servants must prostrate themselves – Heb. histahaw2 or Gk. proskyneo – and thus manifest reverential fear and adoring awe and wonder.’ (NBD)

The teaching of this verse ‘means we must take constant regard to our own physicalness in all that we do. We have no right to abuse or pamper or despise our bodies; we must keep our bodies at the maximum peak of efficiency because in and through these bodies we have to serve God. Even those whose work is least obviously physical rely on their physical organ, the brain, to do the work to which God has called them.’ (MacLeod, A Faith To Live By)

A man may say, “I am going to church to worship God,” but he should also be able to say, “I am going to the factory, the shop, the office, the school, the garage, the locomotive shed, the mine, the shipyard, the field, the byre, the garden, to worship God.” (DSB)

‘Worship, then is not part of the Christian life; it is the Christian life.’ (Gerald Vann)

Although the theological depth of Pauls epistle to the Romans is profound, the apostle does not neglect the practical aspects of the Christian life. Given what God has done for us and in us through Jesus Christ, Paul exhorts each believer to honor God with lives of sacrificial obedience that are holy, acceptable to God (12:1).

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Rom 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world – or, as J.B. Philips paraphrases it, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.” One way in which we conform to the pattern of mould of this world is when we neglect to preach Scriptural truths such as sin and final judgement because in the estimate of the world they are morbid, offensive, or simply incomprehensible.

It has been said that ‘nature forms us; sin deforms us; school informs us; but only Christ can transform us.’

John Stott laments the ‘dismal record’ of the church’s unfaithfulness, due to its tendency to be exactly what it has been forbidden to be, namely conformist.  ‘It has been influenced more by the world than by the Word.  Instead of challenging the status quo with the values of the kingdom of God, it has acquiesced in it.  Instead of resisting the encroachments of secularism, it has surrendered to them.  Instead of rejecting the value system and lifestyle of the world, it has assimilated them.  The church has accommodated itself to the prevailing culture, leaped on all the trendiest bandwagons, and hummed all the popular tunes of the day.  Whenever the church does this, it reads Scripture through the world’s eyes, and rationalises its own unfaithfulness.’

Stott cites as examples of the church’s failure the approval and even the glamorisation of the medieval Crusades, the employment of torture in the name of Jesus Christ to combat heresy and enforce orthodoxy, the almost complete failure of Protestant churches to engage in missions in the two centuries following the Reformation, the delay in abolishing slavery and the slave trade in the so-called Christian West until 1800 years after Christ, and the blindness in recognising racial prejudice and environmental pollution as the evils they are until after the Second World War.

(The Contemporary Christian, p191f)

‘We are commanded not to be conformed to this world, that is, not to accommodate ourselves to the corrupt customs of the world. The Christian must not be of such a complying nature as to cut the coat of his profession according to the fashion of the times, or the humor of the company he falls into; like that courtier, who being asked how he could keep his preferment in such changing times, which one while had a prince for Popery, another while against Popery, answered, he was e salice, non ex quercu ortus-he was not a stubborn oak, but bending osier, that could yield to the wind. No, the Christian must stand fixed to his principles, and not change his habit; but freely show what countryman he is by his holy constancy in the truth.’ (Gurnall)

Be transformed – Same word as ‘transfigured’, as in Mt 17:2; and 2 Cor 3:18. ‘How does this happen? Again the language in Romans is most expressive, because our text says we are to be1 transformed (passive imperative). This must be done by someone or something else, which is of course the Holy Spirit. We are to submit to the Holy Spirit who brings about the2 renewing of your mind. We also understand from the present tense of the verb that this is a process, a gradual transformation. The Christian is to allow himself to be changed continually so that his life conforms more and more to that of Christ. Ultimately, as Rom 8:29 says, there will be the supreme metamorphosis when we will be transformed (summorphos) to the image of Christ in eternity.’ (R. Kent Hughes)

The renewing of your mind – ‘Christians are called to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” with its behavior and customs that are usually selfish and often corrupting. Many Christians wisely decide that much worldly behavior is off limits for them. Our refusal to conform to this world’s values, however, must go even deeper than the level of behavior and customs-it must be firmly planted in our mind-“be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It is possible to avoid most worldly customs and still be proud, covetous, selfish, stubborn, and arrogant. Only when the Holy Spirit renews, reeducates, and redirects our mind are we truly transformed.’ (see Rom 8:5) (HBA)

Paul here sets before his readers an alternative. One way is to be ‘conformed to the pattern of this world’. This would mean conformity to its standards (or lack of them), its values (largely materialistic), and its goals (self-centred and godless). The prevailing culture is like the prevailing wind – it is hard to stand up to it; it is easy to be swayed by it. The pressure to confirm is great. Paul urges his readers, however, to be ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind’. This will lead to the ability to test and approve what God’s good, pleasing and perfect will is. ‘The sequence is compelling. If we want to live straight, we have to think straight.’ (Stott)

‘Humility does no more require that a wise man think his knowledge equal with a fool’s, or ignorant man’s, than that a sound man take himself to be sick.’

Richard Baxter

Rom 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

By the grace given me – ‘Through the favour, or in virtue of the favour of the apostolic office. By the authority that is conferred on me to declare the will of God as an apostle.’ (Barnes)

‘Secular psychologists may suggest that Christians like Augustine and Edwards promote an unhealthy and negative self-concept – what might be called a ‘guilty worm’ neurosis. Unfortunately, many Christians do try to live with a bad self-image, mistaking it for the virtue of humility. But this is the devil’s estimate of their character and gifts. Humiliation does not produce humility; instead, it creates an open psychological wound that inhibits our ability to love ourselves, God and others. The Bible does not advise us to think ill of ourselves, only to think realistically: ‘Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.’ (Rom 12:3 NIV) (Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 36)

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought – ‘What is the true standard by which we ought to estimate ourselves he immediately adds. This is a caution against pride; and an exhortation not to judge of ourselves by our talents, wealth, or office, but to form another standard of judging of ourselves, by our Christian character. The Romans would probably be in much danger from this quarter. The prevailing habit of judging among them was according to rank, or wealth, or eloquence, or office. While this habit of judging prevailed in the world around them, there was danger that it might also prevail in the church. And the exhortation was, that they should not judge of their own characters by the usual modes among men, but by their Christian attainments. There is no sin to which men are more prone than an inordinate self-valuation and pride. Instead of judging by that which constitutes true excellence of character, they pride themselves on that which is of no intrinsic value-on rank, and titles, and external accomplishments; or on talents, learning, or wealth. The only true standard of character pertains to the principles of action, or to that which constitutes the moral nature of the man; and to that the apostle calls the Roman people.’ (Barnes)

In accordance with the measure of faith God has given you – ‘As God has measured to each one, or apportioned to each one. In this place, the faith which Christians have is traced to God as its Giver. This fact, that God has given it, will be itself one of the most effectual promoters of humility and right feeling. Men commonly regard the objects on which they pride themselves as things of their own creation, or as depending on themselves. But let an object be regarded as the gift of God, and it ceases to excite pride, and the feeling is at once changed into gratitude. He therefore who regards God as the Source of all blessings, and he only, will be a humble man.’ (Barnes)

Cranfield argues that metron (’measure’) should be translated ‘standard’: ‘To estimate oneself according to the standard which consists of one’s faith in Christ is really to recognize that Christ himself in whom God’s judgment and mercy are revealed is the one by whom alone one must measure oneself and also one’s fellow-men.’

Rom 12:4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,

Rom 12:5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Rom 12:6 we have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.

Ministry in the NT is essentially charismatic – that is, based on gifting by the Holy Spirit. However, in the various NT lists of the charismata, (Rom 12:6-8 1 Cor 12:28 Eph 4:11) gifts of service and administration take their place alongside the more extraordinary gifts. It is a matter of continuing debate among the churches whether these extraordinary gifts may legitimately be claimed today.

‘Gifts are of two types. There are gifts of speech and of loving, practical helpfulness. In Rom 12:6-8, Paul’s list of gifts alternates between the categories: items one, three, and four (prophecy, teaching, and exhorting) are gifts of speech; items two, five, six, and seven (serving, giving, leading, and showing mercy) are gifts of helpfulness. The alternation implies that no thought of superiority of one gift over another may enter in. However much gifts differ as forms of human activity, all are of equal dignity, and the only question is whether one properly uses the gift one has.’ (1 Pet 4:10-11) (Packer, Concise Theology)

Proportion analogia – used only here in the NT. ‘Some commentators mistakenly interpreted “faith” objectively here, in the sense of doctrine, and looked upon analogian as the designation of an external standard. Correctly interpreted, however, the whole expression simply means, according to the measure of your subjective faith. Hence the term analogy of faith, as derived from this passage, is based on a misunderstanding.’ (Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation, 164)

Rom 12:7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;

Rom 12:8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Leadership – cf. 1 Cor 12:28. ‘That this gift is listed among others of a more charismatic nature suggests that Paul saw no antipathy between what we might call charismatic and official ministries.’ (DPL)

Love, 9-21

Paul’s teaching here resembles that of 1 Cor 12-13, with love as the dominating theme.  ‘So far in Romans all references to agapē have been to the love of God—demonstrated on the cross (Rom 5:8), poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5) and doggedly refusing to let us go (Rom 8:35, 39). But now Paul focuses on agapē as the essence of Christian discipleship.’ (Stott)

Rom 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Love must be sincere – lit. ‘without hypocrisy’.  ‘If love is the sum of virtue, and hypocrisy the epitome of vice, what a contradiction to bring these together!’ (Murray)  Such was the pretended love of the kiss of Judas, Lk 22:48.

‘This little statement, so simple”] and so straightforward – “Love must be sincere” – is foundational to Christian conduct. But despite its simplicity, it is not easy to put into practice because much of our lives is shot through with hypocrisy. Our culture encourages us to live an image. The media repeatedly present us with people pretending to be something they are not, and so tempt us to take up masks ourselves, to counterfeit a love we do not possess. Most of us can effect civilities which appear to be utterly sincere though they actually cover hostility-like the smiling face we present to a police officer as he hands us a ticket, while inside we are saying, “May all your days be filled with traffic jams!”’ (R. Kent Hughes)

Hate what is evil – Some suppose that love is soft on evil, but this text teaches otherwise. There is a certain kind of intolerance that is our responsibility as Christians to exercise.

Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves.

Rom 12:11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.

Rom 12:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Hope – ‘Our confident Christian expectation of the Lord’s return and the glory to follow (cf. Rom 5:2; 8:24f.).’ (Stott).  According to Kruse, Paul speaks of ‘hope’ some 36 times in his letters, adding: ‘believers rejoice in their hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8), their justification (Gal. 5:5), their glorious inheritance (Eph 1:18; Col 1:5), and their share in the glory of God (Rom 5:2; Col 1:27).’

Not all Christians can rejoice in their circumstances, ‘but every one of them has a fair prospect before him, of which he has a blessed assurance in the word of God, where he has set his hope. In that he can rejoice.’ (Plumer)

Haldane remarks that we are again and again urged to ‘rejoice in the Lord’, ‘in the contemplation of His person, his offices, his power, his love, and in their union with him.’  He adds: ‘Here, in the midst of exhortations to attend to various duties, they are commanded to rejoice in hope. Hope is founded on faith, and faith on the Divine testimony. Hope, then, respects what God has declared in His word. We are here exhorted to exercise hope with respect to future glory, and to rejoice in the contemplation of the objects of hope. What can be better calculated to promote joy than the hope of obtaining blessings so glorious in a future world? Were this hope kept in lively exercise, it would raise believers above the fear of man and a concern for the honors of this world. It would also enable them to despise the shame of the cross.’

Faithful in prayer

Rom 12:13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

Rom 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Allusions to the teaching of Jesus in Rom 12-15

In Rom 12-15, there are many allusions to the teaching of Jesus:

  • Rom 12:14 w Lk 6:28
  • Rom 12:17 w Mt 5:39
  • Rom 12:18 (cf. Rom 14:19) w Mt 5:9 Mk 9:50
  • Rom 12:20 w Lk 6:27; cf. v35; Mt 5:44
  • Rom 13:7 w Mk 12:14,17
  • Rom 13:8 w Jn 13:34-35
  • Rom 13:8 w Mt 22:37ff
  • Rom 13:9 w Mt 7:12
  • Rom 13:11 w Lk 12:56
  • Rom 13:11 w Mk 13:36 Lk 21:28
  • Rom 14:10,13 w Mt 7:1
  • Rom 14:12 w Mt 12:36
  • Rom 14:13 w Mt 18:7
  • Rom 14:14,20 w Mt 15:10 Mk 7:19
  • Rom 14:17 w Mt 6:25,33

(See Stott, p318)

Rom 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Rom 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Rom 12:17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

‘The believer who seeks to obey God is going to have his enemies. When our Lord was ministering on earth, he had enemies. No matter where Paul and the other apostles travelled, there were enemies who opposed their work. Jesus warned his disciples that their worst enemies might be those of their own household. (Mt 10:36) Unfortunately, some believers have enemies because they lack love and patience, and not because they are faithful in their witness. There is a difference between sharing in “the offense of the cross” (Gal 5:11 6:12-15) and being an offensive Christian!’ (Wiersbe)

[In Rom 12 and 13] ‘Paul draws a vital distinction between the duty of private citizens to love and serve the evildoer, and the duty of public servants, as official agents of God’s wrath, to bring him to trial and, if convicted, to punish him. Far from being incompatible with each other, both principles are seen operating in Jesus at the cross. On the one hand, ‘when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate’. On the other, ‘he entrusted himself to him who judges justly’, in confidence that God’s justice would prevail.’ (Stott)

Rom 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Rom 12:19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

‘Persons who want to take vengeance for evils they have suffered are commanded not to do so as private individuals but to leave it to God who will repay their opponents (Rom. 12:19; citing Deut. 32:35). They are specifically not to repay the evil they have suffered by inflicting evil themselves. Human vengeance is liable to be sinful and, therefore, is prohibited, just as very firm limits are also set to the display of human anger.’ (I.H. Marshall, Aspects of the Atonement)

Rom 12:20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Cf. Pr 25:21-22. ‘The use of burning coals to symbolize shame and repentance in Pr 25:22 may derive from an Egyptian ritual in which a person could purge his or her sin by carrying on the head a dish containing burning charcoal.’ (NBC)

‘In Paul’s context of vengeance (Rom 12:19) this expression may mean that one’s enemy will be punished all the more severely in the day of judgment.’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)

If we do nothing but good towards our enemies, then the imagery suggests that they will experience a shame which may lead either to repentance or to further condemnation.  The main point is clear: as follows of Jesus, we must always seek to conquer evil with good.

The relevant entry in Hard Sayings of the Bible insists that the meaning of this expression is positive, not negative.  The idea is one of the good deeds purifying the evil of the enemy.  Similarities are seen with the burning coal of Isa 6:7, and the ‘refiner’s fire’ of Mal 3:2.  Accordingly, ‘the purpose of “pouring burning coals” seems to be that, by means of responding to evil with good, the doer of the evil may be brought to repentance. It is the   p 574  enemy’s benefit which is intended. When the adversary is treated with kindness, when good is returned for evil, then evil may be overcome; the antagonist may be transformed by a renewal of mind, a change of orientation from darkness to light.’

Rom 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.