My last post left us with Paul’s begging appeal to Rome. It’s an appeal to all of us, and the strength behind his urging is the limitless love and incredible, proven, reliable, and undeserved mercy of God toward His children. Paul is saying, “Please come, I beg you to come because of these wonderful things that God has already done!” But what is he inviting us to? Many would be disappointed that the destination of the invitation is a sacrificial altar. Don’t animals die on such things?
As we move into the second part of Romans 12:1, Paul moves from a begging appeal to a challenge that involves exactly everything we are.
Romans 12:1 states, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies…
Present is the word “paristémi” (Gk), and it means “to stand close beside or bring up to.” Bodies is the word “sóma” (Gk), and it can mean “the body of church;” however, here it would mean “our physical living flesh or mortal bodies.”
Leave it to Paul to not ask for much. I’m sure some of the first readers of this text thought Paul’s appeal would be for some cash, or maybe a little extra time in prayer or service. But, no. Paul just asks for everything, our whole body, all we are, the substance of everything we’re made of.
Although we didn’t ask for it, Christ offered to us the substance of everything He was made of on the cross. However, even before the crucifixion, we see Jesus offering everything. He left nothing on the table. Christ left the splendor of Heaven, a place of perfection in the presence of God, the Father. He left a glorified body to become flesh and subject Himself to the harshness of life on earth. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”. He even chose to make His entrance into our world through the womb. There were certainly easier ways, but He chose to empty Himself of the glory of Heaven and subject a frail body of flesh to the rigors of childbirth.
But the totality of His sacrifices did not end with His birth and eventual death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-7 says, “…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Christ spent His life serving mankind. He walked from town to town teaching them truth, healing their sick, raising their dead and serving as the ultimate example of humility and love among groups who were often hostile toward Him.
There was no sinful pride or destructive narcissism displayed in life of Christ, although He could have manifested Himself to be King at any given time. He didn’t have to live His life as a homeless nomad with “no place to lay His head” at night (Matthew 8:19-20; Luke 9:57-58). Although Jesus and His disciples would often stay in the homes of others who would allow them shelter, He was functionally homeless and living in poverty. He also lived His life on earth under the microscope of scrutiny and rebuke from the Pharisees and Sadducees. These two religious sects of Judaism, both holding powerful seats within the 70 member supreme court of ancient Israel (the Sanhedrin), eventually allied and conspired together against Christ. Christ could have stopped their foolishness at any time, demanding they kneel and serve Him, but He chose to humbly defeat every argument they posed and use these interactions to teach those involved that the truth of God will arise victorious when challenged–every single time.
Philippians 2:8 says, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This last example is the ultimate sacrifice that Christ chose to make on our behalf. To most of you, it needs no explanation, but let’s agree that the King of kings did not have to submit to any of the treacherous planning that eventually led to His mock trial, intense physical abuse, and eventual crucifixion at the hands of the Roman government. He could have taken complete charge of those situations, but He chose to become a living sacrifice, and He chose that path for us.
Just as Paul is pleading with us, based on the mercies of God already expressed and proven trustworthy, Jesus has already set the example of the highest bar of sacrifice. He’s always ahead of us in proving Himself to be trustworthy and deserving of our highest praise and allegiance.
Continuing in verse 12:1, Paul is pleading with us to bring our living flesh (bodies) to God’s altar as a living sacrifice.
In 12:1, the word living is the verb “zaó,” and it means “to live, be among the living, not lifeless or dead.” This word is interesting, because it conveys more than just the presence of life. In the emphatic and Messianic sense, this word is used to describe the quality of life of the one living it. The same word is used in Luke 10:28, John 5:25, John 11:25, Romans 1:17, and at least 15 other verses to imply that this life is "blessed, true and a life worthy of the name of God.”
Our “living” sacrifice should be more than bringing a stagnate and uninspired living form to the side of the altar of God. An example of this today would be cold, uninspired worshipers who fill church houses in 2021. They have arrived "at" worship, but their faces and hearts are cold, appearing dead and lifeless, before the magnificent presence of God Almighty. They have not come to worship; instead, they have arrived to be entertained, while they lazily and half-heartedly scratch at the surface of a relationship with the Lord that they know they need, but, by the fruit of their example, have little interest in pursuing. God could often receive a greater “sacrifice of praise” by propping up corpses in a morgue than He receives during a service time specifically set aside to honor Him.
This is not the living sacrifice that God is looking for. This is not the “living life” (“zaó,”) described in the text. Instead, our living sacrifice should be a vital and active presence that is as alive from the intentional and daily pursuit of the blessings and virtues of God as it is from the blood and oxygen that feed it’s physiological processes. Paul is urging us to bring a life that is alive and well in Christ to the altar, because a life of half-hearted devotion and nominal Christianity will not make a true sacrifice. It would be safe to assume that the average Christian church attender today wouldn’t crawl off of this altar, because they would never even approach it to begin with.
Paul has pleaded, and Christ has proven His mercies, We’ve discussed how Jesus sacrificed everything on our behalf, setting the bar. He’ll never ask us to venture down a road where He has not already been and won the victory. And now, in this verse, we’ve arrived with our bodies, wholly alive and blessed by a vibrant and active relationship with God, at a sacrificial altar. Hmm? I’ve already posed the question above, “Don’t animals die on such things?” Is God now expecting us to assume a similar role to Jesus and literally die? Would He bring us so far in our relationship that He would ask us to end our life, and if so, for what cause?
What does offering our bodies as a living sacrifice actually mean? We’ll discuss it in the next post. Until then, be reminded that Christ is a Savior full of proven mercies to His children. He’s also a Savior who emptied Himself completely for the cause of sacrifice in the service of those same children. We could ask for no greater actions on our behalf, and we have received no less than His absolute best. What a gift to be loved so deeply.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!