About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapter 12:1 - 8

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Living Sacrifices  (ch. 12:1 Ė 8)

 

Many Bible teachers suggest that here in chapter 12 Paul shifts directions in his writing.  They say he now drops his discussion on doctrine and starts a discussion on practical Christian living.  I don't see it as a shift in subjects.  I see it as a natural progression in what he has been saying all along. 

 

It bothers me when people attempt to separate the doctrinal issues from practical issues.  I see no separation between the two.  As a matter of fact, I don't believe you can live what some call the practical Christian life without understanding the life you are to live as is taught in the first 11 chapters of Romans.        

 

Paul has just ended chapter eleven with his doxology.  He seemed so overwhelmed with the doctrinal issues that he had just taught that he naturally broke out in praise to God.    

 

Many Bible teachers over the years have said that Paul and James differ on the topic of faith and works.  I see no problem between the two men.  I see that they say the same thing but from a different perspective.  James says, "Show me that you have real faith by what you do.  Your works should prove your faith."  Paul would agree and would say; "the foundation of your works must be faith and nothing else.  Real faith will produce real good works, the works that he is about ready to elaborate on.      

 

Before I comment on verse 1 let me explain a Roman cultural mindset that is seen in verse 1.  The cultural mindset concerns the patron client relationship.  Here's how it works.  If someone needed help in any matter of life he would often receive this help from another.  The one offering the help was considered the patron while the one being helped was considered the client.  Once the client received the help from the patron, a relationship was established between the patron and the client.  If the patron ever needed any assistance, the client would be expected to help the patron based on the fact that the patron had helped the client.  We see this clearly at work here in Romans 12:1.             

 

Verse 1 begins with the word "therefore", meaning, as a result of all that Paul has just said he has something important to say.  This tells me that if you don't fully understand the first 11 chapters of Romans you will not be able to follow through properly on the rest of what Paul says in Romans.  So, in light of what Paul has taught in earlier chapters and also in light of Godís mercy, he urges the Romans to present their bodies as living sacrifices to God.  Paul is using Old Testament terminology here when he speaks of sacrifices.  He is putting a New Testament spin to an Old Testament practice.  We see the patron client relationship here. God is the merciful patron and we are the client in receipt of God's mercy.  Since we have received mercy from God, it is expected that we in turn will give something back to Him.  What we give back according to Paul is our very lives. 

 

The Greek word "soma" is translated as "bodies" in the NIV.  It means more than our physical bodies.  It means the totality of who we are.  Paul is saying that since God gave all of Himself in Jesus to us, we should give all of ourselves to God in return.     

 

Paul is saying that we should be a living sacrifice.  Simply put, Paul is saying that we need to come to Jesus in faith, lay ourselves at His feet to be who He wants us to be and to do as He wishes.  As he says in Romans 6:18; "We are to be slaves of righteousness".  That's what is known as a bond slave, meaning a slave by choice.  Just as Jesus presented Himself as the ultimate living sacrifices, so we should do the same.  Mind you, Jesus provided the Father with a living sacrifice during His life on earth, but in the end, His death was the ultimate sacrifice.  We are not to provide God with a death sacrifice but with a living sacrifice.     

 

In church history past some monks castrated themselves thinking that would drive sexual thoughts away from them.  Some monks slept in darkened rat infested dungeons and caves to punish themselves for sin.  Some walked on hot coals.  Many monks thought of many harmful and brutal ways to obtain right standing before God.  This could be seen as a sacrifice, but this is not the kind of sacrifice Paul is talking about.  A living sacrifice is when someone gives all of Himself to Jesus and does what Jesus wants him to do.  A sacrifice is something that is presented to the Lord.  Therefore, when we present ourselves to Jesus and say, "here I am, do what you please with me," you are presenting Jesus with a living sacrifice. 

 

This kind of sacrifice according to Paul is a spiritual act of worship, or a spiritual sacrifice as some translations put it.  To me, this is the first definition of the word worship.  Yes, singing and raising our hands to the Lord on a Sunday morning can be called worship, but what makes this expression true worship is the fact that we have first offered ourselves to Jesus as a living sacrifice.               

 

The words "living sacrifice", although Jewish in nature would be meaningful for the Christian in Rome , and really, for Paul himself.  Christians were being executed for their faith in Rome by the Roman authorities.  Within seven or so years of Paul's writing of this letter he became a living sacrifice in the most extreme sense of the word.  The Roman soldiers sliced off his head as a form of execution.  For Paul, this would have been his most credible witness, his supreme act of worship.        

 

At this point in my commentary I would like to insert an article I wrote helping explain what Biblical worship really is from Romans 12:1.  

 

In Christian terms, the word "worship" means different
things to different people.  Many Evangelicals associate 
worship with singing hymns in a Sunday morning meeting, as I believe my mother understood worship to be when I was young.  In those days our Free Methodist Church congregational singing was accompanied by an organ and a piano, something my grandfather considered heretical.  His generation of Anglicans considered a piano inappropriate for Sunday worship.  Of course, my mom's generation of Evangelicals viewed guitars as being inappropriate for Sunday worship.  That disqualified my dad's involvement in church music for quite a while.  

 

During the late 1940's and early 1950's my dad played guitar for a popular local country and western band.  They had their own weekly radio show and they performed at dances throughout the region.  That all changed when he became a Christian.  The Evangelical culture of the day did not permit dad to play in a secular band.  It also did not permit him to play his National triple neck steel guitar in church.  He was frustratingly trapped in a state of limbo between two cultural communities.  That eventually changed.  Somewhere along the line Evangelicals sanctified guitars for the service of the Lord, permitting my dad to play his guitar with other musicians in churches across southern Ontario , Canada .      

 

I recall Alfred Reid.  He was our congregation's organist when I was young.  I believe I can safely say that worship for him was one hand raised to Jesus, the other hand on the keyboard, and a few tears sliding down his cheeks.  I'll never forget his heart felt expression of worship.  When my dad finally got to play his National steel guitar in congregational worship, he thoroughly enjoyed accompanying Mr. Reid.

 

Although I haven't played my guitars, banjo, or harmonicas, in congregational worship lately, playing music in that setting has been a big part of my life over the decades.  On one occasion in 1981 I had lunch with the former lead guitar player for a popular Washington D C rock band.  When he became a Christian he left the world of rock and roll behind, and that included his electric Gibson Les Paul guitar.  If he would have offered me that guitar I would have thanked the Lord and received it in a heart beat, but of course, he wouldn't have wanted to taint me with his past worldliness by giving me his guitar.  His reasoning for leaving it all behind seemed reasonable for him.  Beyond the fact that his electric guitar was associated with his past life of immoral and unhealthy excesses, he considered his Les Paul something that fed his addiction to ego.  Many heavy rock guitar players admit that the rush they feel while wailing away before adoring fans is addictive.  The bolt of energy of electrical proportions that blasts its way through their system while their fingers fly across the fret board beats most drug induced highs.  So, this former rocker left the world of electric and entered with world of acoustic.        

 

So what's the Biblical bottom line to worship?   I believe Romans 12:1 helps answer this question.  The NIV reads; "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in the view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship."  Let's dig into Paul's admonition and see what he is saying. 

 

In light of God's great abundant mercy directed our way, Paul encourages us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.  He calls this offering "our spiritual act of worship". The terminology Paul uses here puts a New Testament spin on the Old Testament practice of sacrificial blood offerings. 

 

The Greek word "soma" that is translated as bodies in Romans 12:1means more than our physical bodies.  "Soma" is often in reference to the totality of who we are, as I believe is the meaning here.  In other words, the New Testament view of a sacrificial offering is offering every fiber of who we are to Jesus.   

 

Our English verb "to offer" is translated from a Greek aorist active infinitive verb.  An aorist verb is a one time action verb, something that is completed and not ongoing.  Paul is saying here that once and for all time, we must decide and actually do in real time, hand our lives over as a living sacrifice.  

 

We derive our English noun "liturgy" from the Greek noun "leitourgia", which simply means "a service" that one provides for another.  It's not a service in the sense of a Sunday service.  The verb form of leitourgia is "latreuo", which means "to serve".  It's translated in the NIV as "proper worship" here in Romans 12:1.  The meaning of latreuo tells us exactly what Biblical worship is, and again, it has little to do with any Sunday morning activity.  

 

Biblical worship is the sacrificial, moment by moment, continuous, act of serving Jesus with every fiber of who we are.  If this is how you attempt to worship, and if you're honest, you'll agree that such worship is a sacrifice.  It doesn't come natural to fallen humanity.   

 

How we serve Jesus in Sunday worship is a small part of worship.  How we serve Jesus from the moment we wake from sleep is the big part of worship.  Imagine how your expression of church life would change if this was everyone's understanding of worship. 

 

I don't have a Gibson Les Paul like my Washington D C former rocker had.  I've got a Fender Stratocaster.  If I can leave my ego in bed when I rise each morning, I can serve Jesus as I wail away on my electric guitar.  If I bring my ego along with me to a gathering of the saints, I don't serve Jesus when I wail away.  I serve my ego.  In fact I worship or idolize myself and not the Lord.  At this point worship becomes theatrical, and, theatrical worship isn't Biblical worship.  It's pure entertainment, and, there's nothing wrong with entertainment, but let's not call it worship. 

 

I now return to my commentary. The words "living sacrifice" to me also suggests that we are to be a living example of Jesus to the world.  Our example cannot be in word only, although we must speak the word.  Our lives must show that we do in fact represent Jesus on earth to the world.   Such an example is holy and pleasing to God as Paul says here.  So, if you want to please God, then being a living sacrifice is what you should be.  It's more than a matter of doing.  It's a matter of being.

 

In verse 2 Paul tells us not to be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  What does this mean?   Paul makes two points here.  He first says that we need to not follow after the ways of the world.  The word "world" is better translated as "age".  The old time Evangelicals used to call this "worldliness".  We are not to be worldly in our thinking or in our actions.  We donít want to leave it here as I think some Evangelicals have left it.  There is a part two to Paulís point here.  He says, "but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."  This is all about educating yourself in the ways of the Lord. 

 

The word "transformed" here is translated from the Greek word "metamorphoo" which means to "change into another form," like a caterpillar changes into a butterfly.  The same Greek word is used in Mark 9 when Jesus was transfigured before the disciples and spoke with Moses and Elijah.  Jesus most likely looked the same but in my thinking had some kind of spiritual body, as did Moses and Elijah.  Here Paul says that we will be transformed, changed into something different than what we are, even though we are still recognizable for who we are.                                     

 

The Greek verb translated as "be not conformed" is a present middle indicative verb.  The present tense suggests that this conforming is in present time.  Being a middle verb suggests that you are actually involved in the conforming.  It's like you are reaching into this age's secularism and grabbing what it offers and incorporating it into your thinking.  Being an indicative verb means that you are purposely attempting to have the world around you influence your thinking.  Paul says that this must not be.       

 

The Greek verb translated as " be transformed" is a present passive indicative verb.  This means that the transformation must be in present time.  It's not a past transformation or a future transformation.  It's an ongoing present endeavor.  The fact that this is a passive verb means that you are transforming yourself, obviously through the help of the Holy Spirit.  The fact that this is an indicative verb means that this transformation is a certainty.  In short, we are to make the effort and allow the Holy Spirit to continually and certainly transform our minds.     

 

How are we transformed?  Paul says we are transformed by the renewing of the mind.  The Greek word "anakainoo" is translated as "renewing" here.  This word simply means to "make new".  Paul is therefore saying that our minds need to be renewed, needs to be made new.  We need a mental make-over.  The way we think needs to come in line with Godís thinking.  Once again, with our hearts we believe and are saved, but with the renewing of the mind we are made into something new and different.  In this new framework we can know, test and approve of Godís will for our lives as Paul says.

 

If your lives are transformed by the renewing of our mind then all of the doctrinal issues that Paul taught in the first 11 chapters of Romans cannot be ignored, as they often are in the modern church.  How we live life is a product of how we think.  What we think is a product of what we put into our minds.  If we don't put Biblical doctrine into our minds, we will not have our lives renewed.  It's that simple.   

 

The NIV uses the word "approve" in verse 2 while the KJV uses the word "prove".  What is meant here is that once we are transformed, then we can test Godís will and then approve it.  It is not as if Godís will needs to pass by our desk for our stamp of approval.  It is more like, once we test Godís will, we will respond by saying, "yes! Thatís it.  Thatís right for me." We approve or affirm that we want Godís will in our lives.  Our lives will prove that doing God's will is the only way to live.

 

Paul goes on to say in verse 3 that by the grace given to him we should not think of ourselves more highly than you ought."  Paul was "given grace" to say such things, meaning, he had the God given ability to say these things.  We may or may not have such grace to say such things to others, but one thing we can do is to repeat what Paul says to others. 

 

Paul says that we need to think of ourselves soberly, meaning seriously, according to the "measure of faith God has given to us."  Now this is interesting.  All along Paul is telling us that Salvation is by faith, by trusting Jesus.  Now he is saying that this faith or trust is actually given to us by God.  Some may try to reword this, or reinterpret these words, but Paul is pretty clear.  God gives us this faith.  It is like this.  In our frailty we look up to Jesus, we cry or call out as we saw in chapter ten.  Jesus responds to us and gives us faith, or He gives us the ability to trust Him as we ought.  Without such help I believe it is impossible for man to have true faith or trust in Jesus.  We are that depraved.  Christians ask God for more faith, when in reality we should be asking Him to help us trust Him more.

 

Some people differentiate between saving faith from faith to live by.  They say that there is more than one aspect to faith.  They say that man has the ability to believe and therefore he can have faith to be saved., yet beyond this saving faith God can give us more faith, or add to that which we already have, to help us live as we should.  There may be a truth to this.  We can at least say that man has the ability to cry out to God in order for Him to give us faith. 

 

Others who believe strongly in man's depraved state believe man is so far lost that he does not have the ability to even believe, that is why God needs to give us the divine ability to believe.  There may be a truth to this as well.  So we have two camps.  One camp believes man can believe, the other believes he canít and therefore God needs to give him faith.  The has been a debate ever since the dispute between John Calvin and Martin Luther.

 

I do think we have some ability to trust.  Remember trust is faith.  We trust the bank with our money.  We trust in lots of situations of life.  Inherent within man is some ability to trust, but this trust as it concerns God, needs some supernatural help.  I do not believe we can trust God as we should without His help.    

 

One thing to note here is that the faith talked about is in relation to being members in the body of Christ as seen in verses 4 and 5.  This faith is the God given ability to do what He wants us to do in the Body of Christ.  What He calls us to do in His body He also gives us the ability to do it.  

 

I now insert an article that I've written that details further the phrase "according to the measure of faith God has given you."  

 

"Think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you" (Romans 12:3 NIV).  What does "according to the measure of faith God has given you" mean? 

 

Our English word "faith" is translated from the Greek word "pistis" in this verse and throughout the New Testament.  Pistis means trust; a trust that is based on one's assurance in the ability that something or someone claims to possess.  For example, when you sit in a chair, you trust the chair will not collapse.      

 

Holman's Bible Dictionary defines Biblical faith as "a trusting commitment of one person to another."  As it applies to Jesus, faith is a trusting commitment to Jesus.  It's the assurance that we can trust Him with our lives.  Faith is resting in His ability, not our ability.      

 

Paul said that God gives us faith.  In other words, He enables us to trust Jesus.  This tells me that we have no capacity to generate genuine faith on our own.  We are that depraved (Jeremiah 17:9).  We can't even approach Jesus without God's assistance (John 6:65).  For this reason God has to enable us to trust Jesus.    

 

Paul said that God gives us the ability to trust Jesus in measure, or in allotted proportions.  Not all of us have the same ability to trust Jesus.  In context, both when and how much God enables us to trust Jesus is determined by our placement and responsibilities in the Body of Christ.  Some responsibilities require more ability to trust in Jesus than others.  If this is a new thought for you, read the next few verses beyond Romans 12:3.      

 

You might wonder how God gives us the ability to trust Jesus more than we presently do.  The answer may be unsettling.  It's found in 1 Peter 1:6 to 10.  "Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith Ö may be proven genuine."  If you desire to trust Jesus more than you presently do, don't blame the devil for your troubles.  God allows trials to come your way to test your trust in Jesus.  In the midst of the struggle you're presented with the option to trust Jesus or to trust yourself.  If you choose Jesus, His Spirit will enable you to submit to God's will despite of the trial.  When it's all said and done, you'll trust Jesus more than ever.  Then, sooner or later, another test of trust will come your way and the process begins all over again.       

 

Faith is the ability to trust our lives to Jesus, something we do not have the capacity to do on our own.  God, therefore, enables us to trust Jesus in allotted measurements according to our God given responsibilities in the Body of Christ.  If you are serious about faith in Jesus, God will test your trust, and if you're willing, He'll enable you to pass the test.  You'll end up trusting Jesus more than you presen

 

So why is Paul encouraging us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought?  It is because, even though we are individual people, we as Christians are part of a group of people.  Paul compares this group of people to a physical body.  Our body consists of many parts.  All parts have their own roll to play in keeping the body healthy.  Paul says that God has given each of us grace and faith to be the kind of part we are called to be and to do our part in that Body of Christ.

 

Paul tells to think soberly in respect to being a part of the Body of Christ.  We should be clear minded, knowing both our position and our job in the Body of Christ.  All parts are important, but we cannot think of ourselves more important than another part.  Some may prophesy, some may teach, some may encourage.  The list can go on.  The important thing is that we all do our part.  We perform our tasks by the measure of faith and trust Jesus has given us.  If we do not perform our tasks in faith,  we in fact sin, as we will see Paul saying in Romans 14:23.  Humility  must be seen in us all, that that's not the way it always is in church. 

 

There is another Roman cultural mindset that isn't seen as much in our western world today.  Westerners are very individualistic.  We think of ourselves over the community.  Just the opposite was true in Paul's day, especially n Jewish circles.  The community was thought of more than the individual.  Thus, individuals saw themselves not as islands unto themselves but as part of the whole community.  This is seen in verse 5 when Paul says that each member of the Body of Christ belongs to the other members. 

 

How often do we as Christians think in terms of belonging to others in the community of Christ.  I think more often than not, we think in terms of belonging to a church organization rather than people.  What does belonging to others in the Body of Christ mean?  I think it can mean many things, not the least of which is that we receive input into our lives from those to whom Jesus has joined us.  We consult with these people to make sure we're making right decisions. We work with these people in harmonious relationship to build up the body.  We are in fact a family, where family members respect, listen to, care for, and all of the rest that go into a healthy family.   

 

In verse 6 Paul says that we have different gifts according to the grace that God has given us.  Once again, grace here means the God given ability to perform our tasks in the Body of Christ.  Grace in this instance does not mean unmerited favour.  That definition does not fit into the meaning of this statement.  It is also clear from what Paul says that not all have the same measure of grace, the same measure of God given ability.  We need to recognize this.  Many preachers try to make people in their congregation do more than what his people have grace to do.  It is like the parable of the sower spoken of by Jesus.  Some people who plant the seed get a harvest of 30 fold, some of 60 fold, and others of 100 fold.  The reason for the difference is that the God given ability to do His will varies from person to person, and also from one stage in a life to another stage in a life.  One problem in respect to this in our modern church is that far too often leaders place people into positions, or, people put themselves in a position that they do not have either the grace of calling to fulfill.  

 

We often say that God is no respecter of persons, and that is true in respect to salvation, but beyond that, in one sense of the word He is a respecter of persons.  We see that here.  He gives more grace to some and less grace to others, and that's based on the roll they play in the Body of Christ.  This is not a matter of being unfair on God's part.  It's a simple matter of giving whatever is necessary for an individual to perform God's will.        

 

In verses 7 and 8 Paul states the motivation for what we do in the Body of Christ.  We should view ourselves as servants.   I always say, the mark of a mature Christian is his ability to serve others.  We often think a mark of a good Christian is if he is famous, knows a lot, preaches well, and so on, but that's not true.  Serving shows maturity.  Serving is giving of one's self.  Just as Jesus gave Himself, so we should give ourselves, and, as I said earlier, "serving forms the basis of true Biblical worship".  Of course, true service is not service that is self-serving.  It's not service where we enjoy being in the limelight.    

 

The list of tasks Paul states in verses 7 and 8 are certainly not exhaustive.  If you read 1 Corinthians 12 you'll note that he adds more to this list, and even there, his list is not exhaustive.  There are surely ministries and callings in modern times that did not exist in the days of Paul.  Whatever your ministry is, according to Paul in this section of Romans, you must have sufficient God given ability to perform your ministry and you must perform your ministry in context of the Body of Christ, or, with those to whom Jesus has called you, because you belong to them as stated in verse 5.            

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