2. Living Sacrifices
In his great letter to the Christians in
For the first eleven chapters of his letter, he tries to explain why this is the case. Jew and Gentile are both sinners, both stand condemned because of their sin, and both need saving. The only way out of the mess is by faith. The commandments in the Old Testament won’t help us because we are incapable of keeping them. Fortunately, God doesn’t expect us to any more. He sets us free from any obligation to keep them when we have faith in Christ.
This means that Paul has to explain why God gave the commandments in the first place if we are unable to keep them. Has God changed his mind? And if all are in the same position with regard to their need and how that need is met, does this mean that there was no advantage being a Jew? And what about
‘For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.’ God’s plan is to show mercy to all, Jew and Gentile on the same basis: faith.
In chapter 12, he appeals to the Roman Christians to respond to this mercy. Having explained in general terms what his commitment to faith means, he draws out now the implications of this for those who have faith and for the Roman Christians in particular. He begins:
‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.’
In the same way that the a priest in the Temple would offer a dead animal in sacrifice to God so they should offer their bodies – by this he means their very selves – as living sacrifices to God. This offering is not the basis for securing the mercy of God, but their response to the mercy of God that they have already experienced in Christ.
Paul’s themes have been big ones and have focused on what has been God’s plan for those who were his people in the past, the Jews, and those who are now his people, that is: all those who have faith, Jew and Gentile alike. Here he shows how this plays out in the daily lives of those who have faith. He gives examples of how they should live and what they should do. In doing so, he gives a definition of worship. Worship, he says, is not about going to the temple and offering sacrifices. It is not even about singing hymns and saying prayers. It is not about special services at all. It is about our daily service of God in every aspect and dimension of our lives.
All of us who have faith in Christ may experience the mercy of God regardless of who we are or where we come from. All of us. Paul invites us as he did the Roman Christians to respond to the mercy of God in Christ by giving ourselves totally to the service of God. This clearly has consequences for the big decisions we need to make in our lives about career, family, children, and planning for the future. It also has consequences for how we live our lives each day in our jobs, at home, at school or in the office. Everything we do should be an act of worship, something we can offer in thankfulness to God. Or as Paul puts it in another letter:
‘Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.’