*Scripture verses covered in this section's commentary are noted in italics

Romans 12:1 meaning

Paul is giving believers a picture of how pursuing God’s righteousness through faith should look. Righteousness means harmonious living or right living; the first ingredient for this harmony is sacrificial living.

In chapters 1-11, Paul is telling his audience of Roman believers how God’s righteousness is attained. He explains that it is not through the Law, as some competing Jewish “authorities” were arguing, but that it is through faith. Now, Paul is telling his audience what a life of righteousness through faith looks like; this is noted by Paul’s use of “Therefore,” saying that, because of what he had already made clear in Chapters 1-11 (that righteousness is attained by faith) here’s how believers ought to live. He begins with a strong call, urg[ing] you, brethren, by the mercies of God to live righteously.

First, Paul talks about sacrifice. We believers are meant to present [our] bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, to live sacrificially, doing what God asks of us, which is a way of giving worship, praise, and honor to God. Paul calls this sacrifice a spiritual service of worship. The word translated “spiritual” is the Greek word “logikos,” which can also be translated “logical.” It seems the idea is that—in light of what Paul has demonstrated about a life of righteousness—the only logical conclusion is for us to live life as a living sacrifice.

Why does this make sense, to live as a sacrifice? Without the preceding eleven chapters it would be very difficult to understand the notion that it is “logical” to empty ourselves for the benefit of others. But reflecting on chapters 1-11, life under the law is a life in slavery to sin. And although believers are justified in the presence of God solely on the basis of faith in Jesus, irrespective of our behavior, if we do not live a sacrificial life that follows Jesus’ example, we slide back into sin.

This means that we then suffer the consequences we have been delivered or saved from by Jesus’ resurrection power. Like someone being set free from prison, but choosing to remain in their cell. Instead of living in freedom, serving the purpose for which Jesus created us, we instead revert to slavery to sin. Slavery to sin leads to earthly condemnation; we suffer the effects of sin and death (or disconnection) as a consequence of refusing to live a spiritual life of sacrifice to Jesus. That is why living sacrificially is so “logical”, because it is living freely in Jesus, and it avoids slavery to sin.

When we present our bodies as a living and holy (set apart) sacrifice, for God to use, we are living a life of service to God, which is what we were created to do. So again, it is logical for creations to do what they were created to do. The word “worship” (latreian, λατρείαν) is found in the original text, and is certainly fitting so long as the reader understands “worship” the way the scripture uses it, rather than in the very limited way it tends to be used among church goers, to refer only to scheduled church services. For a Jew, like Paul, worship would include sacrifice.

Here we are pictured as being on the altar, sacrificed to God. That means our whole person is devoted to God. This is not just a church service attendance level of commitment. In Scripture, the word worship is very broad, and applies to any aspect of living where we are acknowledging God. One example is from Matthew 8:1-2:

“When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’”

In this verse, the leper worships simply by acknowledging Jesus’s power. By living a sacrificial life where Jesus’ power flows out of us in service to the commands of Jesus, we are indeed worshipping with our lives each moment of each day.

Biblical Text

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

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