Chapter 12 of the book of Romans starts a new major section of the book.
In chapters 1–8, Apostle Paul explains the gospel from several aspects, specifically condemnation, justification, sanctification, and glorification. In chapters 9–11, the author puts the gospel in the context of human history, particularly that of Jewish history, in order to demonstrate the glorious purpose that God has in gospel for the believers to receive a new life.
Now, starting from chapter 12, the book of Romans expounds what that new life really is, how it is like, and what it ought to be. The new life is in conformity with the exalted position in which the previous chapters place the believer who has received the new life through faith. The new life is a glorious mystery. It is only with the God-given ability that the believer can live such a life.
“Therefore, I beseech 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. Do not confirm any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12.1-2.
It is no surprise that many who read the above calling to holiness are immediately concerned or even turned off. Not only do those who have not received the new life naturally feel this way, but also, sadly, many who are saved and born again could also harbor this feeling. It is man’s sinful and selfish nature to be always in a covered haggling (bargaining) mode with God. We therefore murmur to ourselves at this point, “Isn’t the book of Romans talking about gospel, which is the free gift from God? Why is it then all of a sudden talking about requiring me to make sacrifices?”
But God is not bargaining with us here, as if He wanted something in return of the gospel after all. God just wanted to make sure that the gift, which is the new life, He gives to the believer is actually received and is lived out properly.
Receiving the new life is not a theoretical notion, nor a mere religious metaphor. The new life is not a mere symbol. The one who is born again has been actually born again and received a real new life. And that life, being real, will actually grow and manifest its new nature. Just as the old life can’t help but manifesting its corrupted nature, so will the new life manifest the new holy nature.
Notice that chapter 12 of the book of Romans starts with the word “therefore“, instead of the word “however“. That is, the word of God says “Therefore, I beseech you,” not “however, I beseech you.” In other words, the contents in Chapter 12 are not a condition added unto salvation, which is new life as a free gift of God, but rather an inherent conclusion or result of having received the new life. The reality of this new life is exclusively manifested by conforming to a holy and spiritual exultation.
It is very significant that Chapter 12 of Romans used the word “sacrifice” and required that the believer present himself as a “living sacrifice”. This phrase captures the true meaning of the new life, even the eternal life, while living on earth.
The word “sacrifice” as used in the Bible has a meaning quite different from what people usually mean by saying “making a sacrifice”. A sacrifice as understood in the context of the Old Testament is the living animal that has to be killed and placed on an altar.
However, once killed, a sacrifice is necessarily dead and cannot be a “living sacrifice” as required by Chapter 12 of Romans here.
The sacrifice of the Old Testament is only a “type” of the spiritual reality hidden in Jesus Christ. The real sacrifice that washes away the sin of the world and brings the peace between God and man was offered by Jesus Christ on the Cross. Jesus and Jesus alone died on the Cross, yet He was alive again, even alive forever.
In this sense, Jesus is the only true “Living Sacrifice.” Only a believer who has received the life of Jesus can therefore be a small example of this living sacrifice. It isn’t that God is in need of something that He requires us to make a sacrifice and offer it to Him. It is because God, in His mercy and love, wants us to not only have received the life of Jesus in spirit, but also confirm into this glorious life in experience. It is for this reason that Paul beseeched (begged) the believers “by God’s mercy” to become a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
Chapter 12 further details many practical aspects of the life of the believer. Your reaction when you read this chapter and the chapters after may depend on your relationship with God. The truth is, it is really impossible for someone who has not received the new life of the Lord Jesus Christ to have a correct understanding of what the Word of God commands believers to do here (and other places in the Bible). But that does not mean it is useless to read these words when one is still a nonbeliever. By the mercy of God, you might somehow get a glimpse of a little ray of the glory of this new life and decide that it is better than your present life. From there, God will open the heaven to you.
I therefore plead that you not quickly reach a conclusion that these chapters are just another moral teaching to make you a “better person.” The Spirit of God does not speak to anyone who is merely seeking or contemplating morality, much less to someone who is seeking self-interest only, for the Spirit knows that the deeds and efforts of man are full of death, even the best of them. The eternal life is the life of the Son of God. If you have rejected the Son of God, you have rejected life. May that never be.
But to one who has received Christ, chapter 12 of Romans gives extremely important principles of the new life.
The Christian life is a walk characterized by devotedness and obedience. It is a life subjected to the will of God, and therefore stamped with humility and dependence on God.
Why does God demand such devotedness of heart in self-sacrifice?
On the negative side, only when we are devoted to God and depending on God can we escape the danger of being controlled by our flesh which only leads to death. The danger flows from the power that acts in it, and this power is the power of sin. Our flesh always looks for an opportunity to come in and avail itself to this power.
But devotion to God is far more than just a protection to us. It serves a positive purpose. It is the right way for us to fulfill a positive purpose in service to God and to others. With regard to this, every one should have a spirit of wisdom and moderation, and should act within the limits of the gift which God had dispensed to him, occupying himself with it according to the will of God.
Here, diligence and humility are a great combination of godly characters. Diligence is to bring my best to God, while humility is to never regard myself higher than what I really am. Lacking either, I am not walking properly.
Chapter 12 also introduces the idea of the Christian assembly as a body, and the assembly is in connection with the duties of the members individually.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…” Romans 12.6.
“Let us use them,” use them in prophecy, in ministry, in teaching, in exhorting, in giving, in leading, in showing mercy, in loving, and in showing affection. The apostle’s instructions are full of the goodness in Christ, and the richness in life.
And finally, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” There is a danger that a Christian can be overcome by evil. We should be under no illusion to think that once we are born again, we are free of sin and evil. Although our sins are forgiven, now and forever, we are temporarily living with our sinful nature in a sinful world. But unlike the world itself, there is a special “good” in the Christian that can overcome evil. And what “good” is in us except for the new life that we received from Him?
Note here that the Word of God does not say “do not let good be overcome by evil,” but instead “do not be overcome by evil,” for the genuine good which is from Christ cannot be overcome by evil. Only we ourselves, when we retreat to our old life, may be overcome by evil. But thank God, we are in possession of the good that can overcome evil. The Word of God therefore is a promise as well as a command at the same time.
Seeing such victorious perspective, how can we still complain about being a living sacrifice to God?