Present your bodies a living sacrifice…
Now that we see the command is only directed toward believers, that it is given on the basis of God’s gracious actions toward believers, and that obedience to the command is possible only by the mercies of God, we will examine the content of the command …present your bodies a living sacrifice… There are three questions I would like to answer: What does it mean to present; what are we commanded to present; and what is a living sacrifice to be?
What does Paul mean when he says that we are to present?
The word present is an interesting word translated a variety of ways in the New Testament. Thirteen times it is translated stand, nine times present (like it is here in Romans 12,) five times yield, two times show, and two times stand. Context determines the exact meaning, so it would be best to look at Paul’s use of present in light of the rest of the book of Romans. In Romans 6, Paul uses this word five times, translated yield. Notice Romans 6:13 …neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and (yield) your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. Romans 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey? Romans 6:19 …as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. In all five cases (and a sixth understood case) Paul uses the word in the sense of yielding control of your body to God’s control rather than to sin’s control. Paul has already linked this command to the preceding chapters, so these uses of the word are valuable to our understanding of the command. The word present also can have the idea of to place beside. This meaning of the word gives us the picture of placing our bodies before the Lord that He might use it as He sees fit. To present in this context is to yield full control to God for His use rather than our own.
What are we commanded to present?
The next phrase, “your bodies,” tells us exactly what we are to yield fully to the control of God. In Romans 6, Paul says that the body is the member or instrument that is used either for righteousness or unrighteousness. The use of the body is directly tied to Whom or what we willfully yield ourselves. The unbeliever is a slave to the sin nature/principle, and does not have the indwelling Holy Spirit or the new nature. He is spiritually dead, a slave to sin, and under its authority and condemnation. As believers we are no longer in this hopeless position. We are given a new nature and positionally free from the authority and condemnation of our indwelling sin nature. While free from sin’s authority, we can still willfully yield control to this sin nature/principle that resides within us till we are glorified. In light of this reality and these doctrinal truths, Paul emphasizes that just as you have in the past yielded your bodies to sin, (first as a slave by nature, and now as a slave by choice,) yield yourselves fully to God. Give your body unreservedly to His use and for His glory. With the same passion that we once gave to sin, we should be passionately devoted to God. This is an urgent command, and the tense of the infinitive stresses this urgency. Our body is either the instrument of righteousness or unrighteousness. It is also important to recognize that the body does not act independently of the will or the mind, so Paul is emphasizing that the entirety of the man is to be fully devoted to God. Our thinking which influences our emotions, our desires, and our wills is revealed in the activities of our bodies. All are to be yielded to God’s control. To Whom or what will we yield ourselves today?
What is a living sacrifice?
In the Old Testament, Israel was given clear instruction on how an individual could approach God. The various feasts and sacrifices emphasized different aspects of devotion and worship to God. This sacrificial system was in its entirety abolished in the death and resurrection of Christ. The sacrificial system involved several elements that are reflected in this command. First, the sacrifice would actually cost something of the worshipper. Secondly, the sacrifice was expectable to God only when brought in genuine worship out of pure motive. Thirdly, the sacrifice was set apart as holy to God. The stark contrast between the two was that Old Testament sacrifice involved the death of a sacrifice, while this sacrifice is to be a living sacrifice.
First, this presentation of the believer’s body fully to the will and wishes of God is no meager commitment. It will involve a serious degree of sacrifice from a human perspective. Luke 9:23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Luke 14:26, 33 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple…So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. These two passages emphasize the degree of personal sacrifice that may be involved in following Christ fully. The sacrifice of personal ambition, worldly friends, family closeness, personal ease, and popularity are all just a few of the possible sacrifices that may be involved in this presentation of oneself to God. Like the sacrifices of the Old Testament, this sacrifice may involve physical loss as an expression of worshipful obedience to God.
Secondly, the acceptability of this sacrifice to God was dependent upon the motivation of the worshipper. Many in the Old Testament viewed the sacrificial system as nothing more than a cultural obligation. It was not brought before God as an expression of religious devotion in obedience to God’s law, but out of duty or familial obligation. The same is possible today. What makes the sacrifice acceptable to God is not the action, but the proper action motivated from a heart of worship to God. Far too many Christians attempt to live lives of consecration out of duty, fear, or desire to measure up, but the proper motivation for this sacrifice to God ought to be the worship that flows from understanding the overflowing mercies of God that are expressed in Romans 1-11. Acceptability comes from a pure motivation.
Thirdly, like the sacrifices of the Old Testament, this sacrifice is to be set apart as holy to God. When an Old Testament saint brought a sacrifice to God it was totally consecrated to Him. It was special for God’s uses. In Romans 6, Paul emphasizes that the believer is to live a life that is wholly consecrated to God because of his new position in Christ, and obedience to this command is simply the natural expression of recognizing this position.
Lastly, we see that the contrast between the sacrifices of the Old Testament and the presentation of oneself to God. The Old Testament sacrifice was dead and in many cases totally consumed. This sacrifice is different. In Romans 6 Paul emphasizes that positionally we were buried with Christ, and as Christ rose from the dead, we were raised to walk in newness of life. We die to self in order that we might live unto God. Galatians 2:19-20 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. This passage so beautifully illustrates the point of a living sacrifice. Paul says that by means of the laws work in his heart, he was brought to the point of conversion. This event in his life identified him with the death burial and resurrection of Christ and freed him from the condemnation of the law. Not only did this event free him from the condemnation of the law, but it also freed him to serve Christ. This is exactly what he is teaching in Romans 12. We are to be a living sacrifice freed to walk in newness of life and free to live in complete consecration to God.