January 14 – Romans 12:1-2


Main Focus: The only appropriate response to God and his work in redemption is a life lived in worship.

Picking up from last week, this passage will help us begin to unpack the all-encompassing response that God’s all-surpassing worth deserves, what Paul terms here “a living sacrifice.” As we discussed in the theme post (linked below), this life lived in worship is not somehow separate from seeing God’s greatness but intertwined with it—when the confession of God’s surpassing worth is held within a person, a life lived in total response to him is merely the outcome of that confession.

As a reminder, our year-long theme is A Lived Amen, and all 2024 we’ll hold up Romans 11:36-12:1 as a banner leading the way. In this passage we clearly see the Triune God’s all-surpassing greatness and the mercy we’ve received in Christ (12:1), by which, as we saw last week, we are moved to worship: “To him be glory forever. Amen.”

But we should ask, what comes after that “amen”? What should we do with this flow of worship from our hearts? Paul plants a giant “therefore” right between this doxology and the verses that follow (actually, all of chapters 12-15) because the two are linked; in light of this, we must do that. And what is it that we must do? “Present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice”—in short, we give God everything. God is the all-in-all, therefore we give him all; God is the Everything, from whom we have received everything, therefore we give him everything.

We’ll spend most of our discussion time focusing on that phrase, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice,” which is loaded with meaning. For example, note how Paul phrases this by talking about presenting our “bodies.” By this he means the whole of our lives, our very selves, but with a particular emphasis on the physical, visceral, even mundane aspects of our embodied existence. As we say in our DNA language (which we go through in the Membership process), Jesus is worthy of our entire lives.

And there’s another important word choice in that little phrase; Paul’s use of the word “sacrifice” tips us off to his meaning in the death and resurrection of Jesus, which he connected to our faith-filled response back in Romans 6: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…[so] present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life” (6:5; 6:12). This life we live is informed by Jesus; he was the sacrifice that died so that we might be the sacrifice that lives. Furthermore, in 12:1, he appeals to the mercy of God (which we’ll focus on in discussion) because all of our response is rooted in Jesus’s death in our place—it’s the thing for which we worship God out of thankfulness, the thing that resurrects our heart to worship him, and the thing that makes our “spiritual worship” acceptable to him.

Quick aside: various translations render the last phrase of verse 1 “spiritual worship,” “true and proper worship,” or “spiritual service of worship.” The translations differ because it’s a tricky phrase to get right succinctly. The Greek word there for “spiritual,” logiken, also has connections to reason or rationality (you’ll see it looks like its cousin, “logic”). The word there for “worship,” latreian, also has connotations of service. That’s not to say that our translations get it wrong here, but merely that Paul chose rich Greek words to communicate the depth of what he’s talking about, which is a full-bodied, conscious commitment of voluntary service to God.

Now, back to this phrase, “a living sacrifice.” We’ll ask in discussion how this makes us feel, and it might be overwhelming or scary, make you feel like you’re failing, or make you suspect that the church is just trying to get you to serve or give more. But we have to return to our passage last week, 11:33-36—this is all about God, about his worth and our response to him. And, just as Paul mentions God’s mercy in this passage, we can remember how utterly needy we are before God. Any response that we discuss is one that we need God to help us fulfill. And, as much as that response is worked out within the local church, that’s a means to an end rather than the end itself. What we’re interested in doing is being formed together as disciples of Jesus.

Lastly, verse 2 connects “renewal of your mind” to discerning “the will of God,” which might seem like a tangent from the topic of worship-living, but one biblical scholar has a great summary that helps connect it all together: “Paul skillfully begins his more detailed ethical instructions by appeal to ‘the mercy of God’ (12:1). To live on this basis is to allow one’s values and norms to be recalibrated—a ‘transformation of the mind’ that will newly determine what is ‘good and acceptable and perfect’…in distinction from ‘this world’ (12:2).” (John Barclay, Paul and the Power of Grace).

Discussion questions

– Could someone read Romans 12:1-2 for us?

– What stood out to you from the passage?

– How do you think this connects back to Romans 11:33-36?

– Why do you think Paul mentions the “mercies of God” here?

– When you think about being a “living sacrifice,” how does that make you feel?

– How does this make you aware of your need for God’s help in living this way?

– As you think about the year ahead, what are some ways you hope to grow in worshiping God with your whole life?