Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1 (NIV)
To Paul’s readers, the term “living sacrifice” would have seemed an oxymoron. Animal sacrifice was a common part of religion at the time. This was not only true of Judaism, but most all of the Roman cults and religions practiced some sort of animal sacrifice. So whether the followers of Jesus in Rome who were reading Paul’s words had come from Jewish or Gentile backgrounds, they would have scratched their heads.
“Living sacrifice?” I can hear one say. “But, doesn’t the very notion of ‘sacrifice’ mean that something dies?”
“Quite right,” I imagine Paul replying if he were there in person. “You do.”
“Excuse me?” the Roman believer asks quizzically.
“You are the sacrifice,” Paul says, looking the believer in the eye and offering a warm smile. “In fact dying to yourself is really the heart of your worship. Not the occasional sacrifice of an animal like all these other religions you see around us. Anyone can do that and it costs very little in the long run. Cheap and easy, really. Our Lord Jesus was quite direct in telling us that in order to be His follower we have to take up our own cross. We would have to sacrifice ourselves for others, for Him. Just as He did for us. That’s at the very heart of true worship, and being a true follower.”
“But how does that work, exactly?” the believer asks. “How exactly do I go about making myself a ‘living sacrifice?‘”
“Ah,” Paul says, a twinkle in his eye. “I’m glad you asked.”
The entirety of today’s chapter answers that question. What does it mean to truly worship by offering myself as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God?” Ironically, going to church, singing, throwing a buck in the plate, and all the things we normally associate with “worship” are not even mentioned.
Here’s a bulleted and paraphrased list of what Paul goes on to mention in the rest of today’s chapter:
- Don’t follow the “It’s all about me” behavior and thought patterns of this world.
- Transform your thinking; Renew your mind with Jesus’ teaching.
- Don’t think too much of yourself; Maintain an on-going sober self-assessment.
- Use your gifts and abilities to serve others.
- Hate evil.
- Cling to what is good.
- Devote yourself to loving others.
- Attach such worth to others that you naturally serve them first.
- Be zealous in serving others, and keep feeding the zeal.
- Be joyful in hope for all God can and will do.
- Be patient when you’re afflicted, there’s a point to the pain.
- Faithfully maintain an on-going conversation with God.
- Share what you have with anyone in need.
- Practice hospitality. Seriously, practice. You need to get better at it.
- Bless those who persecute you. Do something nice for them and if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
- If you know someone who got a win, sincerely celebrate with them (don’t envy their success or good fortune).
- If you know someone who is grieving, be present in their pain.
- Live in harmony with others; You might not be on the same note, but you can at least blend your differences so as not to be dissonant to everyone around you.
- Don’t be proud; Every day you encounter people in lower, more humble circumstances than you. Be willing to meet them at their level, even if it means stooping below your comfortable social status.
- Don’t be conceited. Consider the reality that you just might not that important in the grand scheme of things. Embrace it.
- Evil that is done to you does not justify revenge. Let it go.
- Do the right thing for everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
- You can’t control others, but you can control yourself, so practice that self-control to live peacefully with everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
- Let me repeat, give up your right to revenge. Vengeance is like drinking poison and expecting it hurt someone else.
- If your enemy is hungry, give her some food.
- If your enemy is thirsty, give him some water.
- Responding to evil with your own evil tactics only escalates the situation and then everybody loses. Respond with goodness. You’ll sleep better.
“In order to practice this list on a daily basis,” Paul says to his friend, “it will require some sacrifices on your part: your ego, your time, your pride, your resources, your wants, your comfort, and even your rights. That is how we worship God by being a living sacrifice.”