Romans 12:1-2: A Living Sacrifice

After explaining how God saves, Paul now waxes lyrical.  With the depths of God as his topic, he embarks on an exclamation of praise.  First, he seizes a word connected to the sea’s immeasurable depths so we can fathom, in some way, God’s vast riches. 

From earlier in Romans, we realize these riches are all about God’s goodness as He bestows His blessings upon undeserving sinners.  So, too, with God’s wisdom, expressed to us through His plan of redemption.  The way God accomplishes this is above our scrutiny, and Paul’s, since we can’t rise to the reasonings for His rulings. 

So, Paul dips into the deep well of the psalms.  From Psalm 36, “Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your judgments, like a boundless abyss.  Both men and creatures you will save” (vs. 6).  Like an intelligence beyond our measure, so are God’s determinations—too profound to perceive.  Though, this psalm does say they lead to our rescue and release, for “you [God] will save.”  “Unfathomable,” though these judgments are, through such, God provides us with everlasting life.

Not done, we discover God’s actions to be inscrutable.  Let’s use “untraceable.”  The imagery evokes tracking another on unknown terrain.  At first, we pick up a wisp of the Almighty’s power and presence.  Nevertheless, despite our efforts to trail behind Him, our minds can’t catch up, let alone keep pace with His traces as He moves in mystery.

“For who can know the Lord’s mind?”  No one because His “knowledge” is so deep.  “Can another be His advisor?”  Ponder this from Isaiah’s pen, “Does the Lord seek counsel and who can show Him the path of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:14, LXX).  The proper reply is no one. 

So, how do the prophet and Apostle react?  Both praise God since His ways surpass our every ability.  Now, we can’t reshape what He does, which preserves our salvation.  So, God’s impenetrability isn’t something to dislike or despise, but to delight in, instead. 

“Can anyone give Him a gift to repay Him?”  Long ago, a brooding Job heard the same, “Who can give to me [God] so I should pay him?” (Job 41:11).  To read Job is to find God asking him over 60 questions.  So many about God operating in His authority or the wisdom of His workings.  The failure of our mortal limits becomes inescapable.  No one can pay God back because we aren’t His counselors or creditors. 

In His wisdom, God acts, with no one giving Him something to place Him under a debt.  So wealthy is He in saving grace.  For from, through, and to Him are all things.  The string of these phrases clarifies the source, agent, and goal of everything—God! 

Oh, God is without equal in extravagance, riches.  Further, He is foremost in effectiveness (wisdom) and incomparable in comprehension (knowledge).  No wonder no human can comprehend Him.  Still, this is much more than God’s ways being higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).  Contemplate the intersection between God’s wrath and compassion, faithfulness and truthfulness, impartiality and justice, and sternness and kindness.  Though untraceable to us, God unveils the mystery of His Gospel through all those things, making us co-heirs with Christ.

Divine mercy is from God, through Him, and He is our destination.  Now, our every lament will, one day, become joy.  The grand display of heavenly mercy unfolds in His cosmic drama of salvation.  Since God is the One who restores us, “What’s next?”

Intimate is the link between the Gospel and life.  The preceding chapters of Romans now unite in a “therefore,” linking what follows next.  “By the mercies of God, I exhort you,” meaning “based on” God’s merciful activity through Christ.  So, mercy is why God is gracious and chooses whom He saves (9:15-16, 18; 11:31-32).  Such compassion persists, not only as something in the past but still exerts its power into the present.

For what, why?  So, we “present our bodies,” the Apostle appeals.  By “body,” he means our physical bodies with all their functions (6:6, 12; 8:10-11, 23).  With its five senses, an enfleshed body engages a world of individuals and events.  Such a flesh-formed life embodies the existence of the individual, in its interaction with its surroundings. 

In this world, we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.  A sacrifice is something somebody provides on behalf of another.  So, a living sacrifice is someone giving of himself for the well-being of others.  Like Christ, we live an embodied life, for us, incarnational from start to finish.  Isn’t the life we receive physical?  Yes, which helps us understand why Jesus became incarnate, instituted baptism with water, and His Supper is with bread and wine. 

Unlike Christ, however, who died for us, we now live.  Those baptized into Christ died His death.  So, dying now is counterproductive.  Did Jesus not die to spare us?  Yes, and so we are living sacrifices, not self-made martyrs. 

Also notice the grammar, which says to offer our bodies (plural) as a (singular) sacrifice.  So, being a sacrifice is a collective activity.  No lone rangers here, for we are not to privatize our service, like coal taken from a hearth.  No, the Truth, Christ Himself, shapes what we believe, which governs what we do as His Church and congregation. 

The life we lead is sacred, something which God speaks into being.  Only after the heaven-sent Spirit delivers what Christ “gives,” can someone become holy (5:5).  The same Spirit sanctifies and empowers you for righteousness, joy, hope, and peace (14:17, 15:13, 16).  In this way, you become pleasing to God. 

All this is the language of fulfillment since Christ became THE sacrifice.  To live in Him is to serve others, living not dying, which constitutes our “spiritual worship.”  Though, Paul doesn’t use “spiritual,” the common word for wind, breath, or spirit.  No, he uses one linked to logos, “word,” like Jesus is the Word.

Now, this sacrifice talk makes more sense, since Jesus perished on the cross, not the Holy Spirit.  The next verse will help clarify this.  Though, for now, the scripture here can mean “rational,” “reasonable,” “logical,” our “thoughtful.”  So, this worship does involve our mind with its cognitive dimension. 

Worship?  How does this include serving others?  To understand this, we take to task a morsel of Greek, which employs two separate terms for worship.  The first is proskenuo, falling prostrate, bowing before a holy God.  The second is generic and broad in meaning, latreuo

Here’s how these fit.  In our corporate worship, we bow down in God’s presence (or should!).  Here, God works, present for us in Word and Sacrament.  After, we give from the life we received.  The movement is from the specific, proskeneuo, a physical posture receiving from Christ, toward the general, latreuo, giving to others. 

Worded by Jesus, in the Spirit He sent, our life, thinking, and movement all emerge from a different reality, not “this world.”  From Christ’s teachings, and in our unity with Him, our endeavors become something other: An external form of service as both physical and mental beings. 

Still, this will only occur if this corrupted reality doesn’t keep and constrain you in its image.  The text now states, “Do not conform yourselves” (active) or “do not be conformed” (passive).  So, why is Paul ambiguous?  Though you can’t do this on your own, not following the ways of this fallen world does require your cooperation.  Otherwise, your default will be whatever the culture shapes you to be.  Remember, Paul is talking to Christians here. 

“Not conformed” is present tense, meaning “Stop conforming yourselves.”  So, this is an ongoing process.  Each day, as Luther wrote, “the Old Adam in us, with all its evil deeds and desires, is to be drowned and die by daily sorrow and repentance.” 

Now, the transition, contrasting what you help do against what God does.  Now, Paul pulls out the passive voice—“be transformed.”  A metamorphosis from outside must first come before you begin to reason in the right way, with a moral consciousness.  How does God transform you?  By renewing your mind, also present tense: “Continue being transformed.”  Every morning, “a new man is to emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever”; again, the Small Catechism.

Now the “wordplay” with logos comes into play.  A renewed mind can only be so by receiving the Word, Jesus.  First, He cleanses and unites to you in baptism.  Now you can be a living, thriving sacrifice.  Next, He nourishes you with Himself at His Table, to sustain you as you live. 

Though God also includes another aspect of your being—your mind and intellect.  Now, the sermon becomes significant but also Sunday School.  How else will you learn what Jesus intends for you to know?  Should you not learn from the one God gives to teach you?  So, for God to do this work within you, you need to be where He delivers the goods, His words, His doctrines.  Otherwise, what Paul says may not happen.

To distinguish the Father’s will, you must be re-formed in Christ’s image (Romans 8:29).  Only with a different mind, including your intellectual awareness, attitude, and mindset, can you perceive God’s desires, as Jesus did. 

The word Paul employs for “discern” means to uncover the quality of something.  In this case, what our Father above regards as proper, pleasing, and perfect.  The more the mind of Jesus inhabits your thoughts, the better you can serve as His people.  Inside your mind, thoughts forge their shape, which embody in life by what you do.  Like salvation is for our entire being—flesh, form, soul, and spirit—so do we live our lives in Christ.  Amen.