For those who fear the Lord what’s not to love about Elijah’s showdown with the 450 prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18? We read prophetic smack-talk at its finest, and we just know what’s going to happen when Elijah called all the people near to him and repaired “the altar of the LORD” in front of them. He used twelve stones to represent each tribe of Israel, then he dug a trench and put the wood in order and cut up a bull in pieces and placed it on the wood. Then he had twelve jars of water poured over the alter. And when he prayed, the “fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38). And, beloved, may the Lord make us even more pleasing and potent offerings.
All the world is an altar and we are living sacrifices. Because of the mercies of God our lives are to be consumed for God, not necessarily through shed blood but with every breath. Our brains and bodies, our priorities and our practices, are from Him and through Him and to Him. We have been justified by faith and now we are being consecrated, set apart, in full for God. We are concerned, we are *consumed* with God’s mercies.
Romans 12:1-2 is a great passage, a great flag planted for us to rally toward, a great transition in the epistle. There have been applications sprinkled in the first eleven chapters, but the exhortations about the behavior of believers comes like a stampede of buffalo through the rest of the letter. These first two verses provide a general call to applied mercies, with more specifics to come.
Roman 12:1-2 is easier to quote than to carry out. For most Christians, they have a greater sin being conformed to the world than misunderstanding *sola fide* or God’s plan for Israel.
# Full Devotion (verse 1)
Paul’s original readers, Jew or Gentile, would have had much more familiarity with watching offerings, and because of that would have been much more startled by a few parts of this appeal.
> I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV)
Much hinges on **Therefore**. The doxology in the previous paragraph probably doesn’t go back far enough, and though the doxology seems especially to sum up praise for chapters 9-11, this doctrine/application conjunction-hinge is heavy-duty strength, with good reason to look to the beginning the letter. All the justification by faith, the peace with God, our freedom from sin, certainty of glorification, and the power of God in the gospel are part of the **mercies of God**. Paul connected sound doctrine with character and good works (see Titus 2:1-10), and also he often built behavior on the foundation of union with Christ, an even greater mercy than forgiveness by itself. The beginning of chapter 12 commences a concentration on conduct, on “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5).
Paul makes an **appeal**, he urges, he exhorts them to a kind of life. Again, the motivation should be **by the mercies of God**. How much behavior is motivated by *threats*—in civil, household, and religious spheres? And God Himself reveals the dangers and disasters and destruction awaiting the disobedient. But what a surprise it would be that *mercies motivate*. “His mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22); He is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). That means that mercies do not lower the standard, they make the standard not just doable, but desirable, even a delight.
It may have also surprised some to think that their **bodies** would be the offering, or even more basic, that they themselves would be be the offering. They knew sacrifices, they’d seen animals killed and blood spilled and fire burning; a man presented a symbol of himself or a substitute of himself. But here this is the **brothers**, every believer, not trying to get out of the body (or downplaying it like dualists), but spending it.
And certainly the idea of a **living sacrifice** would be most uncomfortable. The imagery is of the burnt offering, in which the entire animal was cut up and laid on the altar and fully consumed by the fire as a picture of complete consecration. There wasn’t any part of the animal kept back or left over; the whole thing was presented. This is full devotion. And of course, all this meant the sacrifice was *killed*. But the sacrifice in verse 1 isn’t destroyed, it is ongoing, living, breathing dedication. It’s “always dying” but not quite dead yet (see 2 Corinthians 4:11-12).
Such a sacrifice is also **holy and acceptable to God**. To offer blemished animals was sacrilege. For Christians, we’re not just giving ourselves to God rather than to sin, though that’s true. Not sinning ought to be the start.
All this Paul calls our **spiritual worship**. The two Greek words (λογικὴν λατρείαν) could be translated as “logical/rational service,” or a mix and match of meanings. There is a cognitive aspect in *logiken*, which also anticipates our minds being renewed in the next verse. The emphasis of “spiritual” is that it’s not our bodies literally burned up but metaphorically so. The word also emphasizes that God’s mercies, carefully thought through, make it obvious that we are not our own. It’s “reasonable” (Tyndale/KJV), mental, neither mystical or mechanical.
**Worship** or “service” is often used in a liturgical context, but there is nothing in verse 1 that limits the living sacrifices to Sundays, or to the assembly assembled. All the world is the altar, as verse 2 makes even more obvious.
The altars, so to speak, on which the Lord calls us to be living sacrifices, are probably not going to be clean, probably not convenient, or quiet. Don’t expect the scene to be pretty; or yourself to be looking good. It’s not just getting up early for devotions, but devotions prepare *you* as the devotions.
# Ongoing Difference (verse 2)
There are two imperatives here, a prohibition and a positive command.
> Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)
**Do not be conformed** is from *suschematizesthe*, don’t be “with-schema-ed,” don’t follow that form; “fashion not yourselves like unto this world” (Tyndale). Here is antithesis to the world’s thesis.
**This world** is fine as a translation, but maybe better “this age.” We must think, and anticipate, and desire, something else and something eternal. There are socially acceptable standards, there are influencers, there are pressures, propaganda, popular priorities. But as the commentator Franz Leenhardt wrote, “what madness it is to join in this puppet show which is displayed on a tottering stage.”
This age is full of sentimentality, envy, resentment, blame-shifting, victimhood/easily-offended, love of political power, love of money, self-fulfillment/self-identity, ingratitude and irrationality/cognitive dissonance (as in Romans 1:21).
Instead, we’re commanded to **be transformed by the renewal of your mind**. The Greek imperative is *metamorphousthe*, so: be *metamorphosized*. Be changing away from what is passing away (1 John 2:17, see also 2 Corinthians 4:18). Even more specifically, be transformed as one conformed more and more to the image of Christ (see Romans 8:29).
The changes happen inside-out, a renewing of **your mind**, your “wits” (Tyndale). You know this, but for the record, Christianity isn’t emotionalism, nor externalism/mechanical. Truth, doctrine, theology drives behavior. Thinking has consequences, which is why it’s so important to think on the right things (see Philippians 4:8).
Minds being renewed see the same things differently. Creation is not an idol, but it is also a gift of God, a revelation of Him to us, that also groans along with us. We do not suppress the truth, we let it spring up. We *give thanks* and we *give honor* to God by Name. We see all as from-through-to Him.
The NASB: **so that you may prove what the will of God is**. To **prove** to “test” is a frequent image regarding the purifying of metals, with for the purpose of getting the good stuff. Here the good stuff is **the will of God**, and this would be things that require thinking and proving *that aren’t already revealed in Scripture*. We don’t test the part of God’s will that He’s already told us.
The **good** means no frustrating guilt, the **pleasing** means no frustrating burden, the **perfect** means no frustrating dissatisfaction. This is contra: “all is vanity."
There is to be ongoing difference, not just between us and the world; that’s the base line. There is to be ongoing renewing for ongoing proving of obedient, fruitful, jealousable sort of embodied worship.
Imagine the scene at Solomon’s dedication of the temple when there were so many sheep and oxen offered that “they could not be counted or numbered” (2 Chronicles 5:6). That must have included the smell of blood, but what of aroma of the living and blessed sacrifices? We are a holy temple (Ephesians 2:21), a dwelling place for God, and we are living sacrifices. And you might think that my emphasis on the *group* out of place, except that the next paragraph is about our relationships to one another in the body.
Also, this is for *every* Christian. People who don’t want to lose their lives should not confess that Jesus is Lord. God’s grace does not extinguish the desire for a godly life (John Calvin), God’s grace teaches us that sacrifices which please Him are holy sacrifices.
Also, *God* is the one who decides and gives the harvest from this. All of life is an altar for His mercies to be applied.
Beloved, you have been saved by grace, you are being saved by grace, and it is by grace that you *must* live all-in in all of life for God. All of life is an altar, and you are a living sacrifice. You are pleasing to God, and so go please Him more with what is good, well-pleasing, and perfect.
> Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
> The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, 28, ESV)