A Study of Exhortation:
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[This is the first part in a series of articles that will study the exhortations in Romans 12. Romans 12 contains a series of exhortations, each one of which provides an abundance of material for meditation and application.]—Ed.
Offering Yourselves to God
1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).
Paul begins his series of exhortations in Romans 12 with the fundamental duty of a Christian: to offer themselves in service to God. He says “I urge you” because, though we are God’s people, it is our choice to offer ourselves to His service. The gift of salvation we received is free. Though we may be duty-bound to offer ourselves to God, we are not legally-bound to do so.
Paul reminds them that they are “brothers”, as if to induce them to compare their lives to his own, a life offered in complete service to God. We too should look at the lives of the great men of God, and not forget that they are our brothers. They were ordinary men, as James reminds us: “Elijah was a man, just like us” (James 5:17). However, what distinguished them is that they yielded themselves to God. God honored this and used them mightily. Our lives should be offered to God every bit as much as theirs was. It is our duty as their brothers.
The impetus that Paul gives for offering our lives to God is “in view of God’s mercy”. Along the same lines, he begins the sentence with “Therefore”, which ties this exhortation to the previous chapter. Paul ended the previous chapter speaking of God’s mercy (see Rom. 11:30-32). Then, he broke into a great doxology concerning God’s mercy:
33Oh, the depth of the riches
of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable His judgments,
and His paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been His counselor?”
35“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
36For from Him and through Him
and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen.
So it is this mercy that should cause us to offer ourselves in service to God. Indeed, the extent to which we do not offer ourselves to God reflects the extent to which we do not understand the depth and significance of God’s mercy. By His great mercy we live! By His great mercy we live forever! This mercy should elicit a response in our lives: the offering of ourselves to God.
Earlier in Romans, Paul says, “...offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life” (Rom. 6:13). Now, if we had actually tasted death, if we had actually experienced what we have been saved from, I dare say that we would be much more willing to offer ourselves in service to God. We fail to do so, in large part, because we fail to understand the extent of the suffering and torment that we have been saved from. If God required us to taste, even for a moment, the punishment of hell (which, indeed, we deserve), He certainly would have more children who are entirely devoted to Him; for He would have more children who truly understand the depths of His mercy. However, God is merciful: we do not, even for a moment, have to taste death. Instead Christ “suffered death, so that by the grace of God, He might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Oh, the depth of His mercy!
Paul urges to “offer your bodies”. “Offer” again points out that our service is volutary. By offering our “bodies”, we are offering what has been bought by Christ anyway: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (I Cor. 6:20).
Also, to offer our “bodies” suggests active, visible and physical service to God. Yes, we should worship in spirit, pray in spirit and commune with God in spirit, but we should also physically serve God with our bodies.
Furthermore, by offering our “bodies”, we deprive our bodies their service to sin. When our body is serving the Lord, it cannot simultaneously be serving its worldly lusts. “For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6).
We are to be “living sacrifices”. This is in stark contrast to the old covenant sacrifices, that were sacrificed to death. The old covenant sacrifice was a destructive sacrifice, the new covenant living sacrifice is constructive. The old covenant sacrifice necessarily had to die, because it was paying the price for the sin of the sacrificer. The new covenant sacrifice can be living because the price for the sin of the sacrificer has already been paid.
In a sense, to be a “living sacrifice” is more difficult than to be a sacrifice unto death. Most of us, as Christians, would not hesitate to die a heroic death for the sake of the gospel of Christ. But we, at the same time, have difficulty being a consistent living sacrifice for Christ in our day-to-day lives. We would go boldly down in flames for Christ, yet we shy away from an opportunity to witness at our work place. We would bravely die a martyr’s death for Christ, yet we fail to glorify God to others for the work He has done in our lives; instead we say, “Well, I guess I just got lucky.” But we are called to be “living” sacrifices.
As sacrifices, we are to be “holy”. “Holy” signifies set apart for God. Many non-Christians perform “godly” works, but they are not holy. They do not perform their works to God and for God. They do their “godly” works and then return to the world to profane God. We are to be always “holy”, always set apart for God.
Moreover, as sacrifices, we are to be “pleasing to God”. Sacrifice for sacrifice sake is worthless. Cain offered a sacrifice to God, but it was not pleasing to God. Again, many worldly people make sacrifices for “godly” works, but they are not performed in the manner prescribed by God and not according to His guidance and direction.
“This is your spiritual act of worship”. We worship God not only in the singing of praises to the Lord, but more importantly, in the giving of our lives to Him. The first mention of worship in the Bible is in Gen. 22:5, where Abraham says: “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you”. This was when Abraham was, in obedience to God, going to offer his son Isaac at the altar. Thus, the first mention of worship is connected with obedience to God and the offer of a life to God, in accordance with His command. Therefore, the most important form of worship that you can render to God is obedience to Him and the offering of your life to Him, according to His will, as a living sacrifice.
Now, Father, plant this exhortation in our hearts and cause us to meditate on the depth of Your mercy, so that we would make ourselves living sacrifices to You. Direct us in areas of service that would be pleasing to You as we seek to offer our bodies to You. We ask these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.