Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 NAS)
Most of the ways you and I disrespect God and dishonor his name involve our bodies. (If you really need me to explain that, drop me a note!) We tend to think of worship, however, as something “spiritual” we do that involves our emotions.
Paul says, in effect, “If you really want to show God how grateful you are for his mercy and how earnestly you want to give him the respect and honor he deserves, offer him a sacrifice that will truly please him: Dedicate your body to his service and each day behave like a child of Almighty God.”
These verses may start a new chapter in our Bibles, but they begin with a ‘therefore,’ so we need to step back a few verses and remind ourselves what Paul is talking about. In 10:21, the apostle was pointing out how God kept reaching out to Israel but they insisted on being rebellious and disobedient. In chapter 11, he goes on to say that, while God has not rejected his people, he still has broken off those branches that refused to bear fruit for his kingdom. He warns the Christians in Rome they will suffer the same fate if they also become rebellious and disobedient (vv.21-22). God, however, is merciful and those who turn back toward him will be welcomed warmly. Branches once cut off will be grafted back in.
Therefore, because Almighty, Glorious God has been so merciful toward us disobedient and rebellious people, the proper response on our part is not just rejoicing and praising him emotionally (as appropriate as that is), but for us to show our gratitude in a way that really counts — with our behavior, the way we use our bodies, the way we live our lives.
Paul is connecting some dots for us here:
— In 6:13, he challenged the Christians in Rome to not let any part of their bodies become a tool of wickedness, but instead give themselves completely to God and use their whole bodies as tools “to do what is right for the glory of God.”
— In Colossians 1:10, Paul challenged those Christians to live in a way that will “always honor and please the Lord,” a way of living worthy of the calling God has placed on their lives, continually doing good, kind things for others.
— In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, he urged sorely tempted Christians to run away from sexual sin and honor God with their bodies.
Do you hear echoes of Jesus telling his disciples to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and to “love your neighbor as yourself“? Can you hear the prophet Micah whispering to you: “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God”?
I’m guessing the Christians in Rome were pretty much like us in thinking “worship” is what we do on the Lord’s Day with other believers, and sometimes by ourselves in our “quiet time,” where we acknowledge the Almighty for who he is and celebrate that with rejoicing hearts. Some of us will raise our arms toward heaven and sway with the “Christian” music. The more demonstrative ones will clap their hands. A few will get carried away and actually shout … or something.
Paul says, “Y’all, that’s all fine and good, but if you really want to worship God ‘in spirit and truth,’ get intentional about how you use your body.”
Does that strike you as odd? Paul says it is entirely logikos — logical, reasonable, pertaining to the soul (the unity of body and spirit).
Paul also goes on to get specific about how serious a matter this is. In verse 2, he says it requires us to stand against the ways of our wicked world and refuse to conform our lives to its God-disrespecting values and behaviors. We cannot live like the lost, confused souls around us. The world tries to shape us with its “Just do it” mold; we have to stand our ground and fight for our uniqueness as children of God.
Paul also acknowledges we can’t do that in our own power. While “do not conform yourselves” is something we choose to do, “be transformed” is something done to us. And how does this transformation happen? Not just by summoning up more will power. Not by making a New Year’s resolution. We are transformed when Almighty God makes us completely new. This isn’t just reformation; it’s metanoia — a change of mind and heart as radical as a caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly. It’s about God’s power doing a work of new creation in you. It’s about being reborn as a completely new person.
That transformation — the ability to live in your body in a way that makes God proud — happens when God makes your mind new. Talk about holistic theology! A radical change in your innermost being affects the way you live in your body, and the way you live in your body is profoundly spiritual worship!
This radical renewal is not, of course, something that happens once and you never have to experience it again. I remember a gangly young church planter telling a bunch of us college kids: “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” [ref]
The good news is that when you cooperate with God’s desire to transform you — dying daily to sin and committing yourself as a slave to God’s righteousness — your life will be living proof of what God’s will is in the world: “that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” People will look at your life and get a glimpse of God’s kingdom come, his will done, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
That’s the kind of worship that makes God smile!