A Living & Holy Sacrifice
In the oldest records that can be found of the various nations of the earth, sacrifice is always found to have been part of their religious services. From the time of Adam our ancestors not only felt the need to obtain pardon for sins, but to express their gratitude to the supreme being or beings who they regarded as the givers and the benefactors of their life. "But it is only when we come to the religion of Israel that we find the idea of sacrifice having any influence upon the life. The other nations offered sacrifices, but there was no turning away from evil. ... [In fact,] in the case of many heathen countries, their acts of religious worship became, and have become, associated with immoral and degrading practices. The religion of Israel, however, taught the necessity of personal holiness" (C.H. Irwin, The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18, Romans, p. 368). The Jews were constantly warned that without personal holiness their sacred assemblies and sacrifices would be unacceptable. In Amos 5:21-24, for example, God said: I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream (cf. Isa 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24)
There has never been a time when God has been pleased with the sacrifice of individuals who are not determined to live holy lives. He would rather that they not even attempt to worship Him rather than to worship without personal righteousness - justice, mercy and a humble walk with God. But Israel did not listen to these warnings and by the time that we come to the NT the religion of most people had become a religion of ritual and routine.
Matt 23:23-28 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
True religion demands much more than that we be formally correct in our congregational worship. It demands that we, as individuals, serve God all the time in both body and mind. This is what Paul teaches in Romans 12:1-2.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Christians are called upon to be holy in both body and mind; and Paul seeks to motive them "through the mercies of God." The Gk. word translated "mercies" (oiktirmos) means "pity, compassion for the ills of others." (W.E. Vine, vol. 3, p. 60) Lenski says that it is "the tender feeling of pity for those in distress." (Interpretation of I and II Corinthians, p.815) Up to this point "Paul had been showing ... that they were dependent wholly on God's mercy and not on their legal righteousness; and because God has shown this mercy, 'Therefore' they should 'present their bodies' [to Him as] 'living sacrifices.'" (I.B. Grubbs, Commentary on Romans, p. 147) In Paul's day the Greeks believed that the spirit, not the body was what mattered. To them "the body was only a shackle and a prison-house; the body was something to be despised and even to be ashamed of." They did not believe that they would be held responsible for what they did in the flesh. There are many today who also believe something like this. They teach that Christians will not be held responsible before God for what they do in the body. These people "use their members sinfully" and then "attempt to excuse themselves ... by alleging that they have a good heart. But we see from this passage that God requires the service of the body as well as that of the mind." (Robert Haldane, An Exposition of Romans, p. 554)
Christians need to understand that our bodies belong to God just as much as our souls do (1 Cor 6:19-20). What we do in our bodies is important! Paul warns us against believing otherwise when he wrote: Rom 6:12-13, 16 ... do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. ... Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
Present your body, therefore, as a living and holy sacrifice. Take all the tasks that you have to do every day - the ordinary work at the office, the factory, the home, the school; take the tasks that you perform in your marriage relationship and the parent-child relationship; and offer all of it as worship to God. (William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, p. 168) Nothing that you do should be done outside the framework of serving the Lord.
Many Christians find this incredible, but this is what Paul calls our "spiritual service of worship." We must never limit our service to God to only those things that we may do as a congregation on Sundays and Wednesdays. But it must include all that we do, "in word or deed" (Col. 3:17).
True religion involves the whole of one's life - as a parent (Eph. 6:4), as a son (Eph 6:1-3), as a husband (Eph 5:25, 28, 33), as a citizen and taxpayer (Rom 13:1-7), as a neighbour (Matt. 22:39). True religion involves how you conduct yourself at your place of work (Eph. 6:5-8) and how you may treat your employees (Eph 6:9). Christians, in every sphere of your life you are called upon to glorify God: 1) in washing and mending cloths and in cooking meals for your family or in working as a lumberjack; 2) as a student or in working for the telephone company; 3) as an employee for the city or as a secretary in an office. In every situation your spiritual service of worship requires that you present your body (what you do in your body) to God as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to Him.
Worship is not restricted to what we do at the meeting house two times a week. It is as wide as the Christian's life. This passage in Romans teaches this and so does Heb. 13:15-16.
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
Our worship to God in this place will be unacceptable if our service to Him at other times is unholy. For it was He who said: "I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting." Has He changed His mind in this matter?
To insure that they understood how they were to offer their bodies as living and holy sacrifices, Paul went on to say: Rom 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Christians are not to allow the world to squeeze them into its own mould. For the world holds to ideas and practices which, for the most part, are not simply inconsistent with the doctrine of Christ, but which are also hostile to it;. and the world actively encourages us to embrace these ideas and way of life. We must resist! But how? It is possible only through the renewing of our minds.
According to the scriptures, as a man "thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov. 23:7). According to the scriptures there are two mindsets: One governed by the flesh and the other by the Holy Spirit.
Rom 8:5-8 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
The mind set on the flesh is that mind which is determined to be governed by the demands of the flesh. To be spiritually minded is to be determined to be governed by the Holy Spirit. In the past, all of us were governed by the demands of the flesh. What we thought, what we said, what we did was determined by what the flesh wanted. As a result, we lived like everyone else in the world (cf. Eph 2:2-3). However, we must change the way that we think in order that we can change the way that we live. We do this by dwelling upon what is true ... noble, ... just, ... pure, ... lovely, ... [and] of good report" (Phil. 4:8); we do this be dwelling up those things taught in the word of God. God's word really does have the ability to change the way that we think and therefore, live (cf. Psa 119:9-16, 97-104).
Brethren, friends, how we live has a profound effect upon whether or not God will accept the worship that we perform with the congregation on the first day of the week. We must learn to serve God on every day of the week; to present our bodies to him as "a living and holy sacrifice." Otherwise, the worship that we perform in the congregation will be for nothing. Let's not be fooled about this!
By Kieran Murphy
From Expository Files 4.4; April 1997