The book of Romans challenges the best of both ancient and modern scholarship. Its riches are mined repeatedly, but there is always more to study. Serious contemplation on Paul's message to the church at Rome produces a profound appreciation for its composition; its implications for Christian living are serious and far-reaching. While Romans demands the best we have to give when we study its message, the practical aspect of Paul's discourse on salvation by faith can be seen over and again. Nowhere is this more true than in chapter twelve. This chapter demonstrates what it means for the "just to live by faith" (Rom. 1:17).
Romans 12:1-2 is the connecting link between the "doctrinal" and "practical" sections of Romans. This does not mean that doctrine (or teaching) is not important, for there is always a direct link between doctrine and duty. God's code regulates our conduct. True conversion to Christ always results in changed character. This simply says that how we live is the result of what God has done through Christ for us. His work is primary and impels us forward as His children. Paul says that God has provided grace, sacrifice, and forgiveness! Now, go live for the Lord! This is signified by the word "therefore."
"I beseech you therefore by the mercies of God." Paul exhorts and encourages the Romans to act; and like folks today, they needed to be motivated to get up and get busy for the Lord. In this case, their motivation came from God's extension of mercy through Christ. After all, what greater motivation could there be than the fact that God loves us and Christ died for us! Next, Paul gives a serious charge by saying: "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." The word present is a sacrificial term. It is used in Ephesians 5:27 and Colossians 1:28 where the church is to be presented to Christ in a clean, wholesome, spiritually healthy way. Paul is not talking about sacrificing animals. He says we must sacrifice SELF. As living sacrifices, we must be dead to sin (Rom. 6:2), but at the same time we are alive to Christ (Rom. 6:8). When we leave sin, our lives are not over or destroyed; only now can we rejoice in the full energy of spiritual life in Christ.
Paul tells us that to do this before Christ is reasonable. The same idea is present in 1 Peter 2:2 (check spiritual milk). The duty to present ourselves to Christ as living sacrifices is an appeal to the reasoning capability of man. It is logical to make such an appeal because man as created by God is designed for this kind of communication from the Creator. This appeal belongs to the reason, as rationality and spirituality are combined. To put it another way, our service to God is a conscious service. In part, it springs from the intellect, as we consecrate ourselves to the Lord. That is how we "renew our minds." The idea that we can simply shift into "spiritual cruise control" and passively glide through life, all the while thinking we are truly serving God, completely misses Paul's point. The mind or heart of man must be engaged in service to God. It is reasonable to do so.
When Paul says "be not fashioned (conformed) but transformed," he enjoins upon us a Christ-centered life. Before our obedience to the gospel of Christ, the world of ignorance, lust, and disobedience beckoned (1 Peter 4:1-4). True transformation (meta-morphosis) takes place when we stop living for ourselves and start living for Christ. Without Christ's help this is impossible. We were in sin, lost, alienated from the Lord (Eph. 2:1-3). The only power sufficient to bring us forth from spiritual death is the power of God (Eph. 1:18-23). That power is available for all who will come to the Christ.
By Randy Harshbarger
From Expository Files 5.2; February 1998