Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God…”
When Paul says “…offer your bodies…” here, the picture is not of a sacrifice right away. That is coming. The word he uses rather refers to someone offering him- or herself to the service of a king. If you need a picture, think of the last of the “Lord of the Rings” movies. The Hobbit Pippen offers to become a servant to the Steward of Gondor, the ruler of that kingdom. Why would someone give up his freedom to serve someone else? In the movie it is because the ruler’s son gave up his life to save Pippen.
In Romans Paul suggests we do this with God’s mercy in view. Our Ruler’s Son also gave up his life to save us. There is nothing we could pay him for this. We certainly can’t take the place of his Son. But God’s mercy moves us with gratitude and love to offer our bodies, our whole selves, to God’s service. You and I are members of God’s court, soldiers in God’s army, not because we have to, but because we want to. It’s part of the way we live life with God’s mercy in view.
Now Paul comes with the part that makes this hard. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices…” We have grown up with worship services that are free from the mess and the smells of blood sacrifices. If we were to reintroduce them, most of us would find that weird, and our neighbors would probably start getting worried. Fortunately, Jesus put an end to that with his own sacrifice at the cross.
But those sacrifices still offer a vivid picture of total dedication to God. You may know the old joke about the chicken who suggested to the pig that they repay the farmer for feeding and taking care of them with a bacon and eggs breakfast. The pig objects, “That’s easy for you to say. For you it requires only a donation. For me it means a total sacrifice.”
Paul isn’t necessarily saying we will die for Jesus, though it could mean that. But here he calls us living sacrifices. This doesn’t hold any more appeal for our sinful natures. We might be content sending in an occasional donation, throwing a few dollars in the offering plate, showing up to help with some church project. Then we get to spend the rest of our lives doing what we want to do.
That’s not what Paul is urging. Living sacrifices means God gets our whole life, not just part of it. For some that could mean full time work in the church as a pastor or teacher. But offering ourselves as living sacrifices does not start and stop at the church doors. Offering ourselves as living sacrifices means that we go to school, and study, and do your homework at night to serve God. If one winds up as a mathematician or engineer, a proof reader of dictionaries, a full time mommy, or even president, our Lord wants every moment lived in service to him, lived his way.
Anything we hold back, any place we insist on our way instead of God’s way, only erodes our faith and jeopardizes our salvation. There are going to be times when we go our way instead of God’s way along the way. That’s why we need to live life with God’s mercy in view. There we see the never ending supply of forgiveness flowing from Jesus’ cross, washing away our unsteady, halfhearted service. There we see the love that changes us and leads us to keep offering yourselves to God, because that’s what happens when his mercy is in view.