Romans 12:1b, “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
We dedicate ourselves to many different things in this life. We sacrifice our bodies and ourselves to work, to play, to physical fitness, to various different hobbies and activities. Some people sacrifice themselves on the altars drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and alcohol. But as Christ-followers we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice” to God. But how many of us really understand this and how many of us then really do this? The second element in rendering ourselves to Christ as a “living sacrifice” is that of offering Him our “bodies.” Actually this is the logical result of giving our souls to Christ in salvation.
The word “present” in the Greek is the word paristemi and it means to “place beside, to present, stand by, and appear.” It was most often used to describe a priest placing an offering on an altar. This means then that we are to yield and surrender ourselves to Him. 1 Peter 2:5 says that we are “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” God already has the inner man, but He also wants the outer man as well.
So if God has our soul, why does He also want our bodies? Because our bodies are more than just what houses our souls. Our bodies are where our old humanness resides. Our humanness is part of our bodies, our souls are not. Our body includes our humanness, our humanness then is part of the flesh, and the flesh is where sin lives.
Romans 7:5 says, “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” In that same chapter in verses 20-21 Paul writes, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” This was the struggle of the great apostle Paul and it is a struggle that we all identify with. We all have bodies and in those bodies resides the evil seed of sin and so therefore our natural inclination then is toward sin. Which is exactly why we are called to sacrifice our bodies as a “living sacrifice” to Him. We are to replace the sin nature with the nature of our new birth in Christ.
To understand what Paul is saying here it is instructive to understand the Greek philosophy of dualism. Dualists believed, and it was very prevalent, that the spirit, the soul was basically good, and the body, the physical was basically evil. They then considered the body completely worthless, it was going to die anyway, so what one did in the body didn’t really matter. Well, as one can imagine this led to all kinds of immorality.
Dualism unfortunately is alive and well in the church today. We participate in and tolerate sin because people think , “that’s just of the flesh,” or “that’s just what we are naturally,” or “I was born this way.” We divorce the body from the soul much the same way the ancient Greeks did, thus absolving the soul from any responsibility. Many people who attend church regularly sincerely believe that their spiritual life is in no way tied to their physical life. This is why sex outside of marriage is rampant in the evangelical church. This is why supposed Christian couples live together before marriage at alarming rates. This is why the divorce rate among evangelicals is the same or higher than the population at large.
Words have meaning, but often times in the church today we treat God’s Word like it is just a collection of platitudes. Paul is not dealing in platitudes here in Romans 12, nor anywhere else for that matter. Notice what Paul says about the nature of this “living sacrifice.” It is to be “holy and acceptable.” The word that is used here in Greek is the word hagios which is the word of “holy” and it means “to be set apart for and by God.” Our bodies then are to be set apart for God because we have been set apart by God. The word “acceptable” is translated to mean “well-pleasing.” We are to live a life that pleases God. We are not pleasing God when we continue in sin. God is not pleased or amused with our immorality.
All of this is logical, it makes sense. Paul writes at the end of verse 1, “which is your spiritual worship.” The word “spiritual” here is translated from the Greek word logiskos and it means “reasonable and rational.” What Paul is saying is that in light of Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” Then verse 36 says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” So in light of that, to present ourselves as “a living sacrifice” is only logical. It only makes sense that we would give our soul and our bodies completely to Him in worship.