Aberdeen Baptist Church
28163 Swensson Ave, Abbotsford BC Canada V4X 1H6 604-856-1413

How Then Shall We Live?

Rick Sutcliffe

2020 06 28 Romans 12: 1 - 2

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV) A Living Sacrifice

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

As we enter Romans 12, we see a "therefore," and if we are not already familiar with the first eleven chapters, we must ask what is that word there for, and what are the "mercies of God" referenced here?

Well, to this point in the book of Romans, Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has thoroughly established the basic principles of the Gospel, namely

- that all people are sinners by birth, that is by our very nature

- this applies whether one is a Jew, that is a physical descendant of Abraham's grandson Jacob, whom he renamed Israel, or a Gentile, that is, not a Jew by either descent or by conversion

- this is true whether one knows and consider oneself bound by the Old Testament Laws God gave through Moses, or is entirely ignorant of God's standards of righteousness

- moreover, this written letter to the church at Rome establishes that all people are sinners not just by nature but also by our deliberate choice to sin

- It follows that that because we are sinners and God is perfectly righteous, we cannot ever enter His presence on merit, no matter what we do in our own strength. Why not? Because God's standard to enter heaven is: Matthew 5:48 (ESV) You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

- Now some think the idea that our good works and bad works are weighed in some heavenly balance scales and if the good outweighs the bad we are accepted into heaven on merit. This is is not just wishful thinking but absolute nonsense. Worse, it is a vicious and deceitful false doctrine. The devil would like people to think that way, because if they do, they will remain lost and never enter heaven. Why? Because God's accounting does not work that way. One single sin, no matter how small we might think it is, makes us a sinner by choice, and outweighs all possible good works on our part. To put it another way, we cannot ever do enough works to earn heaven, because only perfect righteousness can avail, and we are not only imperfect, we cannot make ourselves perfect.

- Thus, as we are repeatedly told of all those apart from Christ in Romans chapter one God gave them up All are condemned to an eternity apart from God, which is the definition of hell.

- Our only hope, therefore is to have someone else's perfect righteousness gifted to us.

- But one man did indeed live a perfectly righteous life--Jesus the Christ of God, and he suffered separation from God on the cross of torture to fully pay for our sins, and all who put their trust in Him for this act not only have the penalty for sin marked "paid" in God's accounting, their name is written in the book of Christ's life as having his perfection applied to them, so they are acceptable to enter the presence of God--not on their own merits, but on those of Christ applied to them. Both in the Old Testament God dealing with Abraham, Is 53, and in this letter, the scripture makes much of faith being counted as righteousness.

- Why, because as chapter 11 ends, 

Romans 11:32-36 (ESV) 32 God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Then he breaks out in this declaration:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

- Glory? Because of God's mercy to lost sinners, who he sent his Son to redeem from the slavery of sin. "Redeem " is a pawnshop concept. We had pawned our souls (which were not ours to sell) to the devil for the sake of the pleasures of sin, and when we realize that by the grace of God and repent and call on him in surrender, we find he has already paid to redeem our souls back to be his possession. We just had to ask in repentance for that payment to be extended us and "PAID IN FULL" written to our account. No wonder Paul indulges this outbreak of praise.


- Finally, these standards are applied equally to all persons Galatians 3:28-29 (ESV) 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

Hear that again. Romans 3:22-25 (ESV) For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV Strong's) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

This absolute equality before God is particularly important to note today in the light of the wide scale discussions around racism. The very idea of "race" is a modern one that originated in Darwinian evolution, where the false and slanderous claim was made that man evolved from apes first in Africa, and that white people are more evolved and thus inherently better. NOT. The whole idea that some people are better than others is a lie of Satan--one Hitler embraced to exterminate Jews, blacks, and any others he deemed inferior. The Bible says otherwise, that all are equally lost and all can be equally saved. By the way science also says we are all one people, with only minor genetic differences. 

Skin colour is mere cosmetic appearance It has zero spiritual or scientific significance. Thus, discriminating among people on the basis of skin colour makes no more sense than doing so on the basis of hair colour or eye colour, the length of one's fingernails or whether one prefer strawberry or cookies and cream ice cream. The only race of humans is the human race. FULL STOP. The idea that "races" exist or that skin colour matters for anything is an evil lie of Satan.

Yes, yes, God did single out Israel as a nation and make it promises, some conditional, some absolute, and not all of the latter have yet been fulfilled. They will be one day. But when it comes to entering heaven, there are only two categories of people--the lost and the saved. We are in the latter category in Christ alone, by faith alone, through the mercy of God's grace alone. And if we think otherwise, we are seriously and eternally mistaken. Do not allow Satan to make a fool of you on such points.

So much for the therefore, by the mercies of God. That we are lost sinners, and can be saved only through the blood of Christ shed on the cross apply equally to every person without distinction.

Now, each of us "persons" can be thought of in four ways, or as having four parts, if you will. Heart (the core of our being), soul (the seat of our emotions, and that which survives death i.e our spiritual being), mind (the seat of our intellect and reason) and body (our material being, the manifestation of our physical strength). What does God want of us?

When asked in Mark 12:28-31 (ESV) “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus (quoting Deuteronomy 6: 4-5) answered, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In the early church as documented in (ESV) Acts 4:32 it says Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.

So, the logical presumption of Paul's "therefore" at this point is that his readers are those who have fully grasped and accepted the Gospel and are therefore now saved, that they have already given heart and soul to Christ, and now ought naturally to ask "What next" or "How should I live this life to prepare for heaven, since I now belong to Christ?" From the command we've just read, mind and body (strength) come next in the giving over of all to Christ.

Thus, this chapter begins to outline the answer to the "how now shall we live" question, first in sweepingly general terms at verses one and two, more specifically in the Church context in verses three to eight, this followed by some particulars of holy living in verses nine to twelve, a few of which are amplified upon in more detail over the subsequent chapters. Now I must say frankly that if one is not already a Christian, there is little material of relevance from this point on in the book of Romans--one cannot serve God by aspiring to his standards without first knowing Christ in one's heart and soul.

After all the standard needed to enter heaven as enunciated by Christ is: Matthew 5:48 (ESV Strong's) 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. which is why works alone are never enough. We cannot claim to be as perfect as God, the gap is infinite, and the currency of good works is insufficient to pay the infinite price to redeem our souls from the Satanic pawnbroker's shelf.

However, if, as Paul is presuming here by his "therefore", one has turned heart and soul over to Christ and is saved, this passage is one of the Scriptures' mother lodes of living in a Christlike manner. (Another by the way is in Matthew 5, as "The beatitudes" which can be rendered as descriptors or character qualities, for instance: "The blessed are those who…" and are aspirational principles as enunciated by Christ, and opened up here in more specific detail in Romans 12 and following. But we must study this in the context therefore, by the mercies of God, realizing that how we think and how we act (our "works") are NOT the way we enter heaven, but are consequences of a salvation we have already received by grace through faith and that the merits of Christ's life and death applied to his people alone alone guarantee their destination after death.

So, what is Paul's general principle for living as a follower of Christ? Right here: present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 

Elsewhere it is put this way:

Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them


Titus 2:13-14 (ESV) Jesus Christ, 14 ... gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (That verse drives home the point that only good works that follow salvation are of any eternal significance.)

Let's take this a bit at a time. 

present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God

The idea here compares well to the "whole burnt or dedicated offering" of the Old Testament--a phrase that did not always mean something that went into the fire, but rather something that was forfeit or wholly devoted to the service of the LORD, and could not be used or even shared by anyone else. Other sacrifices were often only partially burned or had portions given to the priest, the rest being consumed in a fellowship meal with God, so to speak.

But a wholly devoted offering was forfeit and so belonged entirely to God, and was either entirely burnt or otherwise used exclusively in and for the Tabernacle, or later the Temple. Paul is telling us that given we are saved from eternal punishment for sin because of the mercy and grace of God when we were powerless to save ourselves, we need to consider ourselves wholly devoted to him--having in metaphor gone through the sacrificial fire (i.e. we were nailed to the cross with Christ) and the smoke of that sacrifice is now arising as a sweet, aroma to God in heaven, who now finds our lives as acceptable as that his Christ lived, because Jesus redeemed us for his own, thus made us holy (segregated to his use), and now lives in and through us. More succinctly, because you are in fact holy and accepted, act like it. What a concept! The infinite price of redemption for the eternal souls we pawned has been paid. As Paul in Philippians and John in The Revelation put it, our names are now written in Christ's book of life.

Now turn to the phrase 

which is your spiritual worship

At least that is how the ESV put it. The (NIV 1984) rendered this as "your spiritual act of worship" (NASB) as "your spiritual service of worship". 

But the KJV and NET Bible have "which is your reasonable service" The Latin Bible said "your rational service"

This is a little odd. Which is it? reasonable service or spiritual worship?

The correct answer is BOTH. The key word here that is variously translated "reasonable" or "spiritual" is λογικὴν a variant of λογικoV which is the adjective form of the familiar λογoV, that is "the word" or "logic"

So where does "spiritual" come from? The same word. You see the Greeks believed that in order to call something "knowledge" or λογoV it had to be a matter revealed or apprehended from the divine or heavenly realm, and then capable of being communicated meaningfully to others using systematic rules of discourse or rhetoric. Thus a λογoV always had both a spiritual and a rational or logical aspect. This is how a reader can immediately see that John's gospel is addressed to the heart of Greek thinking in the beginning was the logos...and the logos was made flesh…" So, the word λογικὴν can be translated either way--either as "spiritual" or as "logical" or "rational". Since the next word λατρείαν means "Something done as an act of worship or service to a God", all those translations above are correct.

So, given the "therefore" of a "logical" argument with which the passage starts, we could expand this to I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which logically is your spiritual act of worship and service.

Again, succinctly "because God has been merciful to you as a lost sinner, it only makes logical sense to for you to serve and worship God by wholly dedicating everything you do in your body to him." What a powerful statement!

So much for the what. Many specifics are to come, so the next verse introduces in general terms both the negative and the positive of how this "whole sacrifice dedication" is to be undertaken.

(ESV Romans 12: 2) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We shall spend little time describing this world, as rather than examining the counterfeit and the false it is always better to know intimately the real and the true, for those who know right well enough can easily spot the wrong without needing acquaintance with it. It suffices to say that "this world" is all that is not of God and His kingdom

- its false religions and philosophies (including atheism and agnosticism, which themselves are belief systems)

- its denials and distortions of or replacements for the scriptures (including the various false doctrines of evolution, and in particular the modern false doctrines of racism)

- its replacement of God with created things (see Romans 1) which includes material possessions, sports, political, and entertainment "idols", and the general 3-B's of beauty, brains, and bucks

in short, anything that displaces or replaces God in our hearts, our souls, our minds, or our actions.

Paul just wants us to realize that the priorities of this world are not to be the believer's priorities. Anything that comes before God is idolatry, whether it has the form of a statue or not, a belief or not, a person or not, a thing or not.

Rather, he urges, be transformed. From what, you may ask? Well, from the system of this world. In

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV Strong's) it is put this way: 9 do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Again, God washes repentant sinners clean, closes the book on our sins and writes our names in the book of Christ's life--the part where he lives out his life in us. to "be transformed" is simply to make the outward appearance of our lives line up with the inward reality that God has put into us in the person of his Holy Spirit.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV Strong's) it is put this way18 we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We should mention that the transformation Paul mentions is a harbinger of one to come, which will be entirely engineered by God himself. Philippians 3:20-21 (ESV Strong's) 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. and the book of the revelation speaks much more on the subject of a new creation.

Put another way, we are encouraged to engage willingly in Christ's transformation of this life so as to come closer now to the kind of spiritual being we will be in heaven. Let us practice eternity already!

 One summary of what this means is: Micah 6:8 (ESV) 8 He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? --things possible only in the. strength the Holy Spirit gives to the believer.

Now perhaps you noticed that something is missing from the master list in what God wants of us--all of our heart, soul, mind, and the strength of our body. Romans 12, as we have said, assumes the reader is a believer, has given heart and soul to God in abject repentance and surrender and received his free to us but infinitely costly gift of salvation from him, and it launches into "therefore, logically, you need to sacrifice all your strength, that is, all your works in the body to him.

What about the mind? Ah, but that's right here too as the basis for transformation in our deeds: but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect

To do what is right to live the life Christ wants in us, and do so in the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to know what is right, and for our actions to conform to what Christ wants in us we must first renew our minds, think God's thoughts after him, that is, revise our thinking so that we can intelligently inform our consequent actions.

You see, there is a synergy between the actions of God in dealing with us through grace and mercy and our actions in cooperating with that grace. Salvation is all of God, not by our works, and a gift lest anyone boast, but it does require a cooperation, a decision to put our trust in the cross of God's Christ. Note that in saying this we uphold the absolute sovereignty of God. But we also cannot deny that he holds us responsible for our decisions, in particular whether to believe or not, and the two cannot be absolutely disentangled, so do not ask me to do so, rather ask Christ when you speak with him face to face in eternity how the idea of his absolute sovereignty and knowledge are to be reconciled with that of our responsibility to make decisions..

Our responsibility is certainly on display obvious in this passage--Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is urging us to be transformed. It should be obvious that only the Holy Spirit can do this in us, but it should be equally obvious that in urging our action, our works for Christ--works the scripture is assuming are our responsibility to do--we first accept and cooperate with the Holy Spirit to transform our minds and consequently the deeds done in the strength of our bodies. The power for this can only come from God, but the will and the action can only come from us. If God wanted only obedience and not our wills, he could have created an army of robots. He didn't do that even for the angels, let alone us.

We had to cooperate by faith, as, Paul reminds us earlier in the book, did Abraham, whose faith was counted by God as righteousness, by turning our heart and soul over to Christ to receive his grace, and likewise we must cooperate in the transformation of our minds to discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect, and, as will become obvious by studying beyond this introduction, we must cooperate again to receive the power from the Holy Spirit to do the right once we discern it by our Holy Spirit transformed minds. Exegeting all that material would the task of many more sessions of study beyond this introduction. 

Do it and you will see what I mean. Indeed, that is the bottom line, isn't it not? How shall we live? By doing the will of God. How do we change so we want to know what is right and can receive the power to do it? By transforming our thinking. And how do we do that? By studying and internalizing the word of God, for it contains all we need to know about the will of God for what is right. Putting it another way, since believers' names are written in the book of Christ's life, we ought to see he adds to what is written there by putting our minds to learning how Christ can live in our lives, and then letting him.

The following passages here in Romans go into much detail on the subject of a few rights and wrongs, but the principles are here at in verses one and two, in the beatitudes of Christ, and in yet another explication of this idea found in

Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV Strong's) 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

In brief, think upon, meditate upon what is good, right, holy, and worthwhile by immersing yourself in the scriptures that declare the will of God, and his law will become written in your heart--you will know what is the good and faithful thing to do without having to agonize over every moral decision. As the prophet Jeremiah foretold:

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (ESV Strong's) 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

So, consider Romans 12: 1-2 as one scriptural introduction to taking the fact of declared righteousness in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone and turning it into a visible and witnessing practice of righteousness by cooperating again with the Holy Spirit in making yourself a wholly dedicated sacrifice to Christ, first through the transformation of your mind into that of the Holy Spirit as explicated in the scriptures, and the transformation of your actions will follow. Read the manual. Let him have his life in you be written in his book.

Last updated 2020 07 08 by RS