to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,
which is your spiritual worship.
We’ve seen that chapters 12–15 specify what we are to give to God in gratitude for his gift of mercy. Promptly we find out that what God wants from us is nothing short of our total lives.
We’ll look more closely at these two verses in future messages, but now we consider one of Scripture’s grandest themes. Verse 1 conveys a principle at the heart of two sacrifices—Christ’s and ours. The principle of reciprocal love helps us understand both the nature of God and his interactions with saved humanity.
Love is a key moral principle at the center of the Godhead and it expresses the character God wants his people to embody. Humility, service, and mutual love are Paul’s primary themes in the remainder of this chapter.Reciprocal love in the Godhead
In the Godhead, each member of the Trinity serves the others in a relationship of mutual self-surrender. In a sense, God surrenders to himself, while the Father is first in order but equal to the others in deity. To cite only a few verses:
The Father glorifies the Son and loves the Son (John 17:5 and 24), gives all that he possesses to the Son (John 16:15), and grants authority to the Son (John 17:2).
The Spirit testifies about the Son (John 15:26), enables access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18), and glorifies the Son (John 16:14). Although Father and Son do not glorify the Spirit, they fiercely defend this gentle and humble member of the Trinity who does his work in the background. We are warned not to grieve him (Ephesians 4:30), and people who cross him by blasphemy (Mark 3:29) or lying (Acts 5:1–11) forfeit their lives.
Love expressed in self-surrender for the benefit of another is a core quality of the image of God, who is love. When Adam and Eve succumbed to the devil’s temptation to become “like God,” it was an image-defacing act of self-exaltation. The nature of sin is to take rather than to give and to seek one’s own interests at others’ expense and in defiance of God.Dying (and living) for another
Christ’s sacrifice both paid the penalty for humanity’s sin and demonstrated in the most dramatic way possible God’s self-surrendering love. Humbling himself to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, he obeyed his Father unto death on the cross (Matthew 20:28, Philippians 2:8).Once we recognize this principle in the Godhead, we understand why God expects us to love him in return and love one another in mutual service. His adopted sons and daughters must share his character:
John says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).
And finally, Paul’s appeal in Romans 12:1 comes into sharper focus in the light of a parallel passage in Ephesians. To present one’s body as a living sacrifice is to walk in love in the manner of Christ’s sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2). Both passages challenge believers to imitate Christ’s self-giving love; this is how their lives become an ongoing act of worship, pleasing to God.God’s moral beauty
Teachers sometimes use Romans 12:1 for a pep talk on why believers should serve God more fervently. Maybe that kind of message is a missed opportunity. The real drawing power for Christian service is the beauty of God’s moral excellence as expressed by the word “mercies.” Genuine and lasting motivation to serve God comes from knowing him.
God’s heart of love, grace, and mercy inspires commitment to his mission and is all the motivation we need to give him our lives. In chapter 16 of my book I write about “The Divine Attraction.” The Father’s self-giving, sacrificial love came alive to me early in my ministry in a verse in Hebrews and became the supreme attraction for my service.
Knowing God’s kindness, we can trust him to make something good out of our lives given to him. Jim Elliot, who was martyred in 1956 trying with four other missionaries to reach a tribe in Ecuador, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
The cross invites us to sacrifice what we are so that we might discover what we shall become.