12:1—Word by word.
Appeal: The meaning of this word lies between “request” and “command,” says Douglas Moo. As a coach exhorts an athlete, Paul challenges us to put our life on the line for the God of our salvation.
Mercies: Mercy is the attribute of God that moves him to save us from our sin. The word here summarizes all that Paul has said previously in this letter about God’s saving work through Christ.
Present: This word brings to mind the Old Testament sacrificial presenting or “offering” of an animal on the altar. The same verb appears in 6:13, 16, and 19 of presenting the members of our body not to sin, but rather as instruments of righteousness to God. “Humans will either give themselves to God or to Satan” (Robert Utley).
Bodies: Paul has in mind our whole self from the perspective of our physical existence.
Living sacrifice: In the OT an animal was slain and placed on the altar. We place ourselves alive on the altar. Paul “views the body as the vehicle that implements the desires and choices of the redeemed spirit” (Everett Harrison). Moo quotes the early church father Chrysostom:
“And how is the body, it may be said, to become a sacrifice? Let the eye look on no evil thing, and it hath become a sacrifice; let thy tongue speak nothing filthy, and it hath become an offering; let thine hand do no lawless deed, and it hath become a whole burnt offering.”
Holy and acceptable to God: Holy means to be set apart for service to God, which includes a lifestyle of turning from sin. The Greek word translated “acceptable” literally means “well pleasing.” The phrase “holy and acceptable” (ESV) or “holy and pleasing” (NIV) is, according to Colin Kruse, “a figure of speech expressing one idea with two related words. To be holy is to be pleasing to God.” God delights in those who dedicate their lives to him.
Spiritual (ESV) or “reasonable” (NKJ): What kind of worship is Paul describing here? The Greek word is derived from the verb meaning “to reason,” but it can also mean “spiritual,” as in 1 Peter 2:2 (“pure spiritual milk”). It is best to see this word as combining several ideas: rational congruence with the truth of the gospel; commitment of mind and heart as opposed to outward performance or posturing; authentic and truthful honoring of God; and engagement of one’s whole being—both physical and immaterial.
Worship: Think of service to God that results from adoration of God. Paul clearly has in mind the devotion to God of our entire selves—spirit, mind, body, affections, passions, and will—all the time, every day, wherever we are. Devotion leads to action, which becomes lifestyle.
Revelation of God inspires worship of God. Paul assumes that the truth he has laid out in chapters 1-11 will inspire the worship he exhorts us now to practice. The more we know about God, the greater our love for him, and the less likely we will give our bodies to inferior loves.