We come now to a shift in the flow of Romans. Up to this point, Paul has been describing the great mercy of God in Christ. Now, he leads his audience to consider their reactions to that mercy. The proper response?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. – Romans 12:1
Notice that Paul pushes us far past lip service in our response to God’s mercy. In fact, his recommended course of action is all-encompassing. We are to offer bodies – the totality of ourselves – in sacrifice to the God who saves. But what does that actually mean?
As chapter 12 progresses, Paul unpacks the idea of personal sacrifice. It has to do with (1) personal devotion, (2) life in the church, and (3) life in the world. Regarding personal devotion, we are to turn from the ways of the world in order that we may be formed by God. Regarding life in the church, we are to serve one another with the gifts God has given us and love one another. Regarding life in the world, we should return evil with good.
Paul’s call is indeed all-encompassing. It demands purposeful action and practical devotion. Remember, though, that this is all in response to the mercy of God. Rather than giving ourselves over to a tyrant, we entrust ourselves to the God who gave his only begotten Son. And, paradoxically, we experience fullness of life as we give our lives up for God. The call to be living sacrifices is all encompassing. It is also the wellspring of joy.