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.
– Romans 12:1 (ESV)
Romans 12:1 follows Romans chapters 1 through 11, in which Paul has systematically expounded on God’s great mercies toward us. Paul’s audience, which included converted Roman pagans, no doubt caught his stunning reversal of the concept of sacrifice when compared to the millennia-long practice of sacrifice that they knew well.
For a pagan (and, sadly, for many of us that call ourselves Christians), sacrifice is something we do to gain the favor of the gods. Love and mercy are foreign concepts to normal modes of sacrifice. Sacrifice to a pagan is a transaction, a trade. And sacrifice usually involves blood and death.
But by the mercies of God, this is not the sacrifice that we are called to. Rather than spill blood in order to satiate and gain favor from the gods, we have had the Lord’s favor bestowed on us through his grace alone. Dwell on his mercy, gain a small understanding of his overwhelming love, and we find ourselves bowed before him in worship, awed by his great gifts to us.
And it is in this desire to worship, which goes so far beyond (and often has nothing to do with) singing to him, that Paul urges us to the beautiful righting of an upside down pagan vision: not a dead sacrifice caked with blood and flames, but rather a living sacrifice. joyfully and freely given to the Lord who has no need for anything, and who indeed has already given his all to us.
It’s the moment by moment sacrifice of a life fully yielded; a beautiful work of art offered to the master Craftsman who made it.
Holy and acceptable.
Update: here’s eldest son’s take on this verse.