During a recent church service, the pastor read Romans 12:1-2. It’s a common passage. I’ve likely read it hundreds if not thousands of times in my lifetime. I’ve heard it discussed in dozens of sermons. But never before have I seen the secret to being my authentic, true self in these verses as I did this week.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service*. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. – Romans 12:1-2 KVJ
*ESV reads “spiritual worship”
If you’re like me and you read this with your “good girl” lenses on, you see this as something to be done. It’s a natural conclusion given the action words used. Present. Service. Conformed. Transformed. Renewing.
It’s likely this is how it was taught to you too. You need to do right and be right so God will find you acceptable. It wasn’t until this week I realized this interpretation is all wrong!
A Living Sacrifice
Before you send me a nasty email, let me explain. As with all things, the best way to interpret Scripture is through Scripture. So let’s consider what it means to be a living sacrifice.
Many believe the first sacrifice for sin ever performed was done by God in the Garden of Eden in order to clothe Adam and Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit and discovered they were naked. It is a picture of the sacrifice of Christ to come.
And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. – Genesis 3:21 ESV
In the following chapter, Adam and Eve have raised two sons, Cain and Abel. They each bring to the Lord an offering, the best of their work.
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” – Genesis 4:3-7 ESV
Again, this passage can be confusing, because it says if you “do well” you will be accepted. Again with the doing! But if it is really about the doing, wouldn’t Cain’s sacrifice have been acceptable? After all, farming is hard work. Cain was giving the best of his labors. But what God was trying to show Cain is that our labor, our good works, is not enough to be acceptable in God’s eyes.
This is the point of the 10 Commandments as well. We can never do enough. Never. What makes us acceptable is not our work, but God’s work—the living sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Holy, Acceptable unto God
Going back to Romans 12:1, we don’t have to work hard at making our bodies holy and acceptable to God. Paul is describing our living sacrifices AS THEY ALREADY ARE. A few chapters before, in Romans 6, Paul explains the symbolism. When Jesus died on the cross it as if we died with Him. Because of His sacrifice, all who accept Jesus as Savior have been freed from the power of sin and death.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:8-11 ESV
The blood of Jesus has washed us clean. My true self, your true self, is already holy, spotless, blameless, without shame. The condemnation we were born into, the shame we inherited in our DNA imprinted in that first moment of sin in the garden, that shame is no longer ours to carry. It is broken. We are free to walk in grace as honorable sons and daughters of the living God.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV
So if this is all true, if our true self is holy and blameless, why does God tell us to present our bodies to Him in this way? The key is in the second verse—we will change when we renew our minds.
There are people everywhere trying to be the best versions of themselves. Especially right now at the beginning of the year. Diet books are flying off the shelves, gyms are full of people trying to figure out what the pictures on all the weird machines are telling them to do. But as with every new endeavor, the resolution to do better will only take you so far. By February 15 the diet books are collecting dust and the half-off Valentines candy is all the rage.
I am currently one of many attempting to make life changes in the area of diet and exercise. (Read more about that here) I picked up a copy of The Daniel Plan and smiled to learn the key to success in losing weight is not what you eat or how you work out, but what you think. Of course, it is! Scripture tells us this.
For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. Proverbs 23:7 KJV
If we are to change what we do, we must change how we think. This is why Paul says we must transform our minds. If we don’t, we are going to be just like everyone else in the world who is trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The key to holy living is holy thinking.
Yes, actions are important. Paul says it is by our actions that we will prove to others “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” But trying to do this through willpower or a focus on obedience isn’t going to work. We must instead focus on who Jesus says we are in Him. We are holy. Blameless. Righteous. Our old man has died and our new man is alive through Him. Our chains are gone. We are free!
Present your True Self to the World
We are free to walk in newness of life. Released from the bondage of sin and death. But the only way we are going to experience the joy of this truth is if we BELIEVE it is true in our minds. First, we take God at His word, and then our actions follow.
Do you see the difference? Trying to present our bodies holy and blameless in our own efforts is a great burden. A weight God never intended for us to bear. Jesus says,
“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:30 ESV
We will naturally and joyfully do the right things if we first swim around in and absorb the truth of God’s Word. We must fully grasp all He has given us in the inheritance of Jesus’ sacrifice. Your identity—your true self is a child of God.
So lift your head. You’re not a “weary sinner” anymore. You are holy and blameless. Don’t live like the world. Live like the royalty you are.