Our Bodies As a Living Sacrifice
Having come to the end of our series on substitutionary atonement, the question now is how should we respond to what we’ve learned? Of course, that should always be the question after studying the Bible. If we don’t apply its truth to our lives, all we’ve done is filled our heads with knowledge. But “the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and studying it should affect our hearts and change our lives. Our response to the incredible sacrifice Jesus Christ made on our behalf should be nothing less than offering Him all that we are–a living sacrifice. We’ll explore this idea in a minute but first, a recap.
Christ’s Death Was Our Atoning Sacrifice
We have walked through the topic of substitutionary atonement from the fall of man to Christ to show how God’s plan from before time began was to put forth His own Son as the sacrifice of atonement that would effectively reconcile sinners to their holy God. He foreshadowed and prophesied this once-for-all sacrifice in various ways throughout redemption history. Here’s a brief summary of what we learned through the different passages studied in this series:
A Sacrifice For Adam and Eve–We are incapable of covering our own guilt and shame. Only God can make a covering suitable and durable and He has done this through the sacrifice of His Son, the one who has crushed the serpent.
The Sacrifice of Isaac–God is the loving Father who provided His willing Son as the sacrifice to take our place.
The Sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover–God has provided redemption for us from our slavery to sin. But the blood of Christ must be applied by faith to our hearts for it to be effective.
The Sacrifice of Bulls and Goats–The one who trusts in Christ as his/her substitutionary sacrifice of atonement not only receives forgiveness from sin but also has the guilt of that sin removed completely.
Messiah’s Sacrifice Prophesied–Jesus is the Messiah who has fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s Servant who would suffer and die for the sins of the world.
Jesus Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice–Indeed, Jesus is the Messiah all Scripture points to, the manifestation of God’s justifying activity sufficient to save all who have faith–past, present, and future.
Christ’s Resurrection Gives Us Life
All who have trusted into Christ for salvation have been justified before God. Jesus has taken our punishment and given us his righteousness. We are reconciled to God, brought into a right relationship with Him. We have been given the Holy Spirit who is continually working in our lives to sanctify us. This is all God’s work. It is given to us only by His grace, through our faith in Jesus Christ. The issue at hand then, is how in our sinful bodies living in this corrupt world, do we “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called” (Eph. 4:1)? Let’s explore a few verses in Romans.
We Will Be Saved From Eternal Death To Eternal Life
Romans 5:10 says, ”For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
We have been reconciled to God through Christ’s death. That is our present reality. But we also have a hope yet to be realized: the promise of eternal life. Paul details this point in the preceding verses. We have peace with God and live in His grace now, but we also have the hope of glory. We can have confidence that when Judgment Day comes, we will be saved from God’s wrath because it has already been poured out on Jesus, our substitute. Beyond this, we are saved to eternal life.
Jesus paid our debt in full on the cross. He was the perfect substitute, being fully man but without sin, and fully God, able to bear the eternal punishment for the sin of all mankind. But it is his resurrection from the dead that gives us life. 1 Corinthians 15:19 says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” But Jesus Christ rose victorious over sin and death, glorified, never to die again (Rom. 6:9). He is the firstfruits of the resurrection and glorification that all who are justified will obtain (1 Cor. 15:20-22).
We Are Saved From Spiritual Death To Spiritual Life
But the right relationship we have with God now means that we already have spiritual life where we once were spiritually dead. This is why justification is described as rebirth or new life. Paul explains it using the picture of baptism in Romans 6:3-5:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
The main point Paul is making in this chapter is that believers must consider themselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). When a believer is baptized, he is expressing symbolically that he has died to sin and buried his old self as Christ died and was buried. Coming up out of the water is a picture of rebirth or new life that we can now live because Christ was raised from the dead and dwells within us (Gal. 2:20). The reality of this new life is that we are set free from our bondage to sin and instead are now “slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18).
While this is our reality, it is also something in which we must continually strive. The believer must consider herself dead to sin–being careful not to allow sin to reign in her body (Rom. 6:12). Paul gives a negative command in verse 13: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness” followed by the contrasting positive command, “but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Or, you might say “be what you are!” We have been brought from death to life and we must act like it by living rightly. Romans 8 tells us that we are not alone in this endeavor for we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us and Jesus Christ interceding for us at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:9-11, 34). This means that we actually can live righteously!
Our Lives Are a Living Sacrifice
“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. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable, and perfect.”
Presenting Our Bodies
Later in Romans, Paul again exhorts us to “present” ourselves to God. Romans 12:1 says “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.” This appeal is made on the basis of all that Paul has established up to this point in the epistle. It is on the basis of the Gospel, “the mercies of God,” all that God has done for us that we don’t deserve. Jesus was sacrificed on our behalf and rose from the dead so that all who trust in Him can have new life. After freely receiving this new life, what else could our response be but to offer it back to Him in service and worship; to follow His example of ultimate sacrifice by living lives of sacrifice to His glory? This is an offering pleasing to God and sets His followers apart from the rest of the world. This is true worship.
Renewing Our Minds
To be a living sacrifice in a sinful body certainly involves continual effort. To quote D. L. Moody, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” Following Christ is much more than a one-time decision. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Verse 2 of Romans 12 explains how we are to accomplish this: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable, and perfect.” Being dead to sin means no longer conforming to this world and not conforming to this world requires the renewal of our minds. We must conform our thinking to the truth of God’s Word, filtering everything through that lens and we will be continually and increasingly transformed into the likeness of Christ.
As we do this, we will be able to discern God’s will, or that which is “good and acceptable, and perfect.” Douglas Moo observes,
In Rom. 1:28 Paul has pointed out that people’s rejection of God has resulted in God’s giving them over to a ‘worthless’ mind: one that is ‘unqualified’ (adokimos) in assessing the truth about God and the world he has made. Now Paul asserts, the purpose of our being transformed by the renewing of the mind is that this state might be reversed; that we might be able to ‘approve’ (dokimazo) the will of God.”1
Discerning God’s Will
Moo goes on to explain that “the will of God‘ in this verse is “his moral direction.”2 Our ability to live righteously (discerning right from wrong) comes out of the renewal of our minds. Our bodies will not fall into conformity to Christ apart from our minds. So, unless our minds are continually being renewed, our lives will not be a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord. And unless we read the Word of God and apply its truth, our minds will not be renewed.
I know this seems daunting. But God’s “divine power has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). Did you catch that? We are divinely and powerfully equipped with all that we need for godly living through the knowledge of God. Of course, it is not merely knowing about God that transforms us, but knowing God (living in relationship with Him). Growing in our knowledge of God enables us to discern how He wants us to live. “Having escaped the corruption that is in the world” (sounds like “Do not be conformed to this world,” right?), we commit to growing in godly character, and we decrease our chances of being ineffective or falling (2 Peter 1:4-10). This involves diligence (vs. 10), but God has fully equipped us to succeed and it is His Spirit that transforms us throughout our pursuit.
All who have been justified by the blood of Jesus have been set free from the bondage of sin and given new life. Though we are not yet free from the presence of sin while we remain in these bodies, we are commanded to live lives marked by righteousness. And we can! We are equipped with the Word of God and the Spirit of God through which our minds may be continually renewed in truth and our lives transformed from conformity to the world to conformity to Christ. The result of this transformation is that we can offer our bodies (our all) as a pleasing sacrifice to our God who sacrificed His own Son for our salvation. Furthermore, we have hope in the promise of glorified bodies with which we will one day be able to perfectly worship and obey our great God for eternity. So let’s renew our minds with this glorious truth and gladly offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”