Rethinking Romans 12:1

June 30, 2008

Just this last week I heard a message on Romans 12:1 that has me re-approaching the passage. As it is typically taught (or at least as I have heard it typically taught), the teacher told us about being a living sacrifice and how living sacrifices tend to get off of the altar.  He went on to tell us about the fact that because of all that precedes (Romans 1-11) we are to now present our bodies as living sacrifices in a way that is holy and pleasing to God.

As the teacher was laying out his reading of the passage, I couldn’t help but notice the NET’s variant reading of Romans 12:1.  Here is how the NET Bible reads:

Therefore I exhort you brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a sacrifice–alive, holy and pleasing to God–which is your reasonable service.

For me, the reordering of the descriptors “alive, holy and pleasing to God” opened up a door.  Could it be that Paul, in line with his own “therefore”, is exhorting his brothers and sisters to present their bodies as a sacrifice–alive holy and pleasing to God IN JESUS?  The difference, if it is there, is both subtle and momentous.  On the one hand Paul is instructing his readers how to be a sacrifice.  On the other hand, Paul is urging those who are already alive, holy and pleasing to God in Jesus, to now cast themselves back on the altar to God.

Having the door thus opened, I have since read through Romans to see how Paul prepares the reader for 12:1.  How has he framed the ideas of human holiness, life and relationship to God?  Here is a quick summary of what I’ve noted:

“Present your bodies…alive

Transgression, initially through Adam, brings death (4:25; 5:17-21) and the Spirit (8:2) in Jesus (5:17-21; 11:18) through faith gives life (4:17, 25) as a gift (1:17; 6:23) through our identification with him in death, burial and resurrection (6:4-13) and continual life in the Spirit (8:13)

Key passages:5:17-21; 6:12-13

“Present your bodies…holy

Left to ourselves, and in Adam (5:17-21), all of humanity is caught in sin (ch. 1:21ff; 3:9-18, 23).  Though righteousness is described in the law (2:13; 10:5) no one is declared righteous under the law (3:20; 9:31-32); only in Christ (5:1) is righteousness granted to people (3:21-24) through faith (4:5-9; 5:1; 9:30, 32; 10:10).

“Present your bodies…fully pleasing”

In sin (see above) all are under God’s judgment (2:3) and are therefore opposed to him (5:10).  Through Jesus however, we not only have a means to righteousness (see above), but also to peace with God (5:1; 8:6), reconciliation (5:10-11; 11:15), the removal of condemnation (8:1; 15:29; 16:10), adoption as sons and daughters (9:8) and the acceptance of God (14:3-4; 15:7, 16).  Only in right relationship with God through the work of Jesus are we pleasing to God (8:8-10.


Over and over again through Romans Paul seems to be showing the life, holiness and acceptableness of those who are in Christ.  Romans 12:1 then both recaps–“therefore” “in view (i.e. all that has been said) of the mercies of God” and “alive, holy and fully pleasing to God”–what he has argued and exhorts response–“present your bodies as a sacrifice”.

What difference does it make?  It means that our response is to done as living, holy and pleasing people, not to obtain life or holiness or God’s pleasure.  Because we already have these things in Christ our sacrifice is better than it could ever otherwise be and it points all the more to the greatness of Christ who’s work has been so great in our lives!