Eli Sabblah

A living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

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

The Apostle Paul makes a solemn appeal to the brethren in the church at Rome to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. In doing so, he beseeches them by the mercies of God to signify the gravity of what he is about to communicate and the fact he expects the brethren to take his words seriously. 

I will attempt to unpack these 3 terminologies the apostle used in this verse:

  1. Living sacrifice – A sacrifice is a sacrifice because it is dead. In the Old Testament, animals that were sacrificed to God were first killed and then burnt. Burning a live animal on the altar could result in all kinds of unpleasant and chaotic experiences. The animal, even if tied, could scatter the altar once set ablaze. Therefore, it is best practice to slaughter the animal first before burning it on the altar. Again, sacrifices are sacrifices because they are dead. Case in point, the instructions God gave to Moses regarding how burnt sacrifices should be offered in Leviticus 1:3-9. God instructed him to slaughter the animal, shed its blood, skin it and chop it up into pieces. This is what it means to offer a sacrifice to God. Hence, when Paul beseeches the brethren to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, he presents us with a grand antithetic idea. It seems he expects the brethren to live as though dead. The apostle expects life and death to dwell together in the same being at the same time. In 2 Corinthians 4:10, Paul presents this same idea in a different way. He said, “we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body”. This basically means that believers are expected to live their lives observing and  practising the essence of the sacrifice of Jesus. The essence of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is captured in a statement he made in Gethsemane. While praying in Gethsemane, he battled with God to fulfil his purpose on this earth. But eventually, Christ said, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt”. Here we see Jesus, though alive, yet dying to his own will. This is what it means to be a living sacrifice: to be alive yet dead to your own desires, will and expectations. It is wrong is to allow our will and desires to prevail over the divine and ultimate will of God for us and humankind. To live as a living sacrifice is to be dead to yourself and alive to God. It means to deny yourself because you have to say yes to him. For us to fully actualize the life of Jesus in our body, we must carry in our bodies the reality of the death of Jesus. Which is the fact that he could have refused to die on the cross and he could have saved himself from the cross. But he didn’t! He was not pursuing his will while on earth, he was fulfilling the will of the father. Jesus in the flesh, was the ultimate living sacrifice. No wonder he calls us to live like he did. In carrying in our bodies the essence of the death of Christ, his very life will be revealed in us. He was treated like a sheep being led to the slaughter, not resisting arrest nor fighting back. In fact, he rebuked Peter for attacking one of the Roman soldiers who came to arrest him in Gethsemane. This is the height of a life that was lived as a sacrifice.
  1. Holy – This means that the lives we present to God must be uncommon among men. We cannot flow with the tide of the day and expect to live holy lives. There is a saying that goes like this, “only a dead fish goes with the tide”. We have been called to be living sacrifices alright, however we are expected to live to God and die to the desires of our own hearts and the pervading philosophies and ideas of our world. Therefore, a life worth presenting to God should be a life that is set apart for him. That is a life that is lived according to the leading of the Spirit. A holy life. One that has no pleasure in sin and finds no reason to over-indulge in the mundane and wallow in the profane. 
  1. Acceptable to God – Because you present something to God doesn’t mean he will accept it. Some sacrifices in the bible were rejected by God. Case in point, Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by God in Genesis 4:1-7. For anything to be regarded by God, it has to be honourable, of good quality and carefully selected or presented. We must be intentional about the way we present ourselves to God. The content of our lives are of immense interest to God. What we indulge in repeatedly forms the content of our lives. Therefore, if you are to present yourself to God at a time in your life when the mundane and the profane preoccupy your entire life, chances are that this sacrifice may not be acceptable to God. I need to reiterate the point that God indeed rejects sacrifices. The notion that anything at all presented to God should be acceptable to him is a warped one. He is the King of Kings and clearly requires the best of things as well. God deserves to receive the best from our lives, including what we do with it. Some people are of the view that they will use their youthful years to pursue sinful pleasures and turn to the LORD in their old age. While God is merciful to accept people who turn to him, yet we are emphatically admonished in Ecclesiastes 12:1 to remember our Creator in the days of our youth. God deserves the best years of our lives too. God shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought neither should we present to him the years of our lives in which our strength is weak and our reasoning is dim. We must present an acceptable sacrifice to him like Abel did. Practically, we can do this by valuing the life he gave us, adding value to it and presenting it back to him. 

Paul goes on to explain that, presenting our bodies in this manner is our “…reasonable act of worship”. The ESV bible puts it this way “… your spiritual worship”. I find it interesting to know that how we present our bodies to God has spiritual implications. This presupposes that the way to worship God spiritually, is to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to him. What I do with my body has implications on how spiritual my worship is. Paul curiously quizzes the Corinthian church in 1st Corinthians 6:19: 

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own

Our bodies are the holy dwelling place of the Holy Spirit who came to reside in us at the new birth. Therefore, we must treat it as such. We must be very careful not to desecrate the holy habitation of the King of the universe. We must not sling mud and filth where the Holy Spirit dwells. He is called the Holy Spirit for a reason. After Paul asked this question quoted in the verse above, he goes on to say in the next verse, “ … for you were bought with a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body”. What we do with our bodies must continually and consistently bring glory to God. Sexual sin is known to be the only sin that negatively impacts the human body. It is an audacious desecration of the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and it doesn’t bring glory to God. Let us pursue a holy and sinless lifestyle, flee from sexual sin so we can continue to present our bodies to God as holy and acceptable to the King of all kings.

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