Our Reasonable Service
A Living Sacrifice

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 58c of 83

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” (Romans 12:1).

[We have been studying this famous statement of the apostle Paul with which he opens the practical section of his letter to the Romans. In the first instalment, we considered how Paul would have us to live the Christian life upon the basis of the mercies of God as presented in the previous eleven chapters. In the second instalment we considered what it means to present our bodies. Now in this third instalment, we must study why Paul instructs us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice. —JJL]

3.  A Living Sacrifice

a.   Paul is no doubt alluding to the sacrifices of the Old Testament. During Old Testament days, the saints of God worshipped Him by offering bloody animal sacrifices.

Those were the days before Christ came, and the animal sacrifices pointed to the perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 10:12). Believing saints in the Old Dispensation knew that one day the Messiah would come and He would shed His blood and die for their sin.

This is why the animals which were sacrificed had to be killed before they were offered up to God—whether as whole burnt offerings or as peace offerings in which only the kidneys and fat were burnt.

But the apostle Paul is not talking about these dead sacrifices. He tells us, rather, to present our bodies as living sacrifices unto the Lord.

We are to offer ourselves—not by killing ourselves on the altar, but by living for the Lord!

We must live for the Lord in such as way as may be described as sacrificial; or in other words, costly. Remember the incident recorded in 2 Samuel 24 when King David sinned against the Lord by counting his fighting men. God plagued the people with a great plague. And when David repented of his sin, the prophet Gad instructed him to build an altar in the threshing floor of a man by the name of Araunah (or Ornan) a Jebusite, for it was there the plague stopped.

When David came to Araunah, and tried to buy the threshing floor from him, he refused to sell him. Instead, he offered to give it to him for free together with the wood and oxen needed for the sacrifice. But David refused the gift.

He says:

“Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24).

Here then is a lesson we must learn: Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice unto the Lord must cost us something, or it is not a sacrifice.

Are you presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice unto the Lord? If you are, it will cost you something. It may be your time, your energy, your convenience and comfort, your dignity and self-respect, your wealth and status, your friends, your hobbies, and sometimes even your loved ones, for the Lord Jesus says:

 “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37).

Living for the Lord, dear reader, is costly. But as Jim Eliot has put it so well: “he is no fool to lose what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Like Old Testament sacrifice, our sacrifice of ourselves must cost us something.

b.  And moreover, like the Old Testament sacrifices, our sacrifice of ourselves must be ‘holy’ and ‘acceptable.’ But how can our sacrifice be holy and acceptable when we fall short of the glory of God in all that we do think or say?

It can be holy and acceptable only because the blood of the perfect sacrifice of God, the Lord Jesus Christ has been sprinkled upon us. Indeed, had He not done do, we would still be dead in sin and trespasses, and our sacrifice can hardly be called living!

But in teaching us to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto the Lord, the apostle is, no doubt, also teaching us that we have a responsibility to ensure that what we present to the Lord must holy and acceptable or well-pleasing (εὐάρεστος, euarestos) to God.

What does it mean for our sacrifice to be holy? Well, it means that we must be totally consecrated to God! Just as the Old Testament sacrifices were to be free from defects, so our consecration of ourselves to God must be total, not half-hearted.

The prophet Malachi rebuked the Jews for offering to God blind, lame and sick animals (Mal 1:8). He charged them for being deceitful and called a curse upon them:

“But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing…” (Mal 1:14a).

Only a living and holy sacrifice will be “acceptable” or “well-pleasing” to God.

c.   What does this mean for you, dear Christian?

In the first place, it means that you must not think that so long as you give an offering every week that you have fulfilled your duty. The Lord wants your whole body, not just your substance.

In the second place, it means that you must not think that it is enough that you keep the Lord’s Day holy. The Lord’s Day is a day belonging to the Lord. If you use the Lord’s Day for your own pleasure or for your work, you are robbing God and sinning against Him. But you must not think that all you need to do is to keep the Sabbath holy and you have fulfilled your duty.

No, no; the Lord requires your whole body to be presented as a holy sacrifice. The Lord’s Day already belongs to God! Paul is speaking about your life on all days—whether you are in church, at home, at work, at school, at the hawker centre, or in the MRT.

So it means in the third place, that what is required of you is to take up your cross daily to follow Christ! Christ took up His cross as a sacrifice for us; therefore we are to take up our cross if we are to present our bodies as living sacrifice for Him.

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Lk 9:23), says our Lord.

What is it to take up your cross to follow the Lord? Well, God has carved out a different cross for each of us.

Therefore, presenting your bodies a living sacrifice does not necessarily mean leaving your job to serve the Lord full time. Yes, for some of us it may mean that. If the Lord has given you a gift for the gospel ministry and He has by His providence led you to believe that He is calling you to the ministry, then presenting your bodies a living sacrifice would, at least, include presenting yourself to the Session that you may be considered for the gospel ministry. Otherwise, you will be like Jonah running away from God.

But for most of us, taking up our cross or presenting our bodies as living sacrifice is to serve the Lord with what talents He has given us. This means we are to serve Him in the context of the various callings that He has given us.

Are you a disciple of Christ? Then you must present your bodies as living sacrifices not only in worshipping the Lord privately, but also by assembling with the saints to offer the sacrifices of praise with your lips. And not only so, but you must be a witness for Christ wherever the Lord places you, in all the circumstances in your life.

Are you a member of the church? Then you must present your body as living sacrifice by laying down your lives for others. You must show hospitality to others. You must bear with one another’s burdens. You must pray for one another, and admonish and encourage one another, etc.

Are you an officer in the church? Then presenting your body as a living sacrifice will involve more than if you are an ordinary member in the church. Are you an elder? Your cross will be the spiritual welfare of the flock under your care? You must pray for the flock and take every opportunity to build up the saints. Are you a deacon? Your cross will be to serve with all cheerfulness and joy and to encourage others to serve the Lord with their talents too.

Are you a father? Then you must present yourself a living sacrifice by being faithful not only in providing for the home, but leading your family to worship the Lord, and training the children in the fear and nurture of the Lord.

Are you a mother? Then you must present yourself a living sacrifice by faithfully and patiently keeping the home and providing the necessary meals, as well as praying for the children, teaching them, and guiding them in the way of the Lord.

Are you a covenant child? Then you must present yourself as living sacrifice to the Lord by being attentive in worship, catechism and study, and by being obedient to your parents.

Are you an employee? Are you a teacher, doctor, engineer, or salesperson? Then you must present yourself as a living sacrifice by aiming to be the best teacher, doctor, engineer or salesperson for Christ’s sake. For the glory of Christ, you must win the praises of your bosses and colleagues. “Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men” (Col 3:23) says Paul.

Are you an employer or someone in a position of authority in your company? Then you must present your body as a living sacrifice by aiming to be a blessing to those under you that the name of Christ may be exalted in their sight.

What is your calling, dear reader? Remember that your cross depends on your calling, and it is appointed by Christ for your good. Remember to take up your cross that you may honour your King by presenting yourself as a living sacrifice for His sake. Christ our Lord offered Himself a sacrifice for our sakes on the Cross: so we must offer our bodies as living sacrifice for His sake by taking up our crosses and following Him.

Yes, beloved Christian, you who are called of God must by your life: worship Him, glorify Him in all aspects of your life.

God does not require all of us to give up our jobs to serve Him in fulltime in the ministry, but He requires each one of us to be a fulltime Christian! He is pleased when we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and well-pleasing to Him in whatever station of life he has called us to. We must live with God’s glory constantly in mind. We must be able to say with the Psalmist: “[Let] all that is within me, bless [Thy] holy name” (Ps 103:1).

Oh let us repent of our mediocrity, our slothfulness, our lethargy, our lapses in our spiritual lives and our hardness of heart!

But why must we do so? We must do so because it is…  

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim