“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rm 12:1-2)
God’s Mercy and Living According to His Will
Paul starts chapter 12 by saying, ‘therefore.’ ‘Therefore’ connects what Paul says going forward to everything he explained about the gospel in previous chapters. The gospel of Jesus is the foundation of all that we do, and God’s mercy is at the center of the gospel.
Because God is so merciful, He made perfect righteousness by sending His Son to earth and having Him die on the cross. And, He graciously gave us perfect righteousness in Jesus even though we don’t deserve it. Not only that, but with His great mercy, God freed us from the law of sin and death through the law of the Spirit and life. He adopted us as His children.
Through God’s mercy, we were forgiven and reconciled with God and became justified. Because of God’s mercy, we can call Him ‘Abba, Father’ and are promised to inherit His Kingdom. We know that everything God has done for us was out of His mercy and grace because we know that we don’t deserve any of it.
What’s important now is how we respond to God’s mercy. Paul said that Christians should live a life based on God’s mercy. Paul urges us to live transformed lives in Jesus because that is the proper response to God’s mercy and grace: to take after Him and live lives that reflect Jesus. In other words, God’s grace is the foundation for our lives.
So, what does Paul urge us to do in view of God’s mercy? He talks about two fundamental changes. The first one is related to our bodies and the second one, our minds.
1) Offer Your Body
In regard to our bodies, Paul says, “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship.” (Rom 12:1)
Here, Paul clarifies that true worship must include offering our bodies to God. True and proper worship includes not only the Church services we attend on Sundays, but also what we say and do in our daily lives.
Even though it’s important for us to be gathered here on Sundays to worship God together, if we worship God only on Sundays, that kind of worship can’t please Him because we’re called to worship Him every single day.
Moreover, we know from this verse that true and proper worship is not just an internal, abstract concept. True and proper worship must include our specific, external, physical actions. It requires us to follow Jesus’ ways with our bodies. And, we can’t really follow Him unless we offer our bodies to Him.
Thus, to truly and properly worship God, we should use our bodies carefully. We need to see what Jesus wants us to see through our eyes, hear what Jesus wants us to hear through our ears, say what Jesus wants us to say with our mouths, do what Jesus wants us to do with our hands, and go where Jesus wants us to go with our feet.
That’s the meaning of what Jesus said in Lk 9:23. He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23)
To deny ourselves means to lay down the things we want to do at Jesus’ feet and to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first. It’s to place God’s will first and prioritize following it. That’s the kind of worship God is pleased with.
2) Renew Your Minds
Paul didn’t only urge us to offer our bodies to God. He also urged us to renew our minds. Renewing our minds includes knowing God’s will as well as not conforming to the pattern of this world.
The Bible continuously tells God’s people to follow His ways, not the ways of the world. In Leviticus 18:3-4, God says,
“You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God.” (Lv 18:3-4)
This is what God told the Israelites. Right after He delivered them out of Egypt, God led the Israelites to Mount Sinai, made a covenant with them, and gave them laws to follow including the 10 Commandments.
The Israelites had just escaped from Egypt, and they were being led by God to the land of Canaan. However, God told the Israelites not to follow the ways of Egypt or of Canaan, but to follow only His ways. God wanted His people to be holy just like He is holy so that they could lead other nations to God through their holy lives.
So, it’s important for Christians to know what ‘holy’ means according to the Bible. The Hebrew word for “holy”, is kodesh, which comes from the root word “Kadash”. And, it means to be set apart for a specific purpose. When the Bible calls something or someone holy, it is not speaking of purity or perfection. Rather, it is something set apart from everything else.
When the Scriptures call Israel a holy nation, it isn’t suggesting that Israel is perfect or sinless. But it points to the fact that God chose and called Israel for a specific purpose and set it apart from other nations.
So, God said to the Israelites,
“You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Lv 20:26)
God required the Israelites to be holy like Him because He had set them apart from other nations. Thus, biblical holiness is not about being absolutely perfect, but instead, it is about being separated from what is sinful. It is for us to be set apart from worldly things and belong to God.
We cannot make ourselves perfect and blameless, but we can choose to be holy in God’s sight by setting ourselves apart from the ways of the world and following His ways. That’s the mindset we should have as Christians.
The ways of the world and God’s will contradict each other. The standards of these ways are so different that there’s no possibility of compromise, which means that there’s no grey area between the two. So, we must choose one. We can’t love God and the world at the same time. We can’t follow God’s will and the ways of the world at the same time.
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters…” (Mt 6:24), and “because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rv 3:16)
John also said, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them” (1Jn 2:15).
In view of God’s mercy, Paul urges us to renew our minds. We must continue to refuse to follow the ways of the world and change our ways according to God's will. Our minds must continually be renewed through God’s words and the Holy Spirit so that we can be holy by setting ourselves apart from worldly things and by discerning God’s will and following it. Then, we can truly and properly worship God with both our minds and bodies and in both church and our daily lives.
These are the two fundamental changes we are to have in Jesus as those who experience God’s mercy and are saved by it. True worship is how we build a proper relationship with God.