“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, ESV)
On February 2nd, 1943 four military chaplains were aboard the Dorchester, a luxury ship converted to transport troops during the war. There were 902 on the ship. While sailing in the Atlantic, a German U-boat hit the ship with a torpedo. The ship sank, but the survivors reported the sacrificial actions of the four chaplains. These four remained on the ship, attending to the wounded, offering spiritual counselling to those who could not get off the ship, they gave up their own lifejackets to save others. The survivors stated that as the ship sank, they saw the four men linked by their arms and praying together. They sacrificed their lives so that some might live.
Not many of us will ever be put in a situation where we have to sacrifice our own lives for the sake of others. However, all believers in Jesus are called to present their “bodies as a living sacrifice.” So, what does Paul mean by “living sacrifice” and what motivation does he give us for doing so?
In the first eleven chapters of Romans, Paul has presented a thorough treatise on the doctrine of salvation. He deals with the fall and depravity of man, man’s sinful nature and sinful acts, the judgment of God on sin, the provision of Jesus and His atoning sacrifice, the doctrine of justification by faith, God’s sovereign election, His grace, and His mercy to the undeserving sinner who have trusted in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. It is in view of God’s great mercy towards us undeserving sinners, that we should present our bodies as living sacrifices, “holy and acceptable to God.”
If we fully understood the depth of mercy that God has given us, and how undeserving we are because of sin, there would be no hesitancy for us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. Consider the depth of our sin. We have continuously sinned against God for an entire lifetime. How many sins have we committed over the course of our lives? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? We, apart from some supernatural act of God could never forgive someone who transgressed against us that much. Yet, we have sinned directly against God that much. We would not send our own son to die for someone who maligned our name over and over again by sinning against us. Yet, that is what God did for us. He has been merciful to us who have maligned His name and in no way deserve mercy.
However, Paul here uses the plural of oiktirmos, mercy. This refers to the mercies of God, which includes mercy, but also all the blessings of His grace given to us freely. If we consider all of these blessings that we do not earn or deserve, how could we not offer ourselves as “a living sacrifice”?
But, what does Paul mean by a living sacrifice? Well, while I will cover this tomorrow in more depth, the short answer is that as a living sacrifice, we are to give up on our own sinful passions, our own wants and desires, and offer ourselves to God for His glorious purposes. In view of God’s abundant mercy given to us, we should die to our own selfish will and seek God’s will with a whole heart.