Romans 12:1-8
Presenting Oneself [To God] As A Sacrifice

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In March 2000

1.  When we thus come together and worship we always take up monetary offerings.  The two characters that spell out "offering" in Japanese [which consists of "sacrifice + money"] are even printed regularly in the weekly worship service bulletin.  After the offering is presented, one person represents the congregation in prayer.  Many times they pray, "we present this offering as a sign of our dedication of our bodies and selves to you."  The phrase "a sign of dedicating ourselves" may not come into focus very well, even if they have lived the church life for many years, for those who only think that an offering is "giving money that is extra, or left over money you don't use."  Or for those who have not had much time living the church life, they might have thought, "What in the world does this [phrase] mean?"  But, this is a phrase that has a great deal of meaning.  It has to do with whether the worship which we thus come together and offer is "worship" in a true sense or not.  So, I'd like for us to think together about "dedicating oneself [to God]" from the scriptural passage we are given for today.

I Urge You By The Mercy Of God

2.  To begin, please look at verses one and two.  Here Paul says, "Please offer up your own bodies."  The very act of offering up something, whether a monetary offering or a sacrifice [of an animal] are acts seen in all religious rituals.  They were not unusual back then in the Greco-Roman world either.  But, Paul is saying here that they are to "offer up yourselves [as an offering]."  It is not the offering itself that God wants, but us.  He wants us.  So we are to offer up our very selves.  And it does not merely mean to offer up our hearts.  It is not our mental state or the condition of our heart.  If the situation talked about [here] is not merely an affection for God, neither is it religious enthusiasm.  That's why he ventures to say offer up your own "bodies."  "Offering up one's body" clearly has to do with the specific lifestyle we have.  This very thing [of offering up one's body] is related to the concrete lifestyle visible to the eye, like "money" matters.  The mentality that has left out this area has no relationship at all to what the scriptures are speaking about here.

3.  However, we should not overlook that Paul says here at the beginning, "Because of the circumstances, o brothers, I urge you by the mercy of God."  It is precisely because the situation talked about here is specific that this phrase has even more meaning.  The phrase "because of the circumstances," or "for this reason," or "as the case stands" points to the work of God's salvation given to us through Jesus Christ, which has been related to us in the text so far.  It points to the work of God's salvation in justifying all believers whether Jewish or Greek, making them alive with new life, and making them alive with a hope that shares in the glory of God and [it points] to the mercy of God which is at the foundation to [his work of salvation].  Thus, Paul urges them "by the mercy of God."

4.  [The reason] Paul makes a reference to "the mercy of God" is because his recommendation of "offer up your bodies" holds true first of all by this mercy of God.  He doesn't simply say that "a thankful response to God's salvation is a presentation of the self [to God]."  The very dedication of oneself to God is something that cannot come true without the mercy of God.  We don't usually consider this matter very seriously.  That's why we are quick to think of this dedication of ourselves, which involves our specific daily lives, as a good and proper deed that is automatically in and of itself accepted by God.  For example, please think about monetary offerings, which are a sign of that.  Many who offer up a monetary gift suppose it is naturally accepted by God.  Perhaps they even entertain [some] pride, "I'm making such an offering."  If they were told that it was not acceptable to God, they might get enraged as Cain was (Genesis 4:5).

5.  I think we should look at this carefully one more time.  Paul is not just saying here "offer up your bodies," but is saying, "offer up [yourselves] as a holy living sacrifice which brings joy to God."  We must respond to the gravity of these words.  Do our bodies turn into a holy living sacrifice?  Do our concrete day to day lives related to our bodies, our whole existences, turn into a holy living sacrifice?  Do we become sacrifices pleasing to God?  Is that to be assumed true?  That doesn't sit right.  We don't really become a holy living sacrifice pleasing to God by any stretch of the imagination, do we?  [Yes!]

6.  Therefore, since we can offer up our bodies as a holy living sacrifice pleasing to God, it is clear that it is only because of the mercy of God and his work of salvation.  [It is] a concrete dedication of ourselves which is first established by the mercy of God and his work of salvation.  This very [kind of self presentation, the scriptures] say, is the worship we ought to be rendering.

7.  So, as it goes on it says "please renew your heart and have yourself changed."  The one who does the changing for you is God.  A human being cannot by himself or herself change oneself.  In this translation it might seem possible to read "renew your heart" as something we are responsible for and supposed to do, but this phrase does not say such a thing.  "The complete change of heart" spoken of here is God's doing and is the substance of what "have yourself changed" is about.  Also, "the complete change of the heart (or thoughts)" that comes from God is going towards one direction.  It is about getting to the point of being able to tell the difference in whether something is God's will, or it is good, pleasing to God, or it is whole.  This is what "having yourself changed" means.  Because we are by nature without such discernment.  You know that humans by nature are not interested in what is pleasing to God.

8.  The other day or so, I just flipped on the TV for no real reason and on one of the programs a boy was worrying about "Whatever in the world do I really want to do with myself?"  Nearby, an adult with a look that seemed to know so much admonished him, "Find out what you really want to do.  And go for it."  Doesn't it seem like everyone says that?  This scene is repeated everywhere.  "Go do what you want to do most." -- This is surely a mold that belongs to the world.  Actually people often speak as if true happiness lies in the very life that follows such a pattern.  So then, people are incessantly forced and molded into this pattern.

9.  Yet, will there really be happiness in pursuing what you want to do, in the realization of your aspirations, and in giving first place to your self actualization?  Hardly not.  Rather, in reality won't there be unending sorrow, sighing, and cries of desperation in what is done both on a small scale individually and on a large scale nationally?  Doesn't the history of this world prove this out?  This way of living looks like a well spring of fresh water promising happiness, but the truth is it is only a sewer spouting out filthy water releasing a stench of unhappiness and misfortune.  If one drinks from that one can't help but be destroyed.

10.  And, this pursuit of self actualization takes place even in the self sacrifice for a totalitarian regime which seems to deny the self at first glance.  Also, if more be said, it takes place even in the service and the self sacrifice which we talk about in the church.  What is really taking place there is that while it looks like persons are offering up themselves [in sacrifice], there is only a mindset of "What is it that I really want to do?" that is at the center of their interest.

11.  Because we are like that, as I mentioned earlier, this matter of offering our bodies up [to God] only comes true by the mercy of God and his work of salvation.  Being able to offer our bodies up as a holy living sacrifice pleasing to God is not to be taken for granted.  It becomes possible only by the mercy of God.  Therefore, we must turn our attention, which always directs itself on us, to the mercy of God first and foremost.  Also, we have to have our hearts renewed by God and have them changed continuously.  We should continuously have ourselves turned in the direction of living in discernment for what is God's will, what is good, pleasing to God, and whole.

A Modest Self Evaluation

12.  In addition, Paul begins to write some further specific recommendations for the new lifestyle wherein one lives and offers up one's body by just the mercy of God in the manner [described] above.  These [recommendations] go all the way to chapter fifteen.  [But] today let's read from verses three to eight.

13.  In this text Paul is looking for some "modesty" from believers.  This phrase "modest evaluation" means to be in a sober and sensible condition.  It is the good judgment of not being intoxicated and off on some extreme.  This is not limited to matters of faith, but when speaking in general of any matter of "dedication and devotion," self sacrifice easily includes in it both fanaticism and intoxication.  It ends up intoxicating the very persons themselves who are offering up their bodies to something.  And it is connected to an overvaluation of the self.  Such an overvaluation leads to producing a haughtiness that boasts of oneself and looks down on others.  This haughtiness even happens in the fellowship of the faith we call the church.  And it has the power to destroy the church.  Thus, Paul is looking for a self evaluation which is of a sober and sensible condition.

14.  Besides this, what does "in accordance to the extent of one's faith" mean?  Is Paul comparing his faith and the faith of other people and seeking to judge on the basis of the size of their faith?   In the way some say "His faith is big but mine is small," or the other way some say, "Compared to others my faith is big," was he saying please make the extent of faith your gauge1 and nothing else?

15.  That's not in the least the kind of thing that seems to be stated here; for, that is completely at odds from what Paul has stated in the text so far.  Actually, the phrase "extent of faith" is not the only translation for it.  I think this should instead be translated "measurement of faith."  If there is a measurement of faith, there is a measurement that is not based on faith.  It is the measurement of this world and the measurement of this world is different from the measurement of faith.

16.  In chapter twelve of The First Epistle To The Corinthian Disciples, it speaks on various gifts of the Spirit.  There appears in that passage "persons who perform miracles" and, among others, "persons who have the gift to heal sickness."  They think that perhaps even in the Roman church the appearance of these gifts of the Holy Spirit were not unusual.  So, for example, please try to imagine that they were people who had the gift to heal illnesses familiar to us.  Or, even though they were not people with supernatural powers like this, try to think that they were people with the ability to overwhelmingly influence others.  If judged by the measurement of this world these people would be respected and those who didn't stand out from the others might be looked lightly upon.  These kind of people must be deliberately elevated.  But, how does one get like that?  Therein they overvalue themselves and as they compare themselves with others there is undoubtedly for them the temptation to see themselves as great people.  This is a measurement that is not based on faith.

17.  But, we know that the measurement of faith is that "all things come from God, are preserved by God and go to him," (11:36).  Please note that Paul calls his own apostleship "a grace given to me."  He knew that the measurement of faith [was] a grace gift from God.  When one evaluates oneself according to the measurement of this faith one does not boast over it, but humbles oneself and can render a truly sober judgment and a modest evaluation.  So, by having a modest evaluation of oneself,  the new life lived by offering up one's body to God first comes to be; [it does] because as Paul demonstrated here right at the start, the place of that new life is first above all else the church the body of Christ.  Because united in Christ we form one body and we are each a part of that body together.

18.  In this way all things come from God's grace.  By his grace he gives us all kinds of different gifts.  [They are given us] so that we form one body together.  That being the case, the important thing is to serve loyally2 in the duty given to us by faith.  The text here provides examples such as the one who prophecies, the one who serves, the one who exhorts, the one who gives alms, the one who leads, and the one who does good deeds.  Of course, these are not the only parts of the body.  We too are given different gifts by grace.  What are they-- to evaluate ourselves modestly according to the measurement of faith and to serve loyally as part of the body of Christ.  Therein indeed lies first and foremost the lifestyle of self sacrifice [to God] that involves our concrete every day lives.

19.  Thus, we first place ourselves under the love and mercy of God which was manifested in Christ.  We first entrust ourselves over to the work of God's salvation.  Then after that we offer our bodies up as holy living sacrifices of ourselves pleasing to God.  The monetary offerings we give after this are a sign of the dedication of our self to God which is established by the mercy of God.  My prayer is that may one week of our lives going from one Lord's Day worship service to [another] Lord's Day worship service, and even our entire lives as a succession of [going from one Lord's Day worship service to another] be but an offering to God as it lies in God's mercy and that it be a worship worthy for us to offer up.

End Notes

1 Gauge means the basis of your judgments, the standard by which you measure, the criterion to determine one's worth.

2 Or, faithfully.

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