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Present Yourself a Living Sacrifice

The apostle Paul calls us to present ourselves a living sacrifice in Romans 12:1. What does he mean?


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The most obvious meaning is that we are to give ourselves to God in some way without dying. We are to be a "living sacrifice," not a burnt offering. Let's set that in our minds first and thus eliminate all bizarre pagan interpretations.

Next, we should look at the other places Paul talks about giving ourselves to God, and especially in this same letter to the Romans, which he does several times, especially in chapter 6.

"Present" Yourself a Living Sacrifice

We know what it means to present yourself a living sacrifice by looking at Paul's use of "present" in Romans 6.

  • Romans 6:13: Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
  • Romans 6:16: Don’t you know that when you present yourselves as servants and obey someone, you are the servants of whomever you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?
  • Romans 6:19: I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh, for as you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to wickedness upon wickedness, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness for sanctification.

I think these verses make it clear that presenting our body as a living sacrifice has to do with turning our body over to God for his use rather than our own. In Romans 6:19 "present yourselves" is not as a living sacrifice but as a servant who will obey. So what Paul is trying to get across in both chapters is that Christians should be obeying God. One way to describe serving God is that our bodies are now for God to use for his will rather than for us to use for our will.

I suspect that you would not have searched "present yourself a living sacrifice" and clicked on this page unless you were already wanting to serve God. Hopefully, you are just wanting to know how to serve him well.

One thing I think is important is that we look at the difference between spiritual desires and bodily desires. Our bodily desires are things that have to do with survival, success, and advancement on earth. Sex, hunger, and thirst all have to do with survival. Ambition, jealousy, envy, and greed have to do with success and advancement on earth. God, however, wants us to desire spiritual survival, success, and growth. For that we need to love God, love one another, and pursue the Word of God.

When we dig deeper, we find that pursuing spiritual survival success, and growth often requires denying our bodily desires and risking our survival, success, and advancement in this world. For example, fasting requires denying our hunger; doing good to those who hate us (Matt. 5:43-44) requires denying jealousy, envy, and sometimes ambition. Lending and expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35) requires denying greed. God does not just teach us to present ourselves a living sacrifice, but also teaches to lose our lives in the short term if we want to live forever (Matt. 16:25).

Perhaps the paragraph above is best summed up by Jim Elliott's powerful saying:

He is no fool who given what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Surely it is true that to present yourself a living sacrifice is to turn over our lives—our hopes, dreams, desires— over to God, who loves us more than any human could. In fact, he sent his Son to lose his life so that we might gain the life that comes from heaven.

Favor and the Power of God

It is apparent to all of us, assuming we have read the New Testament even once, and especially if we have read Romans, that humans are not obedient by nature. I have given a description of what it means to present yourself a living sacrifice, but that is much different than actually doing so.

Jesus once said, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn. 15:5). The whole point of Romans is to explain how faith brings us into God's favor and that favor provides the power we need for obeying (.e.g; Rom. 5:1-5). ("Grace" is better translated "favor.") In Romans 6:14, Paul tells us that because we are under God's favor rather than the law of Moses, sin will not dominate us. In a letter to Titus later in his life he wrote:

The favor of God has appeared, the salvation of everyone, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live sanely, righteously, and godly in this present age, awaiting the blessed hope and grandeur of the glory of the great God and our Deliverer, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to ransom us from all lawlessness and purify for himself a prized people, zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:11-14; translation based on Apostolic Bible Polyglot)

Note: This quote uses an uncommon version. I used it because the translation is very careful with the first few words of the quote. You can read the quote in any version you want by hovering your mouse over the reference, and the point of this verse will be the same.

It is the favor (grace) of God that teaches us to obey and Jesus, the One who saved us, who empowers us to obey.

I just could not give you a description of what it means to present yourself a living sacrifice without also giving at least a brief comment about where the power to present yourself a living sacrifice comes from.

I think reading Romans will answer the question of what Paul meant by presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice. This second section, though, is a mere beginning to understanding the power of God to actually be a living sacrifice to God. I recommend that you follow up with "How to Live Holy"

You might also want to read my booklet, Grace: The Power of God and Promise of the New Covenant, available wherever books are sold.

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