Romans 12:1-2: Worship as Sacrifice: Displaying the Cross


I’m preaching a short, four-week series on the Spiritual Discipline of Worship. This sermon on Romans 12:1-2 is part three in the series. Thanks for stopping by.–jerry

Let’s begin this sermon with a brief review of Romans up to the twelfth chapter:

  • Paul begins by asserting that all of us are sinners in need of salvation.
  • He makes the case that there is no one who has any excuses before God. All have sinned and fallen short.
  • He asserts that if all are sinners, and there is no difference, then all are also ‘justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’
  • For those of us who ‘believe in him who raised him from the dead’ our faith is ‘credited to us as righteousness.’ (4:23-24)
  • We have been given a gift of immense proportions—totally undeserved, totally outweighing the offense and totally from God’s grace.
  • For those who believe, there is a death: We die to sin in baptism and are united with Christ in his death. So then if we are we will also be united with him in resurrection. “The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.” It is the same for us. Risen to walk in newness of life.
  • So then, we also become slaves to righteousness: set free from sin, offering the parts of our bodies to righteousness, so that we may increase in holiness. We have received this gift of eternal life from God.
  • So there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ. We are not to live by the flesh, but by the Spirit. We have an obligation to the Spirit. We are more than conquerors.
  • We are the ones who have believed in our hearts and confessed with our mouths: Jesus is Lord.
  • We are the ones who will be saved by God’s great power and mercy.
  • ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.’

And chapter 12 begins: Therefore

“Therefore, I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed 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.”

I’d like to make four observations about these verses this morning.

Worship: Surrendering the Body

At the root of all that we have said about worship is a single thought. It is this: The God who saves us in his mercy also is the God who makes demands on our lives. The question we ask is this: Does God have a right to make any demand, let alone this demand? I think part of the problem with the way we do church is precisely at this point. When we do evangelism, for example, we are happy to let people know that Jesus died for their sins, that he wants to set them free, that he will help them in their difficulties—maybe even heal them of illness and disease, and that he will be a great pal through the many changes that occur in life.

What we frequently fail to tell people, while we are telling them to ‘give their hearts to Jesus,’ is that God has made demands not just on our heart, but on our very lives as represented here by the apostle in these words: “…offer your bodies…” Now this is representative, but it is far more than metaphor. No, I happen to think that the apostle is not mincing words at all. Offer your bodies is Paul’s way of saying: Your entire being now belongs to God in light of His mercy.

I think we do a great disservice to the people we share the Gospel with when we tell them that salvation is only about salvation as if redemption had nothing to do with sanctification or making us holy creatures. I think the demand that God places on our lives is best said here by the Apostle: “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices…” We are fond of salvation, but worship as a sacrificial lifestyle is probably abhorrent to us.

True worship demands our entire being: Heart, mind, body. It means our flesh. Worship is complete surrender, utter devotion, absolute, unconditional relinquishing of our autonomy.

“To sanctify something means to separate and prepare it that it may be presented and offered to God. This is more precisely defined in the conception of sacrifice. The exhortation which is grounded upon the mercies of God and is directed towards men is summed up in the demand that men should present their bodies—that is, their concrete, observable, historical existence—as a sacrifice. Now, sacrifice means surrender; it means an unconditional gift; it means the renunciation of men in favour of God. If men are themselves the object to be surrendered, renounced, and given up, their sacrifice can mean nothing less than the relentless acknowledgement of that questionableness and confiscation which occurs when they are confronted by the unfathomable God; the sacrifice which they have to offer by means of an ever-renewed, but never completed, return to His mercy and freedom…”—431, Barth, Romans

There is always the temptation to think that we can give Christ our spirit and keep our bodies for ourselves. Our Bodies too belong to Him.


Worship: The Living Sacrifice I happen to have an advance copy of next week’s Christian Standard. As I looked through it I happened upon an article that I was certain I was going to reject out of hand before even reading it. Then I did something silly: I read it. And I liked it. The article in question is by a woman named Mandy Smith. I’d like to share some of her thoughts with you.

‘Paul doesn’t talk a lot about worship, but when he does it’s usually in the context of the Jewish tradition, in discussions about circumcision and sacrifices. That is understandable, since the Old Testament sense of worship had a good deal to do with sacrifice. As worshipers brought sacrifices from their fields and flocks, they brought together everyday life and spiritual practices, the products of daily work into sacred space.

‘Unfortunately, in our contemporary setting, we have separated worship from daily life. In Romans 12:1, however, Paul provides a new pattern for worship (new for first-century believers and new for us): “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Instead of offering dead animals, we are now to offer up our very lives, which are more valuable to God because they allow us to offer ongoing acts of sacrifice. [My emphasis.]

‘Paul goes on, in Romans 12, to describe the various gifts and functions of the members of the body, putting a very practical spin on worship. For him it is not just bowing and singing weekly, but serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing financially, leading, and showing daily mercy (12:6-8). In fact, the word used for worship in this passage is related to work and is often translated ‘service.’ If worship in the OT was largely synonymous with sacrifice, worship in the NT is synonymous with service (living sacrifice), inside and outside of the service.’

‘If worship is supposed to be unceasing, a way of life, then the weekly service is one of many occasions to worship. The Sunday service is special and significant, not because it’s our opportunity to worship, but because it is a joint celebration of the worship that has been going on all week long, an occasion to remember the reason for the work, and a time of preparation for the Monday-to-Saturday service in the week to come.’

‘But that’s what living sacrifice feels like. This is not about changing what we’re doing, but acknowledging that what we’re already doing is worship, if we devote it to God. There’s music and euphoria at times, but there’s also small daily choices of service, simply acts of selfless love, and perseverance, lots of perseverance. It’s the kind of worship that makes you sweat, the kind that means you’ll need a nap in the afternoon.’—Mandy Smith, Christian Standard, January 27, 2008 [When the link becomes available on-line I will link to it.]

The only problem I have here is that for some reason the author thinks that the New Testament descriptions of worship are devoid of sacrificial imagery and that the Old Testament is only about sacrifice. In my estimation, one cannot really see such a clear cut dichotomy—especially as it relates to the New Testament.

The New Testament imagery is, perhaps, equally about sacrifice except that in the New Testament sacrifice is defined not as dead animal sacrifice but as living human sacrifice. I got to thinking that perhaps the reason why the Old Testament people killed the animals before offering them on the fiery altar is this: Dead animals could not crawl off the altar once the heat was applied. But God makes demands of us: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices. This means that we must, and have to, make a conscious decision to offer everything to Christ as an offering. Gareth Reese wrote it this way: “The idea would be that the Christian’s sacrifice was to be constant; there was to be a dedication about his life-style, with all his living energies and powers directed consciously to God’s service..”—500-501

Perhaps we might think we can live a day without making this offering to Jesus. Living sacrifices—so long as we are living. Daily—so long as it is day. Day after day. Take up your cross.

There is always this terrible danger that we will crawl off the altar when the heat is applied.


Worship: The Offering of Everything

But the author is correct. There are a thousand ways we can worship each day. There are 10,000 sacrifices we can make each day and each one is a sacrifice, a spiritual act of worship done in the flesh. Didn’t Jesus say, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…Yet a time is coming and how now come when the truth worshipers of God will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” Aside from the obvious meaning, I think this might also mean that worship will not be confined to a place, or to an act.

Eugene Peterson begins his conversation on Spiritual Theology by quoting a poem:

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 5 Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.Í say móre: the just man justices; Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 10 Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is— Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men’s faces. (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Christ plays in ten-thousand places and you and I worship in ten-thousand ways as we continually offer all that we are, all that we have, all that we do to the Glory of the Father. Soli Deo Gloria! “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of the Father.” As William Barclay wrote, “So, Paul says, take your body, take all the tasks that you have to do every day; take the ordinary work of the shop, the factory, the shipyard, the mind; and offer that as an act of worship to God.” (quoted by Reese, note 12, p 500)

There is always the temptation to give a little less than everything. There is always the temptation to think that something is too trivial to offer to God as a sacrificial worship offering.


Worship: Holy and Pleasing to God

I am only too aware that there is always controversy involved when it comes to worship. There is always difficulty when it comes to style or flavor and a whole host of diseases such as that. Worship, however and wherever it is done, however has and object. The object is God. He is not only the song we sing, but the audience we sing to. Therefore, the offerings we bring before him, whether it is building a house, writing a sermon, singing a song, cooking lunch for someone—whatever we do the apostle says—it is an offering to God. Let’s take, for the argument here, the example of Sunday congregational worship. Here’s what one author said:

“Traditionally, Sunday activities at a church are aimed (targeted) at the members. The worship service is geared towards the preferences of church members: the songs they like to sin, the terms they’re used to hearing, and so forth. Any visitors have to learn the church’s ‘culture’ in order to take part…I think the target on Sunday morning should be the lost. The church should focus on making unbelievers feel comfortable by singing songs they can embrace, by voicing prayers that help them related, and by preaching messages they can understand. We need to make Christianity available on an introductory level to any Sunday service visitors.”—[I will be happy to supply the source of this quote if you ask.]

I can’t tell you how decidedly perverse this statement is. We don’t design worship to be culturally friendly. The very fact of worship makes it counter-cultural to begin with. Worshiping Jesus Christ is even more terrifying to most people. We are not worshiping a soft cuddly lamb white with wool. The Revelation we read last week said that the Lamb is a Lion, the Lamb was slain, the Lamb is worthy: The Lamb is God! The worship we offer—whatever worship we offer and wherever we offer it—is to be holy and pleasing to God! Culture does not determine the nature of worship: God determines the nature of worship.

I’m not splitting hairs here. If our worship looks no different from what people live every day of their lives, in the workplace, in the world—if we simply repeat what we do every day and nothing is unique about it all—then how can those who come among us as visitors every shout, “Surely God is Among You!” Paul says, “Don’t be conformed to the pattern of the world, but be transformed.” Be different—not for different’s sake—but because we are qualitatively different people. This is no safe God we are worshiping: This is a God who demands our lives in worship, and a God who demands that our worship be done in Holiness and in a Pleasing way.

And what did Jesus say: “Yet a time is coming when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth.” In other words, there is only one Seeker that we have to please when we worship and that is God the Father. Seeking to please anyone else is Idolatry. We have to change our thinking about what worship is, how we worship, and the One we worship. It will no longer do in our fragmented world to simply imitate the culture or, worse, worship the culture in the hopes of attracting an audience. We must be interested in the only one who is truly seeking: The Lord God Himself.

There is always the temptation that we will be more interested in pleasing people instead of God.


I don’t really think it matters how it is referred to. In the Old Testament, we see the people of God living this life of living sacrifices. In Genesis we are told about Abraham who was to offer Isaac. In Exodus we are told about the incense that was to burn in the temple continuously. In the Psalms we read about David in Psalm 22 crying out in the midst of a crucifixion like experience. Isaiah 53 is no different.

In the New Testament it is no different. In 1 Corinthians Paul wrote that we are His Temple, a fragrant offering. In Hebrews we are to offer the sacrifice of praise. In Romans 12 we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. Jesus said that the life of the disciple is to be one of self-denial, taking up a cross, and following him. Peter said we are to follow closely in the footsteps of Jesus.

It doesn’t matter if you say we are to live the Resurrection driven life, the crucifixion driven life, or if we are practicing the presence of God. It doesn’t matter if we say Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places or if we are Pilgrims at Tinker Creek. “But the world without light is wasteland and chaos, and a life without sacrifice is an abomination.”–(Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm.) Doesn’t matter if we sing with 1000 tongues or one. Doesn’t matter how you say it: True worship is about making every single moment and aspect of our lives a sacrifice before the Holy God who gave His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

All these are ways of saying that true worship is putting the cross on display in our lives. This means that our worship costs us something, namely, it costs us our lives. It means that our worship is not cheap. The kind of worship that displays the cross is not cheap. We should let people know that salvation does come with a price tag: Oh, we could never pay it back to be sure. But, overwhelmed as we are with grace and mercy, how can we do anything but give back to Him that which He has given us: Our very lives, our bodies—more than our hearts—our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Does it not all belong to the One who redeemed it?

On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”  So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad.  When Araunah looked and saw the king and his men coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground. Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”  “To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”

Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood.  O king, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the LORD your God accept you.”

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.  David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings.  Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.

Soli Deo Gloria!

5 thoughts on “Romans 12:1-2: Worship as Sacrifice: Displaying the Cross

  1. I just began a bible study for the praise team I am a part of. I just started a 4 week study on worship. I would truly appreciate it if I could see your outlines for the other 3 studies.
    If you don’t want to, I understand. Thank you for posting this one.

  2. Justin,

    Thanks for stopping by. Of course I am happy to share the rest of the outlines, in fact, two of them are already posted here. Here are the links to all things posted under ‘worship’ at my blog, including (first) two of the other three outlines from that particular series of sermons. I have posted all four now, and they are here and also on the front page.

    Worship as Proclamation 1 Corinthians 10-11

    Worship as Possibility: Hebrews 9-10

    Worship as Response: Revelation 4-5

    AW Tozer on Worship

    John 4:11-26

    John 2:12-25

    I have one other sermon in the four part series that I will try to locate and post for you. Thanks for asking and I pray your studies go well, and, mostly, that God is glorified in these sermons.


  3. Excellent piece! As a Catholic, it is nice to see some of our separated brethren discovering the Catholic principle of daily sacrifice of self, redemptive suffering, and choosing by our free will to join our suffering with that of Our Lord on Calvary. I offer this prayer every morning and throughout the day when I am required to do something that I find burdensome:

    O Jesus,
    through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
    I offer You my prayers, works,
    joys and sufferings
    of this day for all the intentions
    of Your Sacred Heart,
    in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
    throughout the world,
    in reparation for my sins,
    for the intentions of all my relatives and friends,
    and in particular
    for the intentions of the Holy Father.

    In Catholic worship, we offer to the Father the one thing that we are assured is pleasing to him, his Divine Son, because He himself provided it (think Abraham and Isaac). We combine the sacrifice our own praise, treasure, and lives along with the offering of Christ to the Father on our behalf; and even though all are not able to participate daily, we do this every day.

    Again, great insights in this article!

  4. I do not know who said that quote you called “decidedly perverse” but I think you have used it out of context. As your message so clearly articulates, worship is way more than what we do on Sundays. The person whom you quoted seemed to be saying that “traditional” churches are too entrenched in their way of doing Sunday services and they should think about getting lost people in the doors so they can hear the gospel. In fact, you could probably preach an entire message on how some people “worship” how they do church.

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