I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
The inspired apostle Paul spent much of the first chapters in Romans establishing the depravity of mankind and God’s wrath against sin. He made it clear that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified” (). He taught us that salvation is “of faith, that it might be by grace” ( ). But then he turned and began to give commands to God’s redeemed people: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…” ( ).
Why must we do these things if salvation is all of grace? Because this is our reasonable service. This is part of the thankfulness we owe to God.
Our service is our worship and praise of God. In the Old Testament, the priests would go into the tabernacle accomplishing the service of God. They brought the offerings and sacrifices that God required of them. They performed a certain outward worship that was meant to bring honor and glory to God. In the New Testament, instead of having us bring blood sacrifices to the tabernacle, God would have us bring spiritual sacrifices of thankfulness. The apostle calls these sacrifices “reasonable” because they involve a thoughtful devotion that arises within a mind transformed by God’s grace. “Reasonable” worship is that which is rendered by our rational souls.
The inspired apostle beseeches us to offer a reasonable service to God in which we do good works according to His good and acceptable and perfect will. Not only must we know what that will is through God’s inspired Word; God would have us perform His will. But we need to be careful that we maintain a proper perspective regarding good works, lest the devil and our own sinful flesh lead us astray.
On the one hand, we might become proud: “Look at my good works that I have done.” Or, “My life is going smoothly because of my obedience to God.” We imagine that our good works have earned something with God. On the other hand, when we think about our good works, we might become dejected. “Good works?” we ask, “What good works? I don’t see any good works. Is God going to punish me now because of my many sins of omission?” We might imagine that our lack of good works puts us back under God’s cursing wrath because we have failed to earn God’s favor. In light of these pitfalls, some have suggested that it would be better not to talk about good works at all.
The solution to these dangers, however, is not to strike good works out of our Christian vocabulary. If we do that, we will find ourselves criticizing the inspired words of Paul, who tells us we ought to be “careful to maintain good works” (). Indeed, we would find fault with Jesus Himself for talking about our good works (cf. ). The solution is not to avoid discussing good works. The solution is to have a proper biblical perspective regarding our reasonable service of good works.
The first thing we need to know concerning our reasonable service is that it arises out of God’s mercies toward us.
The inspired apostle began this section of Romans by saying, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God.” It is important to note that the brethren are those who are already partakers of God’s mercies, which mercies Paul has described in the first eleven chapters. God shows mercy to whom He will show mercy; and He has compassion on whom He will have compassion. “So then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (). Salvation is not due to anything in ourselves. Our salvation is all of God’s mercy.
God’s mercy is His deep-seated tender love towards His people that desires to deliver us from our misery. According to His mercy, He chose us even when we in ourselves deserved His wrath. He sent His only begotten Son to die as our substitute. He blotted out the record of debt that was against us. He has regenerated us by the Holy Spirit and adopted us into His covenant family. In His mercy, God holds us so that nothing in heaven or in earth can ever separate us from His love. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (). His mercies are new every morning.
Our good works, then, are not the cause of God’s mercy; indeed, before God had mercy upon us, we could do no good works. Rather, God’s mercy is the cause of our good works. Only those who have been redeemed and regenerated by God can ever do good works. God’s mercy is the source of the Spirit’s renewing and transforming of our minds, of which the apostle speaks in Romans 12:2. Any “service” that an unbeliever might perform is only outward and hypocritical. It is not “reasonable.” It does not arise out of a thoughtful mind transformed by the Spirit’s power.
Such an abundant mercy of God towards us calls us to thankfulness. The mercies of God call us to present our bodies a living sacrifice. Deliverance commands obedience. Mercy calls for a response.
An unbeliever could never show thankfulness to God because he has not been delivered from his sins and misery. That is why the inspired apostle says, “I beseech you…brethren….” This urgent call comes to brothers and sisters of the apostle, who have been purchased with the same precious blood that was poured out by our elder Brother, Jesus Christ. Beseeching comes to us who have been adopted into the same family of God.
How must we express our thankfulness? By presenting our bodies. Our thankfulness does not stop when we merely recognize God’s mercies towards us. It does not even stop when we thank God with our mouths. God wants us to thank Him with all the members of our physical bodies. That echoes the words of the apostle earlier in the book: “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (). “Yield” is the same word used in our text, translated “present.” If we present the members of our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness, that would be unthankful. God would have us present our bodies as instruments of righteousness unto Him.
To present our bodies to God is to subject ourselves in the whole of our conduct toward showing our gratitude to God. We need to examine ourselves in this regard. God calls us to be at peace with others; are we showing gratitude to God when we speak angrily? God calls us to be faithful stewards; are we showing gratitude when we spend our time or money unwisely? God has forgiven us much; are we showing gratitude to God when we fail to forgive others? Our gratitude should extend even to our eating and drinking ().
A thankful child of God will not say, “Don’t tell me how to show my thankfulness.” A thankful child of God will say, “What shall I render to the Lord, for all his benefits to me” (). A thankful child of God will say, “I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways” ( ).
When God gives us such thankful hearts, we will also want to glorify Him. The apostle makes that connection when he says, “I beseech you therefore…,” which connects our text to the last verse of chapter 11, where the apostle has just proclaimed, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (). Christ deserves all the glory; therefore, the inspired apostle calls us to present our bodies as living sacrifices of obedience to God.
If we do works in order to bring attention and glory to ourselves, they are not good works. Good works are only those that have the glory of God as their motive, as well as proceeding from a true faith, and being done according to the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. When we seek the glory of God, we will find ourselves being more careful not to advertise our works, seeking glory for ourselves. Seeking the glory of God means we will not seek to impress others with our outward displays of piety. Seeking the glory of God means we will not need to win arguments so that others recognize our wisdom. The great motive of our reasonable service is the glory of God.
When we want to express our thankfulness to God and to glorify His name for His mercies toward us, that will lead to fruitfulness in other areas.
Then our bodies will be living sacrifices. God would have us bring the whole of our lives and set them on His altar. Every moment of every day of our lives God would have us devote ourselves to Him.
Such reasonable service must be more than just outward show. God wants our sacrifices to be “holy and acceptable.” He wants our works to be devoted to Him. He wants us to keep His commandments from the heart, serving Him readily and cheerfully. When we offer such thankful service to God, those works are acceptable to Him. True, sin will be always be mixed with our living sacrifices; God is surely not pleased with that sinful portion. With gratitude to our God, we know that the guilt of our sin is covered in the blood of Jesus Christ. But our reasonable service is acceptable to God because of the good part that remains, which good work God Himself has worked in us. Holy sacrifices are truly acceptable to God. He delights in His own work.
Thankfulness to God and a desire to glorify Him go hand in hand with not wanting to be conformed to the sinful pattern of this world. Instead, by God’s grace, we will give ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
To be conformed to this world means to be molded and guided by the opinions and practices of the wicked around us. We are influenced by the world far more than we imagine. The idols of the world too often become our idols: sports figures, how we spend our leisure time, how we spend our money, what we deem to be acceptable behavior, the language we use that cuts down instead of builds up.
Our reasonable service is to renounce that conformity with the world. Do not invite the world into your living rooms. Do not allow yourselves to be guided by their opinions. Do not walk in their wicked lusts. Instead, God calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God has already regenerated us by the Spirit of Christ. He has translated us out of the kingdom of darkness. As His children, He would have us grow into something radically different than we were. He would have us grow into spiritual adults by the renewing of our minds.
Rendering our reasonable service will manifest to us that we are children of God united to Christ. The good fruit can only be there because God has made the tree good. Rendering our reasonable service will be a witness to our neighbor, who might also by God’s grace be drawn into the kingdom. But, ultimately, rending our reasonable service will redound to the glory of God.
I beseech you, therefore, brethren, live out your reasonable service.