Living Sacrifice Motive

Tuesday: “In View of God’s Mercy”

Romans 12:1 In this week’s study, we see that we must look at our Christian life in view of God’s mercy.
“In View of God’s Mercy”

What is it that motivates Christians to live a Christian life? Or to use Paul’s language in Romans 12:1, what is it that motivates them “to offer [their] bodies as living sacrifices…to God”? 

If you and I were as rational as we think we are and sometimes claim to be, we would not need any encouragement to offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices because it would be the most reasonable thing in the world for us to do. God is our Creator. He has redeemed us from sin by the death of Jesus Christ. He has made us alive in Christ. He loves us and cares for us. It is reasonable to love God and serve Him in return. But we are not as rational as that and do need urging, which is why Paul writes as he does in Romans 12. In verse 1 Paul urges us to offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices, and the motivation he provides is God’s mercy. “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 worship.”

Romans 12:1 is an amazing verse. It is one of those portions of the Bible that is literally packed with meaning, which is why I have been trying to unpack it carefully in these studies. 

I began by studying the word “therefore,” which links the urging of verses 1 and 2 to everything that Paul has already written about in the letter. Next we looked at the idea of “sacrifice,” finding that in genuine Christianity we live by dying to self, as strange as that may seem. Third, we explored the nature of these sacrifices, seeing that: 1) they are to be living; 2) they involve giving our bodies to God for His service; 3) they must be holy; and 4) if they are these things, they will be acceptable to God. 

But why should we present our bodies as living sacrifices? That is the question I am raising, and the answer, as I have already pointed out, is “in view of [or because of] God’s mercy.” In the Greek text the word mercy is plural rather than singular, as the New International Version has it, so the reason for giving ourselves to God is literally because of God’s manifold mercies, that is, because He has been good to us in many ways. 

This is entirely different from the way the world looks at things. Assuming that the world should even get as far as being concerned about righteous living—and today it is very doubtful that it could—the world would probably say, “The reason to live a moral life is because you are going to get in trouble if you don’t.” Or to give secular thinking the greatest possible credit, perhaps it might say: “Because it is good for you.” 

That is not what we have here. In Rediscovering Holiness J. I. Packer says, “The secular world never understands Christian motivation. Faced with the question of what makes Christians tick, unbelievers maintain that Christianity is practiced only out of self-serving purposes. They see Christians as fearing the consequences of not being Christians (religion as fire insurance), or feeling the need of help and support to achieve their goals (religion as a crutch), or wishing to sustain a social identity (religion as a badge of respectability). No doubt all these motivations can be found among the membership of churches: it would be futile to dispute that. But just as a horse brought into a house is not thereby made human, so a self-seeking motivation brought into the church is not thereby made Christian, nor will holiness ever be the right name for religious routines thus motivated. From the plan of salvation I learn that the true driving force in authentic Christian living is, and ever must be, not the hope of gain, but the heart of gratitude.”1

And, of course, that is exactly what Paul is teaching. As John Calvin wrote, “Paul’s entreaty teaches us that men will never worship God with a sincere heart, or be roused to fear and obey him with sufficient zeal, until they properly understand how much they are indebted to his mercy.”2

1J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 1992), 75. 

2John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, trans. Ross MacKenzie (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973), 263.

Study Questions
  1. What are some reasons the world thinks people follow Christianity?
  2. What motivates Christians to love God and to live a moral life?

Reflection: How does Christ’s work on the cross motivate you? Does your own love and service for God stem from correct motivations?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “John Newton’s Text.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

For Further Study: James Boice’s study of Romans 12:1-2 is also available in paperback.  If you would like to add this to your library, or know someone else who would profit from it, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering it for 20% off the regular price.

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