Paul, in Romans 12:1-2, declares that a believer’s reasonable response to God’s mercies is to offer himself or herself as a living sacrifice. A Christian is not to be conformed to this world’s pattern but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. This will allow us to know God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. As Paul finishes chapter 12, he will describe how this commitment is worked out in social contexts. In other words, Paul will address what practical Christian service looks like. To be transformed by God, we must allow the Lord to control all of our being. When we do this, there are some amazing by-products in the way we practically serve as Christians.
In Romans 12:3-8, Paul informs believers that they are called to find their place in the body of Christ. In fact, he speaks of a serving faith. This faith is a special gift from God, enabling believers to carry out ministry, their service to God. According to the ministries He calls and equips us to do, God gives us different measures of this kind of faith (see: 1 Cor 12:9; 13:2). There is also a serving grace that enables us to identify and use our gifts for God’s glory.
The Church, Paul explains, is like the human body. All Christians are part of that one body (vv. 4-5). But just as the body has different parts with different functions, so too, the church has people who are very diverse and serve that church in different ways (vv. 6-8). This means that each of us needs to carefully understand our role in the church and not think more of ourselves than we should (vv. 3-4). What Paul says in these verses is highly relevant to any church, for we are all too often tempted to swell with self-importance and forget our place in the community. Textually, Paul addresses this issue here in Romans because he knows that the Roman Christians are struggling with this very issue (cf. Rom 11:25; Rom 14:1-15:13).
As God’s children, how are we to think of ourselves? We are not to think too highly of ourselves. In other words, know where you fit and influence in that area. No one in the body of Christ is to presume another’s role or the ability to speak into an area for which they are not qualified to speak. The body does not work as a democracy, but it must work together for it to work. This is why Christian service is a by-product of being a living sacrifice.
When God owns the deed to our life, we can function amid our diversity in unity as God’s Church. How? Because we can keep the main thing the main thing, to know God and make Him known. However, when we get our eyes off of our purpose, take back the deed for ourselves, we operate out of selfish motives and hurt one another and the cause of Christ. When we come to Christ, our gifts and abilities are sanctified (set apart) for His service. This is a by-product of being a living sacrifice; we find our place in the body of Christ.
Paul addresses another by-product. Believers are to discover the many manifestations of love (Rom 12:9-21). Notice that this passage deals with how a believer is to lovingly relate to both fellow Christians (vv. 10, 13, 16) as well as those who are not yet believers (vv. 14, 17-21). Paul begins by writing, “Love is to be genuine.” “Genuine” or “Sincere” is a translation of a Greek word that means “not playing a part.” It is a word that comes to us from the theater. Our love of others should not be faked or merely external. It should reflect the attitude of the heart.
It’s impossible to continuously play a part. To be fake is draining. God does not want our love to be a mere portrayal, but deeply personal, coming from the transformed core of our being. This is beyond both action and emotion because both are the result of a heart conformed in substance to Christ Jesus’s. Those in Christ are part of God’s family. God’s family is diverse but united in love by His Spirit. By His Spirit, we ought to care and show our caring through loving acts of kindness towards one another. Even further, as a reflection of that love, we are to bless our persecutors and not curse them. The believer, the Christian, responds to evil with good in the hope that the offender will come to repent and be redeemed by placing their trust in the Lord.
You may ask, “How can I do this?” How can I selflessly find my place in the body of Christ? How can I selflessly love both the Christian and the one who is yet to become a believer? Even more, how am I to show love and goodness to those who pour hatred on me? Good questions. The answer, present yourself as a living sacrifice to God. Only when we present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God can we have these godly by-products gush from the deepest part of our being. A spring of love can only come from a transformed (metamorphosed) source.
A spring is only as fresh as its source. When I give God the deed to my life, He transforms me from the core of my being. It is this transformation that allows for purity to flow from that which was once contaminated. We are fulfilled when we are who God created us to be. We are at peace when we do what God has created us to do. Such a life is made possible when we realize that it is not about me, but Him. This life is only possible as I lay myself before Him and say, “I am yours – all of me is Yours.” Then, goodness and godly purpose will pour out of my inner being, out of our inner being. Only then will we be satisfied and our service sanctified (set apart) for our Lord’s kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!