Does Jesus make a difference to the way you live your life? Paul makes an appeal. It is a strong exhortation with the authority of the Apostle Paul behind it (see Romans 12:1). The appeal is motivated by the mercies of God which Paul has explained in the first eleven chapters of Romans. Because of the difference that Jesus makes, Paul says that it should change the way we live.
Paul wants us to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Paul has already said earlier in the letter that we are to present ourselves to God (6:13). The emphasis on bodies may remind us that we are not to let sin reign in our mortal body (6:12), and that we are to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (8:13). It is with our bodies that we serve. It is a living sacrifice as opposed to a dead sacrifice like the animals killed and placed on the altar under the Law of Moses. It is a thank offering. I do not add to the work of Christ. My service is the joyful response to what has been done for me. It is to be a holy sacrifice. We are set apart for God, and we are to be holy, walking not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (see 8:4). It is well pleasing to God when we live this kind of life.
Presenting our bodies to God is then called by Paul your “reasonable service” or “spiritual worship” depending on translations. Let’s tackle the service/worship word first. It is latreia in Greek (G2999). This is the normal word for service done within the temple, which explains worship as the other translation. For Paul, Christians are priests and the people of God, the temple. Paul has smashed any secular versus sacred distinction that we might create. What I do in everyday life, I do as if service to God. Or as Paul did say, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23, ESV). I don’t get to bracket off a portion of my life and say this part is mine, God, you can’t have it.
But what kind of service is Paul talking about? The Greek word is logikos (G3050). A classical Greek lexicon would define this word as “possessed of reason.” The standard Greek New Testament lexicon (BDAG) suggests “pert[aining]. to being carefully thought through, thoughtful.” It is translated as “reasonable” (KJV, NKJV, NET) and “spiritual” (ESV, NASB, NIV84). It is the kind of service that reason gives. And possibly, the most helpful suggestion is to say that it is the opposite of the “futile thinking” and “debased mind” found in Romans 1:18-32.
If it sinks in what Jesus has done for me, then it makes sense to be a living sacrifice! But someone has quipped, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps trying to crawl off the altar.” Paul wants us to have renewed minds. He does not want us squeezed into the world’s mold. When we get it right, we dedicate ourselves to be a living sacrifice.