Exploring the Scripture
Today’s passage addresses two issues: 1) self-sacrifice as a replacement for self-absorption, and 2) transformation to the pattern of Christ rather than conforming to the norms of this world.
In previous verses, Paul presented God’s love, justification, sanctification, and grace as gifts from God against a backdrop of God’s righteousness. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul examines the only suitable gift humans can give back to God: themselves. In a world where martyrdom was often glorified, Paul stresses Christians’ need to live for Christ rather than actively seeking to die for Christ.
Ritual sacrifice was common in Paul’s world of the first century. In Judaism, such practices grew out of Israel’s covenantal relationship as a worshiping community and Yahweh as the God who lived among them. For Yahweh to truly “tabernacle” with them, the people must be holy and undefiled. The Sinaitic covenant provided a way for the people, individually and collectively, to become right with God through laws and sacrificial offerings. Over time, the sacrificial system decayed to a blunt and empty ritual, robbed of its purpose in effecting forgiveness in people’s lives.
Paul transforms the ritual sacrifice of slain beasts into human “living sacrifice” as a commitment to ethical action. It meant renouncing the values and priorities of the human world in favor of God’s values. “Present your bodies [whole selves] holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (12:1). Spiritual worship (of mind and spirit) involves giving up the idols which try to rule our lives and our selfish egos to devote our lives to God’s will.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” (v.2). Conformed means fully molding the self into a chosen pattern. Conformity to the societal norm is a safety net for bruised self-esteem, causing us to comply with what the world demands rather than that which is of God. It sets up a contrast between this broken age and God’s new creation. Jesus of Nazareth refused to be conformed to the social order of his day. Instead, he overturned the purity system that held the poor and marginalized in bondage by affirming and acting out the worth of women, children, disabled people, lepers, and Samaritans. Jesus stood firmly against the corruption in the temple and the abuse of power by leaders. He taught and lived an ethic of love and mercy that transformed lives and brought hope. He ushered in the new age of resurrection and new life.
Our God-given faith in Jesus Christ provides a standard against which we can measure our progress in being conformed to Christ-like living. That gift of faith is different for diverse individuals, so the path of discipleship varies among members. But all are integral to the whole Body of Christ. All members belong to one another within the community.
In the human body, the arms, legs, lungs, eyes, and other parts have diverse appearances and responsibilities. So also, in the church community, people have various gifts, purposes, and callings. Paul’s list of duties resembles a list of priesthood offices long before specific titles were granted on various ministries. Note “the compassionate,” called to the ministry of cheerfulness. God-given abilities and callings are provided to be used for the benefit of the entire community, not just for the sake of the individual.
Project Zion Podcast
Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.
- Paul stresses Christians’ need to live for Christ rather than actively seeking to die for Christ.
- Jesus of Nazareth refused to be conformed to his day’s social order, a pattern we are called to mirror.
- The path of discipleship varies among members, but all are integral to the whole Body of Christ.
- In the church community, individuals have various gifts, purposes, and callings to be used for the whole community’s sake.
Questions to Consider
- What would it mean to die for Christ in your world? What would it mean to live for Christ? Which is more challenging for you?
- Are you comfortable with your “measure of faith?” Why or why not? What portion of your faith is a gift from God, and how much depends on your own choices?
- How has your path of discipleship enabled you to reject being conformed to this world? How has it transformed you for the sake of God’s “kin-dom”?
- How does Paul’s list of roles and functions within the church community compare to Community of Christ priesthood offices? What is the significance of your analysis?