Romans 12: Some New Thoughts

I was preaching at Waterfront Church today on Romans 12:1-8. The passage is a famous one, kicking of with the encouragement to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. It can be deceptively easy to preach on a passage like this one. The passage is familiar, and the message is clear – because of everything that God has done for you, you should be wholehearted as a disciple. Find three illiterated points, throw in some good illustrations and the job is done.

But there are a couple of problems. Firstly, the way in which Romans 12 links to the rest of the book is not as clear as some would have you believe. See Lingamish’s excellent post on this subject for more information. However, the thing that interested me in preparing this passage was the comparison of verses 1 and 5.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God

So far, it’s ok, this is familiar territory, even if the NLT is not the translation you know best. Paul calls us to give our bodies to God – to be as faithful to him as we can be. But read on…

We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

We all belong to each other. So, we have to offer our bodies to God, but we belong to each other. How does this work? Well, firstly it’s interesting to note that the practical exhortations that follow on from Paul’s order to be living sacrifices are all to do with the life of the community:

6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. …

Our viewpoint so often is determined by the individualism which lies at the heart of modern society, rather than being shaped directly by what the Scriptures say (see Romans 12:2). When we read about becoming living sacrifices our thoughts turn to ‘what should I do?’. We see things in terms of isolated Christians, each relating to God. A living sacrifice over here doing evangelism, a living sacrifice over there praying, another living sacrifice looking after the church building etc. But the Biblical standpoint is much more community and group orientated. The command to offer out bodies to God is actually plural – not singular, so it starts with the group. But this is not a command for us to each go off and be living sacrifices in our own way in our own corner, it is a radical call to community and communal discipleship. I can only offer myself as a living sacrifice as I bear in mind that I belong to you and I can only truly belong to you as I offer myself to God.

I am not a lone ranger, finding my own way to sanctification, with my own personal saviour. I’m a part of a living breathing body of people, offering themselves together as sacrifices and seeking to break the mould that the world is squeezing us into. At least that’s what the passage says – I wonder how well the reality of my Christian experience lines up with the Bible and how willing I am to be a part of that sort of community.

As often happens when I preach, I find that I’ve possibly got more questions to answer than the people who were listening to the sermon.

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