Paul has spent eleven chapters expounding the power of the Gospel.

He has pointed out –

Our common human sinfulness and inability – 1:18 – 3:20.
The righteousness from God freely given, without discrimination, to all who believe in Christ – 3:21 – 11:36.

Within his teaching on this gift of righteousness, Paul has stressed:

That this justification is through faith and by grace.
That it is sinners who are thus acquitted.
That those who believe are united with Christ in his death and in his resurrection.
That we continue to be sinners, never for a moment being able to justify ourselves.
That therefore we relate to God only through Jesus Christ, and never on the basis of our own righteousness.
That there is therefore nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
That this justification, this righteousness, is granted to both Jew and Gentile who acknowledge Jesus Christ.

Having taught us all of that, Paul, in Romans 12 – 15, draws our attention to some of the practical implications. He introduces these chapters with ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy ...’ (Romans 12:1).

‘Therefore ...’ – because God has done for you all that I have just told you in Romans 1 – 11, ‘I urge you’ – I implore you, I entreat you, I get alongside you and encourage you ...

‘ view of God’s mercy...’ (NIV), or ‘by the mercies of God ...’ (KJV, NASB). These are the mercies Paul has taught in chapters 1 to 11. (The Greek has ‘mercies’ – plural.) The word means compassion for those in need, pity, kindness in relieving sorrow and want, grace, mercy. Paul uses this word to refer God's compassionate awareness and consideration of our spiritual destitution and legal inability - God knows that we, in ourselves, have nothing with which to save ourselves from the just retribution incurred by our sin, and he has acted accordingly. He, in his many-faceted mercy, has done for us what we were totally unable to do for ourselves.

Paul here reminds us that our relationship with God, including our service to him and our worship, is dependent entirely on his mercy. God, recognizing our great and insurmountable need and destitution, acted with pity and compassion towards us. The whole point of Paul's letter is to set this before us with great clarity, to demolish all the arguments we might put forth maintaining our personal merit or lack of merit, to undermine any thoughts of spiritual superiority and spiritual inferiority, so that we will relate to God and to each other always and only in and through Christ.

We can serve God only on this basis. We can worship God only on this basis. Never on the basis of our own personal merit. Only on the basis of Gospel righteousness, freely given in equal measure to all who believe.

Because of God’s mercy, and by means of God’s mercy, we can offer our bodies as living sacrifices, with absolute confidence that this offering of ourselves is ‘holy and acceptable to God’ – not because of any intrinsic worth in us and what we offer, but because of the absolute worth of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness has been credited to us.

So because of God’s mercies, Paul entreats us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, on the basis of, by the means of those same mercies. Here Paul says: don't centre your response to God on the physical, ritual offerings/sacrifices which were part and parcel of the Old Covenant; in those you offered the bodies of sacrificed (killed) animals. Rather, present to God your bodies as living sacrifices - that is, place your whole life at God's side, at his disposal - give your lives to him. As a further contrast: those sacrifices were constantly repeated; this yielding of ourselves as living sacrifices is a once-for-all decisive presentation, as indicated by the Aorist tense. The Greek word – paristemi – means to set or stand beside. Paul’s ‘offer your bodies as living sacrifices’ reflects a mindset intent on God’s honour, God’s kingdom and God’s will – a mindset like that of Isaiah when, having seen the glory of Christ, and having experienced his forgiveness, he said ‘Here am I. Send me!’ in Isaiah 6:8. This commitment, this alignment with God, is what Paul is urging us to do.

The Old Covenant stated that the only acceptable animals were those without fault or blemish (Exodus 12:5; Leviticus 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6; 4:23. 28, 32; 5:15, 18; 6:6), and were to be totally dedicated or consecrated to God, that is 'holy' (Leviticus 6:24-7:6). With this supreme standard relating to sacrificial offerings in their minds, the first impression the Jewish readers of Paul's statement here would be that of sheer impossibility. How can they present their bodies as living sacrifices which are holy and pleasing to God? They are imperfect. We are imperfect. How can we possibly present ourselves to God and expect to be accepted? On what basis, by what means, can Paul expect us to present our imperfect lives to a God whose standard is perfection? How can we even enter into his presence and not, like Nadab and Ahihu, be consumed by God's holy wrath (Leviticus 10)?

Only because it is 'through the mercies of God' - on the basis of grace, not merit, that we enter into his presence and offer ourselves. It is ‘through the mercies of God', and only through those mercies, that we, in Christ, are 'holy and pleasing to God'. (Read Colossians 1:22; Ephesians 1:4; and Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:10, 14, 19-22.)

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020