NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson II)
In his sermon on this subject of being a living sacrifice, Chrysostom shares how he sees the believer’s body becoming a sacrifice to the service of God. He begins with admonishing that when the believer’s eye looks away as soon as it sees something tempting, it has already become a sacrifice.1 When the believer’s tongue refuses to say something filthy, it has become an offering.2 When the believer’s hand refuses to commit an evil act, it has become a whole burnt offering.3 But that’s not all. These same faculties must be involved in doing what is right.4 The believer’s hand must be willing to give, the mouth must bless those who curse them, and the ears must find time to listen to the reading of Scripture.5 The altar on which the sacrifice is laid allows no unclean thing to be offered. On the other hand, it should be the place where our very best is brought and willingly surrendered to God.6
An early church Syrian Bishop of Mabbug [near modern Aleppo in Syria] also had instructions for the church. He takes his cue from the standards in the law of Moses where all priests must first offer a rational sacrifice to God for themselves, and only then for the people.7 In his prayer, the priest asks first for forgiveness of his own sins and a cleansing of his own soul and body from all unholy thoughts and actions. Then each priest offers these prayers to God in accordance with the measure of his own purity of soul.8 Also, early church scholar Bede preached that when we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, He will act with heavenly graciousness to see that we are rewarded with the same glory as those who die as martyrs for the Lord’s sake.9
Reformer Martin Luther states that the true living sacrifice which belongs to God is not something that belongs to us that we offer from outside ourselves; neither is it temporal and confined to the moment, but we ourselves are the sacrifice, as we read in Proverbs 23:26: “My son, give me your heart.” It is “living” in contrast to the sacrifices of animals, which were presented dead. As Luther sees it, when Paul speaks of a living sacrifice we take this as a reference to our spiritual life that is being offered, namely, of that within us which is good. By calling it “holy,” it means it is set apart, separated, detached, kept away from what is unclean. It is like taking something that could be used for one thing and setting it apart to be used only for God’s purpose.
It is the same process spoken of by Joshua: “Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”10 It highlights the need for purity in whatever we bring to God for His service. It is also more than just a freewill offering or love offering, it already belongs to Him. So when we bring it to Him we do so out of love because it is His. So the word “service” that Paul uses here is best understood as the “act of giving up something we hold as precious.” But it must be a living sacrifice. As Paul sees it, it is every believer’s reasonable service, or in other words, the sacrificing of our best for His honor, praise, and glory. And by using the term “bodies,” he is including all of our talents, abilities, strength, and capabilities. 11
Fellow Reformer John Calvin also offers words of wisdom when he says: “Until people really comprehend how much they owe to the mercy of God, they will never worship Him without reservation, nor be effectually stimulated to reverence and obey Him.” Calvin strikes out at the church officials of his day because they used fear and terror to force obedience to their church rules and regulations. The Apostle Paul had no desire to do the same. His effort to promote unity between the believer and God was not doing things out of fright, but by a willing and cheerful love to do what is right to bring God glory. Just the idea of being able to please Almighty God should have enough attraction that we are willing to do all we can in gratitude for our salvation. But as we see, Paul is quick to rebuke anyone who with ungratefulness, after having found their heavenly Father so kind and generous, do not endeavor to be thankful by dedicating ourselves wholly and irreversibly to Him.12 I might add to Calvin’s thought that we should never attempt to offer anything to God that will bring us glory. All glory belongs to Him.
But Calvin is not through. As far as he is concerned there are more things to consider. The first is that we are no longer our own, we belong to the Lord. So we must consider that every part of us belongs to God. The second thing is that we take everything we have, everything we are, and everything we will ever be and have Him sanctify it for His use. We should seek to be holy as He is holy. It is an insult to God’s holiness that we should offer anything to Him that is not first consecrated and sanctified. That would be like serving your VIP guests a leftover meal using dirty plates and silverware. Once we establish these two things as part of our sanctification criteria, it follows then that holiness is to permeate every aspect of our lives. If we allow that which is brought to God for His use to be given over to uncleanliness and immoral practices it is a form of desecration. It is, therefore, nothing else than to profane what has already been consecrated to God. Through this, we can learn that all mortals whose plans do not include worshiping God actually end up walking in circles, miserable, and going nowhere.13
John Locke notes that Paul seems to have had two reasons for insisting that believers present their bodies as an undefiled living sacrifice. First, because he had insisted on this before, especially in Chapter 7. After all, it is the body with its immoral tendencies from which the potential for sinning comes. And secondly, because those who came into the kingdom from the heathen Gentile world, especially the Romans, were guilty of the vilest immoral practices which Paul mentions with disgust back in Chapter 1:24-27.14
Daniel Whitby agrees that it only makes sense that the body be brought for cleansing and sanctification just like the soul was. Sin had full control of the sinner’s body, obeying outwardly all the immoral inward thoughts and desires of the heart and mind. But just as in the legal system of Judaism where the sacrifices had to be without any blemish or defect, Paul is saying here that when we present our bodies as a living sacrificed it must be holy and acceptable for God to use in His sacred service. In other words, presenting the body was not a case of being sanctified, but offering that which has already been sanctified. The whole purpose of presenting the body is for God’s service, something Paul said is a reasonable thing to ask as a form of worship to the One who redeemed us from sin’s bondage.15
John Bengel notes that Moses commands, but Paul cheers. Moses expected obedience as an obligation, while the Apostle encouraged obedience out of love. Adam Clarke also comments on how this should be viewed as reasonable service. It is not unreasonable to believe that every artist should receive praise for their fine work. So it would then be consistent with reason that the work of God should glorify its Author. We did not make ourselves, we were made by the Creator. Therefore, we are not our own, we are the property of the Lord Almighty. Not just by right of creation, but also by redemption. So it would be only proper to say that not to live for His glory would be wicked, and in direct contradiction to His divine will.
John Taylor feels that Paul is speaking mainly to Jews here since they, not the Gentiles, were familiar with the sacrificial system in the Temple. Paul does this as a way of telling them they must do away with the moral obligation of offering up sacrifices at the Temple whose blood then covered their sin in breaking or not fulfilling the Law on a certain point. Taylor sees a somewhat play on words here by referring to the daily sacrifices in the Temple as a ritual service. Now he tells them to present their bodies, which provide a dwelling place for their souls that have been covered and cleansed by the blood of Jesus, to God as a reasonable service.16
Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards noted that if a person is capable of reasoning, surely then they must be able to see the reason for God doing what He does in their lives. This then should bring a rational response that proves they are capable of serving God. That’s why anyone who thinks that Christians are people who follow teachings and perform rituals in blind faith and without any understanding are simply uninformed of the truth. As far as Edwards is concerned, if you do not possess understanding and reasoning it is impossible to serve God. You may teach an animal to do tricks or serve a particular purpose without them understanding the logic behind it. But to serve the all-wise God, you must know what you are doing and why you are doing it.17
The reasonable service of which Apostle Paul speaks, may be seen more clearly when we compare it to Jewish and Christian worship. Under the Law of Moses, Jewish religious services consisted chiefly in offering sacrifices of irrational creatures, for example, lambs, rams, kids, bulls, goats, etc. Christian service, in line with the Gospel, are rational beings raising their voices, lifting their hands, and elevating their praise to God above. Since they are alive, their hearts and souls are engaged in their worship. So we can agree with Adam Clarke that only those who live the life of a fool, and those who conduct their lives like a madman, are sinning against their Maker and the One who sent His only Son to redeem them so they would not suffer the penalty of sin. Not only do they injure their own souls, but court death, and reap the wages of sin upon themselves.18
1 See Matthew 5:29; 6:22; 18:9; Mark 9:47
2 See Proverbs 10:31; 18:21; James 3:5-6
3 See Isaiah 56:2
4 See 2 Timothy 2:21
5 See Matthew 5:44; 22:29; Mark 12:24; John 5:39; 2 Timothy 3:16
6 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 20
7 Hebrews 5:3
8 Philoxenus of Mabbug: On the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, loc. cit.
9 Bede the Venerable: Homilies on the Gospels 2.21
10 Joshua 3:5
11 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 162
12 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit, loc. cit.
13 Calvin: ibid.
14 John Locke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 361
15 Daniel Whitby: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p.68
16 John Taylor: On Romans, op. cit., loc, cit., p. 349
17 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 276).
18 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 236