Dr. Robert R. Seyda



That’s why Paul called for a complete renovation of the mind. King David knew where that transformation began when he prayed: “Give me a new heart, O God, and renew my spirit to be more resolute.1 Even Ezekiel shared this message from God: “Get rid of all the sins you have done, and get a new heart and renew spirit!2 And how was this to be initiated? Paul says it all starts with having the mind completely retuned. Thayer, in his Lexicon, says it has to do with a renovation or complete change for the better. Paul uses this word again in reference to our new life in Christ.3 As such, we can see where it would involve a 180-degree turn in one’s moral, ethical, and spiritual thinking. This concept was not new to Paul. He told the Philippians to start thinking about what was true, honest, fair, pure, lovely, of good report, with virtue, and things held in high esteem.4 And how were they going to able to do this, Paul told them to have the same mind as Christ.5 In other words, start speaking and acting the way Jesus said we should.

Paul then said to the Roman believers, when you do this you will find out and verify those things that are good and acceptable to be part of God’s will for your life. David had similar advice for his subjects. He explained to them that when they started looking for that which would strengthen their inner person; would inspire wise thinking; would bring joy by focusing on what was right; would open one’s eyes to see the good in things; would bring reverence for the LORD that would last; would help one appreciate all that the LORD has said in order to guide us; would be worth more than the finest of gold, and taste better than the sweetest honey, they would find it in God’s Word.6 Said Solomon: “Happy is the person who finds wisdom, the person who acquires understanding.7 And to Paul’s point about satisfying God’s will for one’s life, Solomon also said: “Then you will win favor and esteem in the sight of God and of people.8

That’s why Paul reminded the Ephesians: “At one time you lived in darkness. Now you are living in the light that comes from the Lord. Live as children who have the light of the Lord in them. This light gives us truth. It makes us right with God and makes us good.9 It was also the prayer of Epaphras for the Colossians that God would help them to be strong and to make them complete. Also, that they would get to know how God wanted them to conduct themselves in all circumstances.10 And Paul’s advice to his protegé Timothy was this: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work.11

Early church scholar Origen was also intrigued with the idea of a transformation of the mind. As he sees it, Paul reached the place where he proposes that there are two forms we can choose to conform to, one form representing this world and another form representing the world-to-come. For those who love this present life and the things which are in the world, they adopt the visible forms that typify life in the present age and pay no attention to the unseen forms available.12 What they don’t realize is that the forms of this world are passing and cannot be depended upon to last. But the things which are not seen are eternal and will last forever. These eternal, unseen forms of the world-to-come can only be viewed by faith. That’s why the world does not like those who conform to them. In fact, they hate and persecute those who do.13 But the angels of God, who belong to the age-to-come rejoice each time someone is transformed to conform to what will be, not what will pass away.14

Then the early church Bishop of Laodicea looks back to the prophet Jeremiah and believes this is what he meant when he talked about writing the law of God on the heart.15 For those who are spiritually minded in heart and mind will know what is good and acceptable and perfect, and will desire only those things that are pleasing to God. If you have the goodness of the good Father in your heart, you will only want to do that which is good. Not just for yourself, but for God and others. By doing so, you will end up encouraging everyone to do good. However, doing good will surely bring you into conflict with those who do evil. When that happens, don’t let them scare you or cause you to quit. Resist the evil that is inspired by the devil and it will go away.16 Only by resisting evil and staying on course to do good will promote advancement in becoming more and more like Christ.”17

For Chrysostom, the fashions of this world lead to being submissive and then end up becoming worthless. They are like fads, they come and go. There is nothing noble or uplifting about them, and they do more harm than good. And when it comes to what Paul said about being renewed, it can be one of two things. First, that we need to be renewed in order to learn what is the appropriate thing to do in serving God. Second, if we learn what is the appropriate thing for us to do in serving God then we will be renewed by doing it. As far as Chrysostom is concerned, it can be either way. The one certain thing is that we serve God and do whatever He wills for us in order to reach the destiny He has predetermined for our lives.18

Martin Luther has a lot to say about what Paul states here. According to his thinking, Paul is describing Christian progress. He is addressing those who are already believers. Christians do not stand still if they are truly living for God. They do what God has given them to do and then by His leading move on to the next assignment. As Luther sees it, the Apostle Paul’s call for the renewing of the mind is not a onetime process. It is something that takes place from day to day and progresses further and further. Paul said this himself: “The inward man is renewed day by day.19 He also wrote: “You have put on the new self, which is continually being renewed in fuller and fuller knowledge, closer and closer to the image of its Creator.20 Luther then distinguishes the difference between that which is “good” and that which is “acceptable” as part of the “perfect” will of God. In his mind, the “good” will of God is what we should be doing as His little children. The “acceptable” will of God is what we do to keep ourselves pure and holy as maturing children. The “perfect” will of God is that we look only to Him for guidance in doing good and being pure and holy.21

Luther also contends that only faith can transform the mind and lead us to where we may prove the will of God. He finds this expressed by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians: “I pray that Christ may live in your hearts by faith. I pray that you will be filled with love. I pray that you will be able to understand how wide and how long and how high and how deep His love is. I pray that you will know the love of Christ. His love goes beyond anything we can understand. I pray that you will be filled with God Himself.22 This brings Luther to the conclusion that we should not be dismayed when things happen to us that displease us. The “good” will of God helps create good out of evil. The “acceptable” will of God is that we cheerfully love making good out of evil. If it is acceptable to Him it should be acceptable to us, even if it took dealing with evil. The “perfect” will of God is that we remain good all the time and seek ways to convert evil thoughts so they become good and acceptable to Him23.24

Reformer John Calvin points out that the term “world” to which the believer should not seek to conform, has several significations. Here, Paul uses it to identify the opinions and the morals of mankind. Since believers are commissioned to live in a wicked society, Paul warns them to keep their sinful tendencies under tight rein. The best way to do that is to adopt and renew every day the character and virtues of Christ. This will require a new way of thinking, and that will necessitate a renovation of the mind. When we read the leading philosophers of the past and those of today, they ascribe supremacy to the mind above the emotions. Some call it “mind over matter.”25

Some in the world of psychological thinking today have a similar term to offer: “emotional intelligence.”26 But Paul goes higher than this. Such intelligence as spoken of by the world’s wise men involves the logical thinking of the human mind. Paul is pointing to the mind of God which is communicated to believers by the Holy Spirit.27 Calvin reiterates that no matter how much we may flatter ourselves, Christ’s declaration is still true – that every person must be born-again to even begin to comprehend the mind of God. This is necessary because once you enter the kingdom of God, your mind and heart must be aligned with God’s righteousness in order to grow and go forward.

For Calvin, it boils down to this: Paul explains the purpose for which we must have a renewed mind – in order to say goodbye to our own advice and opinions, as well as that of others who teach we must be like them in order to succeed in the Kingdom of God. If we truly want to be more like Christ, then we must listen more to Christ. Think of it this way: Picture your mind like a closet. Over your lifetime you have stuffed many things into this closet. Some good memories, and some bad memories. All of your opinions, biases, preconceptions, prejudices, partisanship, etc., are piled up inside. Think of your mouth as the lock on this closet. When we unlock and open the door too quickly, things may fall out we were trying to hide or didn’t want anyone to know it was in there. Once we become believers, we must get out a garbage bag and go through this closet and clean it out. Not so much to throw away things we don’t want to remember, but to make room for the things God wants us to store there once we complete the renovation. It won’t happen overnight, but the closet will become more orderly and useful as we move along in the sanctification process.

1 Psalm 51:10

2 Ezekiel 18:31; 36:26

3 Titus 3:5

4 Philippians 4:8

5 Ibid. 2:5

6 Psalm 19:7-10

7 Proverbs 3:13

8 Ibid. 3:4

9 Ephesians 5:8-9

10 Colossians 4:12

11 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – Complete Jewish Bible

12 2 Corinthians 4:18

13 See Matthew 5:10-11; John 15:19-20

14 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

15 See Jeremiah 32:37-44

16 James 4:7

17 Apollinaris of Laodicea: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

18 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans, 20

19 2 Corinthians 4:16

20 Colossians 3:10

21 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 168

22 Ephesians3:17-19

23 See Romans 12:14-16

24 Luther: ibid., pp. 169

25 Charles Lyell: The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man, Published by John Murray, London, 1863, Ch. xxiv, p. 506

26 This term is said to have been coined by Michael Beldoch in a 1964 paper.

27 1 Corinthians 2:11

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Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Karl Barth notes that Paul brings up the subject of ethics here.1 Every day our thinking is encompassed and influenced by the busy world around us. So any conversation with God is not initiated on its own, it must be logically done by an ethical decision of our will. And it is not done for our sake, but for the sake of His will. Such unplanned thoughts about God insert themselves in all that we are doing, trying to be, and longing for. So we can see how our conversation about God can be an ethical challenge in that it reminds us of what we should be doing, trying to be, and longing for. In that way, it can take what we are thinking about, transform it, and reconstruct it in order to give it its proper direction.

In other words, something first must die in order for it to be made alive. For Barth, this is the meaning of the words: “I beseech you, therefore, brethren.” To put it another way, everything Paul has been talking about on how we should think, act, and live as believers, boils down to the reality that we cannot use our way of reasoning as the only standard available for us as a guide for Christian living. That’s why Paul calls on all believers to submit every thought, action, word, and deed to God for His approval. That means, some things will make it and some won’t. Not just one time, but on a constant daily basis. This describes: yielding our whole selves – body, soul, mind, and spirit, to Him as a living human being.2

John Stott also sees this as an ethics issue as well. Paul’s appeal not only concerns spiritual factors but ethical matters. He learned from his own experience that there is no greater incentive for us to be holy in our living than to contemplate the mercies of God. That’s because it deals with both our bodies and our minds. This is carried out by presenting our whole being to God so we can be transformed by the renewal of our minds. In order for Paul to maintain the sacrificial imagery throughout the sentence, he uses five technical terms. He views us as brethren, responding in gratitude to God for His mercy by presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. They must be holy in order to be pleasing to God. Nothing less will qualify because this is only reasonable as we present ourselves in service to Him. Just like the sacrifices in the First Covenant were to be physically unblemished or without defect so that it resulted in a pleasing aroma to the Lord.3 In the same way, when we present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we should be holy and acceptable.4

But Stott feels there is more to be understood when we see this living sacrifice as a spiritual act of service. Going back to the Greek adjective logikos, which can be used to mean either “reasonable” (KJV, LEB, NMB) or “proper” (NIV), or even ‘rational’. Some translations call it “spiritual” (ASV, NASB, NRSV), “sensible” (CEV), “intelligent” (Darby Translation, J.B. Phillips NT), “and others “appropriate” (CEB). The Complete Jewish Bible has “logical.” When looking at all these different ways to express logikos, then the offering of ourselves to God is seen as the only sensible, logical and appropriate response to Him in view of His freely given mercy. If we accept “rational,” this would imply service offered by heart and mind (REB). In other words, spiritual as opposed to ceremonial. This would mean that we are both physically and intelligently involved in our worshipful service. There is a delightful quotation from the first-century Stoic philosopher, Epictetus that shows how he uses this Greek word. He said: “If I were a nightingale, I would do what is proper for a Nightingale and if I were a swan, what is proper for a swan. In fact, I am logikos, so I must praise God.56

Jewish theologian David Stern joins the conversation by noting that this is logical “Temple worship” for believers. But he looks at the Greek noun latreia, which is translated as “service” by the KJV. Being a Jew, Stern notes that latreia corresponds to the Hebrew word ‘abodah.7 It is used to describe “work” or “service,” in an everyday sense. No reader of this text today should mistakenly use the Hebrew expression to interpret this Greek word latreiaservice.” Instead, this same ‘abodah is also the technical term for the religious “service” performed in the Temple.8 That is the context in which the word is used here.9

Another Jewish writer asks us to consider that when we see the word “therefore” we should find out what it is “there for.” In this case, “therefore” segues from the concerns Paul expressed in chapters 9-11 into chapter 12. In those chapters, Paul stated that in spite of their disbelief and rejection of the Messiah, Israel is still God’s chosen people and that He is not done dealing with them. Paul also makes it clear that the plan of salvation extended to the Gentile, is tightly linked with that of the Jews and their future. As this Jewish writer sees it, the term “a living and holy sacrifice” as a mirror image of what went on in the Temple, and the phrase “house of living stones” implies that God’s people will be made of both Jews and Gentiles, so that together they will be serving the Lord and each other10.11

Verse 2: Don’t let the people of this world change you to think like them, but let God change you with a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to understand and accept what God wants for you. You will be able to know what is good and pleasing to Him and what is perfect.

Now Paul uses some more interesting words to describe what he is talking about with regard to our rational spiritual service to God and the purpose it serves. First, he tells us not to conform but be transformed. The Greek verb syschēmatizō that Paul uses for “conform,” in simple terms means, “to conform oneself to another’s pattern,” or “be a copy.” It is only used once more by the Apostle Peter.12 Then Paul uses the Greek verb metamorphoō translated as “transformed.” which is the root word from which we get “metamorphose,” which means “to change into another form, to transfigure.” We see this word used in three other Scriptures.13 So to put it in plain terms: Take the wrong form in your mind that you are imitating and have it transformed into the right form you should be copying.

Being anti-worldly will save no one. To scoff at modern fashions will not be counted as being holy. When one withdraws from the world in monastic fashion it still does not make one a special sheep in Jesus’ fold. Being a nonconformist does not necessarily mean to be transformed. And, furthermore, this transformation is not a part of fashion, lifestyle, or once’s social climate. Rather, the mind must be transformed, re-wired, so to speak, functioning with a new mindset. The old psychological cliche, “It’s all in the mind,” isn’t so far from the truth here. Under the First Covenant of the Law, it was what the body was subject to and trained to do that influenced the heart to treasure and have the mind assent to. But under the Last Covenant of Grace it is the other way around: What the mind is set on and adapts as truth the heart is influenced to treasure and the body to become obedient to. And this being changed from the old way to the new way can only take place through the miracle-working power of God’s Word, Christ’s blood, and the transforming force of the Holy Spirit.

Was Paul introducing some new concept to the church in Rome? Not by a long shot. We find the same call for holiness when Moses addressed the children of Israel: “Do not follow the crowd when it does what is wrong and don’t allow the popular view to sway you into offering testimony for any cause if the effect will be to pervert justice.14 And before they were ready to enter the Promised Land, here is what the LORD told them to be aware of: “When you enter the land Adonai your God is giving you, you are not to learn how to follow the abominable practices of those nations… For whoever does these things is detestable to Adonai, and because of these abominations Adonai your God is driving them out ahead of you. You must be wholehearted with Adonai your God.15

Jesus was not quiet about this subject. He told His disciples: “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world. I have chosen you out of the world and the world hates you.16 Paul saw the reasoning behind Jesus’ instructions. He told the Corinthians: “The wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.17 The Holy Scriptures say, “He is the One Who gets them in a trap when they use their own wisdom.18 They also say, “The Lord knows how the wise man thinks. His thinking is worth nothing.19

As a Christian, do not be imitators of other people just because of what they can do and get away with.20 We can see the trap that Paul spoke of even more clearly today. When believers are planted and nourished in the Word of God, they have little trouble seeing the contrast between the world’s philosophy of morality and what the Scriptures say. But when they drift away from the Bible, the humanistic discipline practiced by the world seems less abhorrent, and they allow it to have a growing influence in their lives every day.

By the time Paul wrote the Corinthians again, he admonished them further that the same thing that blinded the world to immorality, would happen to them if they did not heed his warning: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.21 So, if Satan was able to confuse and mislead the world because he convinced them to shut their eyes to the light of truth emanating from the Word of God, the same will happen to believers if they let it. That’s why Paul sent them this final word of advice: “Do not be joined together with those who do not belong to Christ. How can that which is good get along with that which is bad? How can light be in the same place with darkness?22 Thayer, in his Lexicon, tells us that the Greek verb heterozygeō Paul uses here about being unequally joined together involves being in a yoke. That would infer, that the stronger and more stubborn partner in the yoke would lead the other less assertive partner astray. In Paul’s day, this was a clear reference of believers fellowshipping with idolaters in their houses of worship.

1 Ethics is a term used for the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or conducting their activities

2 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 Cf. Leviticus 1:3, 9

4 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc cit.

5 Epictetus, Discourses I. 16.20f

6 Stott: ibid.

7 Genesis 29:27; 30:26; Exodus 1:14; 2:23; 5:9, 11, etc.

8 See 2 Chronicles 31:16, 21; 35:2, 10; Ezekiel 44:14, etc.

9 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

10 See Ephesians 2:21-22; 1 Peter 2:5

11 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

12 1 Peter 1:14

13 Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18

14 Exodus 23:2 – Complete Jewish Bible; Leviticus 18:29-30

15 Deuteronomy 18:9, 12-13

16 John 15:19; 17:14

17 1 Corinthians 3:19

18 Job 5:13

19 Psalm 94:11

20 1 Corinthians 3:19-21

21 2 Corinthians 4:4

22 Ibid. 6:14

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Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Robert Haldane focuses on the mercies of God in Paul’s plea for believers to be willing to give their all for Him. We see that the words “acts of mercy” are used here in the plural form. That’s because it refers to all the number of instances that Paul describes involving God’s Divine compassion. In the foregoing chapter, the Apostle declared the merciful acts of God in the calling and restoration both of the Gentiles and the Jews.1 But throughout his preceding discourse, there is contained a most striking and encouraging display of the mercies of God to all believers. We see it in their election and predestination to eternal life, their calling, their deliverance from condemnation, their justification, their union with the Lord Jesus Christ, and communion with God, with the enjoyment of all the unspeakable blessings of the Last Covenant. That’s why Paul urges believers to devote themselves to the service of God in gratitude for these mercies because they should give us plenty of reason to be obedient to His call.

As we can see, the Apostle Paul does not think like the world in this matter. The human logic of some believers rejects the grace of the Gospel because it’s based on cheap grace which can lead to self-indulgence. The social thinking of many is that morality can be better taught and practiced if one’s salvation is put in people’s hands so they can earn their salvation with good works. They claim that history tells us that mankind can be more compassionate with each other than God has been. What they are missing is that without God there would be no kindness or mercy among unregenerate mankind.

That’s why Paul presents the mercies of God for believers to consider as the most powerful motivator for them to devote themselves to His service. Paul carries this on throughout the remainder of this Epistle by stressing the duty of holiness and personal obedience. He does so by insisting that they examine those truths on which obedience is founded. Anyone who has misunderstood the doctrine of sanctification and holiness that the Apostle Paul advocates should be insistent on correcting their error. If you are going to be a Christian, then you must make up your mind to be the best Christian you can be with the help of the Holy Spirit. To do otherwise it totally inconsistent with giving attention to the special responsibilities of being a Christian. And for those who fear that Paul’s doctrine of free grace will result in immoral living, are really opposed to the strictness of his demand that they put God first and foremost in their lives so that the Holy Spirit has full control.2

Albert Barnes believes there are a number of things we can learn from this verse. One of them is that the proper worship of God starts with complete respect for who He is, what He is, why He is, and what He has done. It is not forced so as to be unnatural or out-of-line with what God expects. That’s why the offering of ourselves to God should always be voluntary. No other form of offering is acceptable. Another thing is that we are to offer our whole selves, all that we have, and are, and ever will be to God. No other offering will He accept and approve. And yet, another factor is understanding the character of God. This should lead us to a greater comprehension of His merciful character. It will also generate a better discernment of His willingness to patiently wait for us to consider His plan for our lives. This should prompt everyone to be more devoted to Him. And finally, we should do all of this without delay. We all know when our Lord came the first time, but no one except the Father knows when He will come again. Also, do it while you still have the strength to be your best for Him. God is as worthy of such service at the earliest possible time in your life. He has every possible claim on our affections and our hearts.3

Henry Alford makes reference to a commentary on Romans by Theodoret of Cyrus which he uses as a preface to his comments on Romans 12. Accordingly, what Alford finds in Bishop Theodoret’s commentary, the knowledge of the nature of God, and faith, and reverence for Him, are the foundation of all that is good. They accomplish what needs to be done in the same way an eye helps the hand to reach for one specific item among many. In the same way, faith and the knowledge of God’s Word are helpful to the soul. But there is another factor, and that is the practical virtues and values needed in making such a selection. Consequently, the Apostle Paul adds moral instructions to his doctrinal course, in order to promote in us the most perfect virtue. That’s why the Book of Romans is so important in helping us to gain control and keep control of our lives for God’s honor and glory.4

H. A. Ironside points out that the opening words of this chapter can be linked back to the closing part of chapter 8. When Paul says, “therefore,” it clearly refers to the magnificent summing up of a Christian’s standing and eternal blessing seen in the eighth chapter. We are in Christ and free from all condemnation; the Holy Spirit dwells within as a force and source to overcome; we are now no longer slaves to sin but sons and daughters of God by adoption; we are eternally linked to Christ; we are the elect of God, predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son; we are beyond the reach of sin’s death sentence since Christ died and was raised again and sits at God’s right hand; no charge can ever be brought against the believer that God will listen to, and there is no separation from the love of God for those who are in Christ Jesus. Therefore, we are free to live as glorified saints, not condemned sinners.5

As a result of this “therefore,” Paul calls on those who now belong to God to present their bodies to Him as a living sacrifice. Ironside sees plenty of reasons why. After all, Christ gave Himself for us. And like the first-born in Egypt, we are redeemed by the blood of the lamb. That set us free to be led by Him toward a new Promised Land. And just as the Levites were afterwards dedicated to live sanctified lives for God as substitutes for every first-born in Israel, so each believer is called upon to recognize the Lord’s claims upon them, and to present, or yield, their bodies as a living sacrifices, chosen by Him, then set apart and acceptable to Him for His service. That’s why a huge price was paid for our redemption.6

So how much do we really know about practical living as believers? Yes, we, the ones who once yielded our fleshly members to the service of sin and Satan with abandon, now are called to yield ourselves wholly unto God as though we have been raised from the dead to live again. This will involve putting God first in everything we say, do, or want. And with Christ being the center of our lives, we are to put “self” under His control. We are no longer our own. We belong to Him both now and for eternity. After all, He bought us with His blood, redeeming us from the slave camp of sin. He removed the death sentence that hung over our heads from birth and gave us a new life to live for Him as our Lord and Savior. It is time for us to recognize all the divine claims He has on us.7

Charles Hodge echoes what most Bible scholars have discerned, and that is: everything Paul has said so far about the salvation, justification, and sanctification of believers is that none of these can be attributed to human effort to any degree. They totally rely on the grace and mercy of God. It is as though Paul is defining a robe that is placed on the believer to get them ready for their devotion and service to God. All the gratitude the soul feels about being pardoned, then purified, and then sealed for eternal life should bring out an abundance of gratefulness and responsiveness that it propels them to the altar for consecration to God who is the author of all these mercies.

Hodge takes the expression “your bodies” as the equivalent of saying “yourselves.” However, Paul may have used it by design, not only to the mind to help in understanding the point he was making, but also because he wanted them to know that no sacrifice came to the altar in pieces. His desire for them was to envision giving their whole being, body, soul, and spirit in devotion to God’s service. “You have been bought with a price; therefore, glorify God, in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”8

The Apostle makes sure they understand that the sacrifice being brought is living, holy, and acceptable. There is little doubt but that Paul’s intended purpose in using the word “living sacrifice,” was for them to see the contrast between themselves and the sacrifices listed in the First Covenant, which were placed lifeless upon the altar. It could be that this is also why Peter called believers, “living stones,”9 in opposition to the nonliving materials employed in the Temple. We are to present a sacrifice that is alive and will continue to live both now and in the hereafter.10

Charles Ellicott feels that we need a better understanding of the English phrase in the text, “reasonable service” since it is somewhat ambiguous. It might mean, “a service needed for some reason” or “a service demanded by reason.” However, this is not the sense of the Greek adjective logikos. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon defines it as: “agreeable to reason, following reason, logical.” This word is used in only one other place in the Last Covenant where Peter talks about how babes in Christ desire the rational milk (or milk that makes sense) of the Word of God so they can grow and be healthy.11 We might call this a play-on-words to make plain what we read in the First Covenant concerning devotion to God as expressed through the literal sacrifice of dead animals. Now under the Last Covenant, our devotion to God is expressed through the symbolic sacrifice of our living bodies. It is worship that consists of a holiness of life made possible by sanctification through the Holy Spirit.12

In the same vein, Professor F. F. Bruce points out that in this same verse, the Greek verb paristēmi translated as “present,” is rendered five other times in Romans as “yield.”13 That is why Paul felt obligated to go on and explain what is involved in their presenting themselves to God to be used in His service. It is not something done out of forced obligation or as a rite of passage. Nor should it be taken as something believers must do in order to be right with God. It is taking what God has redeemed, sanctified, and made ready for His service and say, “Here I am, Lord, send me.1415

1 Romans 11:31

2 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 553

3 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

4 Early Church Fathers: Theodoret, Romans, Bk 5, Ch. 12

5 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

See Numbers 8:11-21 and Daniel 3:28

7 Ironside: ibid.

1 Corinthians 6:20

1 Peter 2:5

10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 595-596

11 1 Peter 2:2 – Jubilee Bible

12 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

13 See Romans 6:13, 16, 19

14 Isaiah 6:6-8

15 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 223

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Dr. Robert R. Seyda



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

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Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Verse 1: For this reason, I beg you, brothers and sisters, because of God’s great acts of mercy shown to all of you, that you offer your bodies as a living sacrifice to Him – a holy offering that is dedicated to God, that will please Him. Considering what He has done, it is only logical that you should worship Him in this way.

What reason was Paul talking about? It was all that he had shared with them in chapters 9-11. His positive presentation of the Christian life. The “dos,” in this chapter outnumber the “don’ts,” almost four to one! That is the basic difference between trying to survive under the First Covenant of Law and living in liberty under the Last Covenant of Grace. But in some circles, the church has adopted the first covenant way of teaching the will of God. Haven’t they heard, it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.

Paul is not merely asking or suggesting something here, he is begging for compliance. Therefore, the consequences of not complying must be severe enough and the benefits must be grand enough for the listener to stop and make a thorough examination of their motivations and intentions. Paul was such a sincere messenger that more than once he pleaded with his readers to pay special attention to his words of knowledge and wisdom. For instance, he wrote to the Corinthians: “Christian brothers, I ask you with all my heart in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.1 And to the Ephesians he pleads: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2

But Paul’s earnest request was not based just on his relationship with the believers in Rome nor on his status as an Apostle of Christ. Rather, he pleads with them based on the mercy of God. One Psalmist called it “His generous dealings.3 In fact, the Greek noun oiktirmos used here is translated as “compassion,” “pity,” as well as “mercy.” It is such a unique word that it is only used by Paul.4 Thayer in his Lexicon thinks this is a reference to the “seat of compassion” and the “heart of compassion.” As such, it is a longing on the part of one to help another at all cost, because without such assistance all will be lost.

In this case, Paul is pleading with the Roman believers to lay everything on the altar for God’s sake. If we look at this from a Psalmist point of view, it means to take a vow, making oneself indebted to God.5 Paul’s request here of laying one’s body on the altar in the form of vowing one’s very life to God may bear some resemblance to what he told the Corinthians: “Food was meant for the stomach. The stomach needs food, but God will bring to an end both food and the stomach. The body was not meant for immoral behavior. It was meant to work for the Lord.6

When we stop and think about it, we use all parts of our bodies for those things that bring us comfort, satisfaction, and gratification. Paul is asking that we consider submitting our bodies to God for His use to bring us the same spiritual things. I’m sure Paul was not thinking here of asking all the believers in Rome to become monks or nuns. That would cancel the great commission that Jesus gave to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Rather, Paul is saying that whenever we use our bodies for anything, ensure that it all conforms with God’s Word so as to honor His sovereignty over our lives. We can see this expressed by the writer of Hebrews: “Let us approach the Holiest Place with a sincere heart, in the full assurance that comes from trusting – with our hearts sprinkled clean from a bad conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”7

Paul knew that any Jewish member of the congregation would be intimately familiar with the sacrificial system carried on in the Temple in Jerusalem where animals and birds were slaughtered every day in a futile attempt to atone for all the sins of those who bought or brought them. But once the sacrifice was laid on the altar, its life was taken from it and it in effect became a dead sacrifice. But Paul wanted believers to see themselves in the eyes of Isaac; that God provided another sacrifice to take his place, and, like him, they could rise up off the altar and go out to serve God having benefited vicariously from the sacrifice – Jesus, the Lamb of God, so they could stay alive.8

In one of his Psalms, David expressed a similar feeling of being laid on an altar as a living sacrifice when he wrote: “I am afflicted and hurting; God, let your saving power raise me up. I will praise God’s name with a song and extol Him with thanksgiving. This will please Adonai more than a bull, with its horns and hoofs.9 And Hosea the prophet exhorted the people of Israel to do the same: “Return, Israel, to Adonai your God, for your guilt has made you stumble. Take words with you, and return to Adonai; say to him, ‘Forgive all guilt, and accept what is good; we will pay instead of bulls [the offerings of] our lips.’10 Theologian John Gill tells us that the Jews had a saying that goes: “Worthy is the portion of the righteous, who offer every day this offering before the Lord; and what is it? Their bodies and their souls, which they offer before Him.11 So Paul was not confronting the Jewish members with some new way of thinking about the sacrifice God really wanted.

In fact, this call for sacrifice wasn’t new that Paul had already said to the Gentiles. For instance, he told the Philippians: “Even if I give my life as a gift on the altar to God for you, I am glad and share this joy with you.12 Since Paul is speaking of sacrifices here, I like the way the Complete Jewish Bible renders this verse: “Indeed, even if my lifeblood is poured out as a drink offering over the sacrifice and service of your faith, I will still be glad and rejoice with you all.”

Now, just in case some of those in Rome thought the Apostle Paul was going a little overboard, he tells them that what he is encouraging them to do was the least they could do to honor the One who died for them. However, the English translation of this being their “reasonable service” has inspired various translations and interpretations. For instance, the American Standard Version has: “spiritual service.” The Bible in Basic English renders it: “which is the worship it is right for you to give.” The Common English Bible says: “your appropriate priestly service.” The Complete Jewish Bible has “logical ‘Temple worship.’” The Darby Translation reads: “your intelligent service.” Along with many others, there are two words that appear most often: “service” and “worship.”

The Greek noun latreia that Paul uses here should give us a clue. It means “service rendered” either for hire or out of devotion to God. That is the way the writer of Hebrews uses it.13 Thayer, in his Lexicon, lists it as part of what the priest did in the Temple, therefore, it pertained to any service rendered in the worship of God. Thayer also makes note of how Plato uses this same word in his Apology where we read: “And I shall repeat the same words to every one whom I meet, young and old, citizen and alien, but especially to the citizens, inasmuch as they are my brethren. For know that this is the command of God; and I believe that no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the God.14

This brings us back to the part that whatever service we render, it must be “acceptable” to God. On this subject, God is not silent. He says through Jeremiah: “What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are unacceptable, your sacrifices don’t please me.15 In other words, it’s not what we think God wants us to offer Him, but it is what God thinks we should want to offer Him. Paul knew what this meant, that’s why he told the Ephesians: “Try to find out what will please the Lord.16 Paul tells young Timothy that one of the things God is pleased with is when we offer prayers for those who rule over us,17 and goes on to tell him that God is also pleased when we look out for those in need.18

Even the Apostle Peter understood this: “You are to be as living stones in the building God is making also. You are His religious leaders giving yourselves to God through Jesus Christ. This kind of gift pleases God.19 Not only that, but Peter also advises us: “What good is it if, when you are beaten for doing something wrong, you do not try to get out of it? But if you are beaten when you have done what is right, and do not try to get out of it, God is pleased.20 So as we can see, there are varied ways in which we can render unto God service that pleases Him. It’s just a matter of searching His Word to find out what they are instead of waiting around for Him to speak to us directly. As one writer put it: “How a Gentile was to be a ‘living sacrifice’ involved specific behavior and relates to how they were to give their body to God’s service as they have their mind renewed.”21

Early church scholars have much to say about Paul’s opening of chapter twelve. Suffice it to say, that although they are interesting, space does not allow us to copy them all here. But Ambrosiaster says that God’s will is our sanctification.22 Therefore, our bodies that are subject to sin are as good as dead since they have no hope of obtaining the promise of eternal life. Ambrosiaster sees it as serving the purpose for which we have been saved, so from now on we should lead a pure life and stir up the love of God in us. This way His work of grace has the right effect.

After all, the ancient believers killed sacrifices which were offered in order to signify that those who sinned were subject to death. But now that God has graciously offered His gift of salvation so that those who believe can be purified for His service. But instead of being a dead sacrifice like those of the past, they were to be a living sacrifice as a sign that they were committed for eternity. No longer will the bodies of animals be sacrificed for the sin in the bodies of those under the Law to make them holy. Instead, the sin in the bodies of those who believe will be sacrificed so that the believer’s body will remain holy unto God23.24

1 1 Corinthians 1:10 – New Life Version

2 Ephesians 4:1 – New Living Translation

3 Psalm 116:12 – Complete Jewish Bible

4 See 2 Corinthians 1:3; Philippians 2:1; Colossians 3:12; Hebrews 10:28

5 Psalm 50:14

6 1 Corinthians 6:13

7 Hebrews 10:22, See Ezekiel 36:25

8 1 Corinthians 5:7

9 Psalm 69:29-31 – Complete Jewish Bible

10 Hosea 14:1-2 – CJB

11 Zohar in Leviticus, folio 4b

12 Philippians 2:17.

13 See Hebrews 9:1, 6

14 Apology: The Complete Works of Plato, Trans. Benjamin Jowett, Compiled by Dr. Mohamed Elwany

15 Jeremiah 6:20

16 Ephesians 5:10

17 1 Timothy 2:3

18 Ibid. 5:4

19 1 Peter 2:5

20 Ibid. 2:20

21 Messianic Bible Study of the Book of Romans: YashaNet, op. cit., loc. cit.

22 1 Thessalonians 4:3

23 John 8:34-36

24 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc., cit.

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American psychologist and professor Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) once stated, “You will either step forward into growth, or you will step back into safety.” Dr. Maslow is perhaps best known for his, “Hierarchy of Needs,” which show how mankind progresses from basic physical needs to the hierarchy of spiritual fulfillment. I found this very helpful when teaching seminary classes on Christian growth.

Dr. Maslow’s research helped those who followed his psychological model to discover that there are several things that could motivate a person to give new things a try. One of them is that you don’t want to live with regrets. You have no interest in always thinking back and getting mad at yourself for not taking an opportunity that was presented to you. How many times have you heard a person say with remorse, “I wish I would have done this or done that?

Another thing that should motivate a person to explore new territory is that they will never know what they might find until they try. I think all of us can look back and say at least once or twice, “I’m sure glad I took the offer,” or “It sure was a good thing that I went ahead and did it.” Otherwise, they would have never discovered the thrill of excitement that came with taking that leap of faith.

Then again, it is a good way to build self-confidence. Have you ever seen someone smile with satisfaction and say, “I didn’t know I could do that!” Also, it will make you a more interesting personality. There is not a whole lot of fulfillment in talking with a person who’s never been anywhere and never done anything outstanding. But the ones who keep your attention are those who have gone where you’ve never been and done what you’ve never had an opportunity to do. All you’ve done is dream about it. They’ve done it and are excited to tell you about it.

The truth is, no one ever accomplished anything by letting their fears conquer them. Have you ever seen a person standing on a bridge with a bungee tied to their feet and afraid to jump? The crowd is screaming for them to go ahead. Just do it! It’s the same with other things in life. Some people are so afraid of things that haven’t happened yet that they treat them as though they are real. So they get frozen in place and are scared to go any further.

Stepping out in faith is one of the best ways to test your level of courage. Maybe you want someone to push you, but that will always stick in your mind and you cannot attribute it to you’re own self-will to try. The word courage is defined as, “The ability to do something that frightens you.” Just ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?” Most often, you can’t explain it because it’s unknown. So why be afraid of the unknown when you have an opportunity to separate fact from fiction?

The reason some people are still intellectually and emotionally where they were years ago is that they are waiting to mature. But you must force yourself to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. It doesn’t come naturally without effort. That’s why Maslow believed strongly in “self-actualization;” not waiting around for someone else to motivate you. Imagine how long you would survive if you were stranded on an island and just sat around waiting for someone to rescue you. Not long!

The Bible is very clear about this concept of self-actualization. Solomon once said that if you teach someone who already knows a lot, they’ll gladly learn even more.1 And in another place, he said that a mind that tries to understand will learn a lot, and the person who is willing to listen will grow in knowledge.2 Did you know, that even Jesus felt the need to learn?3

That’s why the Apostle Paul told one of his young students to always do his best and God would be pleased with him. Then, when he completed his task, it would be something he could point to without being ashamed.4 That’s why God inspired His own thoughts to be written down for mankind to read. And if you read what He has to say you’ll quickly discover what’s right and what’s wrong. And there’s a reason. It’s always best to be right with God.5

So as Dr. Maslow and the Bible teaches us, we will either be willing to take a step forward and thereby inspire growth, or we will continue to step back into our safety zone and end up going nowhere. Even if you need someone to take you by the hand and guide you step by step until you learn to walk by yourself, that’s better than doing nothing. But there’s one thing you can be sure of when you step out in faith for God, He will be right there to take you by the hand and walk with you all the way.6 – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Proverbs 9:9

2 Ibid. 18:15

3 Luke 2:40, 52

4 2 Timothy 2:15

5 Ibid. 3:16

6 Isaiah 41:10-13

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If you’re spiritually alive, you’re going to love this!
If you’re spiritually dead, you won’t want to read it.
If you’re spiritually curious, there is still hope!

A churchgoer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” they wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting their time by giving sermons at all.”

This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote finally submitted this clincher: “I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this… They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”

The same goes for our daily prayers and reading of God’s word. You may not remember last weeks lesson in your Devotional Guide or the sermon you heard a month ago. But the Holy Spirit has used each one of those as spiritual nutrition to keep your soul alive. You don’t have to remember them in order for them to be spiritual nutrition to your life. So don’t stop now. Remember, those who endure until the end, those are the ones who will survive and be ready when Jesus comes. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

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