Over the years I have heard sermons on Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (NKJV) Generally the same interpretation was offered: What are you holding back in your life that you need to put on the altar? Give your whole life to God. It is a moving challenge, and I appreciate my need to take that challenge to heart. However, I believe there is another side to this verse that is less dramatic and therefore less noticed.
When I read Romans 12:1 with the lens of, “What are you holding back” sometimes I see, “This should be a flipping sacrifice. You’re not doing enough to prove you love God.” Granted, I don’t think that is what the scripture is really saying, but that is what doubt and insecurity impose onto it.
Our interpretive lens without doubt and insecurity ought to ask us what we are holding back relationship wise, not achievement wise. The starting point of your new life in Christ is that you are loved by God and redeemed through the blood of the Lamb, Jesus. The starting point is the prodigal son returned home to a loving father who wanted him back. God, our Father in heaven, wanted us back too and once He has us back He just wants to be with us.
Listen to how Paul puts it, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (I Cor. 1:9 RSV) Called into fellowship. Some other words for fellowship are: communion, companionship, friendship, partnership. All those “ships” add up to relationship. Ultimately if you are saved and living in Christ, you are called to be a companion of Jesus.
This means that the heart of our walk should be time spent in Jesus’ presence, in worship, in prayer, in study of His Word that He gave us so that we could know Him. The apex of all that we could ever do for Christ is to know Him and be known by Him.
What does this mean for a life of living sacrifice? Apart from the natural quality where by choosing something you are un-choosing everything else, this means that the living sacrifice is worship. It is everything that we do out of the knowledge that we are loved by God to the point of death on a cross and resurrection three days later. The “callings” and “doing” that we think is the apex of Christian life is really just the extra, the act of worship that flows out of the true apex.
If you look at sacrifice in the Old Testament it was always an act of worship. There were repentance sacrifices, thanksgiving sacrifices, plain “God You are awesome!” sacrifices. All the same things that we want to share with God now, only now it is not out of the abundance of our livestock, but out of the abundance of our hearts. Therefore making it a living sacrifice.
Sometimes we feel led to carry out something specific, what we would usually name a “calling.” Often it is not easy to follow through and we feel the pinch of challenge. Usually it costs us something. Sometimes it’s simple, sometimes noble, either way what we think of as a calling is not the Point, nor what defines us.
This is great news, because life rarely looks like we thought it would. Callings rarely play out into what we call success. The effort and the journey are great, but they are not the Point. Jesus and fellowship with Jesus is the Point. Redeemed child of the King of kings is our identity and defining characteristic.
If all we “achieve” in our faith is the true apex, the Point, that is enough. If we reach the true apex, plus the extra of “calling” it is worship on top of the apex. If we put the extra before the apex, our loves are out of order and we missed the Point.
I know it can be hard to grasp sitting alone in prayer at 5 in the morning as the apex in our current climate of meritocracy. But I believe it is. I believe Jesus wants to be in companionship with us in the hard, the mundane, the glamorous, the nitty gritty, and the glorious. Everything else is just icing on the cake.