“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. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)
While it may be that 1 Corinthians 13 is perhaps the most-quoted chapter in the Bible about love, Romans 12 deserves a little consideration for being a pretty good “love chapter” on its own. The whole chapter provides a working definition of what love looks like, and the last few verses provide some explicit instructions about how to apply it. Paul describes a love based on sacrifice. and a love that takes action in the real world.
In John 15:13, Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Go back to all the things that were said and written about love before Jesus. You will find a number of different words for love. There are many descriptions and definitions, and certainly lots ways it was expressed. It’s always been one of the central elements of human nature. But amazingly, Jesus Christ redefined love and set its standard in a very singular way that has stood above all others for over 2,000 years.
Who WAS that guy? Where did He come from? Why haven’t there been other teachers the caliber of Jesus of Nazareth? You have to admit, he was different.
What made the Difference?
If you recall, Paul began his career as Saul, an enforcer who was trying to stamp out Christ’s followers. In Acts 8:1, he supported Stephen’s execution. In Acts 9:1, he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord”. However, here in Romans 12, Paul begins his discourse with Christ’s definition of love. (And does anybody besides me ever wonder where Saul, a persecutor of the believers in the fledgling church, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees”, achieved such harmony with and knowledge of the teachings of Christ?) He never followed Jesus with the disciples. He didn’t encounter Jesus at all until well after the resurrection and ascension!
Something fascinating: If you read Paul’s work closely, it reflects the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus incredibly well. Now, the early portions of the gospels were probably only just starting to be in circulation when Paul wrote his letters. He didn’t have copies of Mark or John! Yet he writes about the New Covenant and covers intimate details known only to Jesus or his disciples. Where did Paul get Jesus’ teachings?
His conversion and subsequent education about Jesus have to be one of the amazing biographical stories of all time! In Galatians 1:11-12 he says, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”
Paul then explains that he spent three years in seclusion with Jesus in the desert, learning from Christ himself. (hmm, about the same amount of time most of the disciples were trained by Jesus during his ministry..) Paul wrote about love and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in ways that reflected the Jesus we see in the Gospels, even though he had never followed the Messiah during his lifetime… Think about that!
What is a Living Sacrifice, Anyway?
And so here Paul begins Romans 12 with an earnest plea for us to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice. He challenges us to repeat the action of the one who gave us that definition and set that standard. Since Jesus did that for us, Paul maintains that it is only reasonable for us to give ourselves back to him in return.
Love responds to love, and love begets more love. As a result, Paul says, we will be different than the world, transformed and renewed, and will walk around as living proof of God’s will… The J. B. Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within”. It infers that we are all being molded, one way or another. We can conform to the world, or we can conform to God.
The world says, “Whatever you do is really ok; what’s right for me may not be right for you; get what you can; if you don’t like it, change it, hey, life is short…”
God says, “Love. Be redeemed by love, present yourselves back to me in love, be transformed by love, and remember that it’s not so much about your will as it is about MINE.
If you trust me, you will discover that I have your best interests at heart, and I will perfect you in ways you never imagined. Others will look at you and say, ‘that must be kinda what God looks like’.” Have you offered God your life lately? Ever wonder what He could do with it if you really gave it to Him?
This passage does much more than teaches; Romans twelve says Paul beseeches:
Sacrifice yourself and live; give everything you have to give,
And Paul says you will surely find a brand new heart and transformed mind.
Don’t follow the world. Don’t be that dude. Allow your mind to be renewed,
So you will live a life that proves that God transforms. And loves. And moves.
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