Today’s message will focus on Paul’s discussion about sacrifices and transformation (Romans 12:1-8).
Paul begins by describing people of faith as living sacrifices. This idea implies that Christians are offerings to God. Unlike butchered sacrificial animals, we are not to be literally slaughtered (thank goodness!). Paul emphasizes our holy status, like the way an animal might be specially prepared for God. Paul claims that seeing ourselves as living sacrifices contributes to “spiritual worship,” which seems to involve a great attitude of piety (Romans 12:1).
Paul’s use of the term sacrifices is understandable given that he lived and wrote to a world where both Jews and Romans made sacrifices to their God and gods. Judaism was a profoundly sacrificial religion, where certain categories of carefully raised and prepared animals were taken to Jerusalem’s Temple for prescribed butchering and burning. The thinking at the time was that God wanted people to perform these acts to obtain forgiveness for sins. The Romans made sacrifices of foods, mostly, but they also performed occasional animal sacrifices to please their gods. All this sacrificial background doesn’t mean much to modern people because we realize that drawing close to God doesn’t demand senseless killing.
A key verse is found in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. . . .” This is a powerful perspective, a fantastic bit of advice. Followers of God strive to not mimic the world but rather to seek renewal through transformation of thinking and behavior. Here, the theme is radical change that occurs as a person is continually revitalized. Paul exhorts true believers, whom he refers to as his brothers and sisters. Paul encourages all people of faith to embrace comprehensive change that we might characterize as a life of holistic wellbeing.
Next, Paul talks about spiritual gifts as received in proportion to God’s generous grace. Paul also turns to a theme common in his other writings, that of perceiving Christians as individual members of a collective body. Paul suggests that each member of a body has a different function. We must note the caution of not trying to judge people based on their roles. God’s grace is measured in the quality of a believer’s relationship with the Almighty rather than with earthly prestige.
Spiritual seekers are simultaneously encouraged and challenged by Bible teachings. Whether we believe that Paul uses the most productive analogies, the principles and personalities evoke a splendid mental picture of what he was communicating. Aside from living sacrifices, it seems that the bit about being holy and acceptable to God is timelessly relevant. It’s not that Christians should be striving for a holier-than-thou attitude, just that our desire to serve God can better motivate us to think and act righteously.
Paul is inviting his readers to change the way their perceptions by renewing their minds. This is great advice because people fall into all sorts of mental traps and dysfunctional thinking. Living a great life requires a combination of personal faith and critical thinking. Too much of one at the expense of the other causes imbalance, which can lead to further problems.
To capture the best of both faith and reason we can develop mindfulness, which is a marvelous way for people to regain control of their inner life. Mindfulness contributes to better conscious choices, through enhanced awareness and the courage to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. All of this is closely tied to cultivating a godly conscience, which is inviting God’s spiritual essence as a guide. It’s not that God makes all the hard choices for us, but that in partnership with God we enjoy the best possible help.
It’s helpful to consider ourselves as interdependent community members, gathered in a supportive church equipping us for sharing God’s love. Joyfully do your part and be ready, willing and able to change your attitudes and behaviors for a better life. The tremendous results will produce a blessed state of holistic renewal, contributing to a state of wellbeing. In this way, God’s love, mercy and grace can grow with us, and is neither bound nor fixed by who we were in the past. –Reverend Larry Hoxey