In Romans 12 Paul is taking a breath. He has written to inform the Christian Jews and other Christians in Rome of the glorious mercies of God (chapters 1–11), and now he will instruct them in the worship of God (chapters 12–16). Although the Jews have previously worshiped God and the Romans have not, both groups need instruction and encouragement for engaging in appropriate Christian worship. The instruction is clear: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
Both pagan and Jewish worshipers in the ancient world are familiar with the language of sacrifice to deities. In this universally practiced ritual, offerings such as grains and other produce are burned or consumed in worship and living animals are presented and even killed as part of the ritual. The sacrifices vary, however; a Jewish or Roman worshiper would never be expected to volunteer his or her own body (whole self) as the sacrifice. Why then does Paul prescribe this approach for Christian worshipers?
I once knew a teen who, amid supportive family and friends, assumed positive public roles at school and church. He enjoyed baseball, playing guitar, fishing, and attending worship; he was an all-around great kid with a seemingly happy life. But inwardly he was haunted by shame. He prayed and worshiped often but could never find more than temporary relief from his persistent and intense loneliness. This almost drove him to despair, until one day he found the courage to present his inner struggles to a trusted counselor. The experience of total acceptance by the counselor illuminated his mind to the mercies of God. Suddenly, Paul’s instruction for Christian worship to “present your [whole selves] . . . to God” begins to make sense.
Lord, your desire is that I worship you and experience transformation in my life, both private and public. Take all of me, I pray. Amen.
Genesis now introduces a painful turn in the story of God’s people. The Israelites are forced into slavery; yet amid this dark time, a baby boy, Moses, is born. God has already begun the story of their deliverance. The psalmist recognizes that the Israelites would be overwhelmed and swept away without the help of the Maker of heaven and earth. Paul gives the Romans two specific instructions: First, they should be changed so that they follow God’s ways, not the world’s. Second, they must understand that they all need one another. Each child of God has a part to play in the overall body of Christ. In a famous passage in Matthew, Peter makes the basic Christian confession: Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.
Read Exodus 1:8–2:10. How can you serve in a priestly role?
Read Psalm 124. Reflect on the many ways God has blessed you and your community. Consider writing your own song of ascent.
Read Romans 12:1-8. What part of yourself are you holding back from God? How can you bring your whole self to your faith?
Read Matthew 16:13-20. Why do you think it is important to fully understand Christ’s identity before witnessing to Christ’s mission?
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