What is a “living sacrifice”? What Romans 12:1 is all about.


“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Dear friends,

So often when we read this verse, we bring to mind the necessity to constantly present ourselves as living sacrifices. We offer money, time and our services thinking that is what it means. While I am for all these, I must take an exception to how this verse is constantly thought. Rather as an exaltation, many church leaders have use this verse to demand as well as condemn.

We have often use this verse to tell people that they are not doing enough, giving enough or even that we are not holy enough. This is not what the verse suggests. They are those of us who also use the verse to say that we have to change our thinking from being worldly into a stoic form of piety. Hence we call others to not “watch this movie, listen to that kind of music, abstain from certain entertainment”. Let’s one thing straight “the patterns of this world” is not what many call today “worldliness”.

It is pertinent for us to know that this text is taken from Romans 12 and it starts with the word “therefore.” It is thus important to understand what the context of this verse is. Let’s look at chapter 1-11 and understand the theme Paul has established. It s pertinent to note that Paul’s message in Romans is this, the Law of Moses cannot saved you or confer any form of righteousness on you. You cannot please the God of Abraham by doing good works. Also, to the Jews, the message is clear, God’s righteousness is not theirs alone. It is also freely given to the Gentiles by faith. Paul starts off by telling the Gentiles in chapter 1 that the Gentiles are under the wrath of God and so are the Jews in chapter 2. In chapter 3 he introduced the concept “all have sinned”. While these means everyone has sinned but what he really wants to emphasize on is this: Both Jew and Gentile are under judgment and that Christ is the solution for both.

You will see this theme in the rest of his writings, where he says “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, neither male nor female”. Hence Paul in Chapter 4 uses Abraham to tells the Jews that even before the Law was given, Abraham was made righteous because of his faith. David spoke of a generation where God will not just forgive a sinner but justify the wicked and not impute sin on him.

Paul then states that in Adam the whole humanity (Jew and Gentile) had fallen into sin and many will die because of this. Paul then switches the term “all” to “many” who “die”. The change here is significant, while sin may have entered humanity not all humanity perishes because of Adam’s sin. Thanks to Jesus, they perish because they rejected God’s forgiveness by refusing to receive God’s forgiveness through the death of Jesus. So while all sinned not all die, but many died. In the same manner, many are made righteous are justified by faith in Christ and the faith of Christ.

In Romans 6 and 7 Paul speaks about the fact that you died with Jesus when you came to him in faith and that in your death, you are freed from the Law and thus you have no relationship with it. This is significant because this means “the pattern  of the world” or “wordliness” here, has nothing to do with pleasing God by trying to obey the Law. Paul just wrote 7 chapters telling you, you just can’t. God looks at faith.

So the “patterns of this world” is simply this: Thinking your good works, your good deeds, your sacrifice, your money, you trying to please God will earn your demerit points with God.

Paul uses Romans 9-11 to tell us that God chooses who his wants to have grace upon and it is totally independent of what we do. This is because grace is pour out on us even before we were even born. Paul uses Esau and Jacob here as an illustration. Jacob before he did anything was chosen instead of Esau. We all know what kind of man, Jacob was. A thief.  A dishonest, cowardly man. Yet he became Israel the prince of God. Entirely because he was chosen by God. Jacob became a prince by his grace.

So when Paul ends Romans 11 he says this: “ Just as you who were at one time disobedient now received mercy 31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now[h] receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. 32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience he may have mercy on them all

In other words, if you think you can win God’s favour by you sacrificing your time, effort, money and all that, you have just offered a “dead sacrifice”.

Take note of this:

35 Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”[k]
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

Repaying God is “dead sacrifice”.

Hebrews 10 deals with this. The Jewish writer states that God is not interested in sacrifices and offerings. It is the Law who required it. The only thing that could please him was what the Son did. That will has been done.

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he (Christ) said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you were not pleased.
7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, my God.’”[a]

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the lawThen he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

You see it? “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all!”

That my dear friends, is what being a living sacrifice is all about! You are already holy. That is the sacrifice. It’s knowing you are already holy before him. You are now a living sacrifice not a dead one!

Listen to how Peter describes this.

1 Peter 2:3-6

New International Version (NIV)

now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthoodoffering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

This is how you become a “living sacrifice”:

a)   Taste the goodness of God;

b)   You come to him, and be built upon him;

c)   You know you are precious to him;

d)   You allow him to be built into his house; and

e)   You know you are the holy priesthood of God.

In short, it is about what he does for you and not what you do for him.

Now look at Romans 12 again.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

Do you realize that Paul then issues a list of instructions but he says that this is possible because of the faith (not your own ability) that God has distributed to you?

It is always about his ability and not yours. A living sacrifice is different from a dead one because a dead sacrifice is useless to God. This does not mean the Christian is useless. It simply means that the sacrifice that is offered under Law. You are not under Law, you are under grace. You are no longer under the principle of human effort but under divine transformation.

The Christian’s power and holiness are overflows from the measure of faith God’s has distributed into you. It is the Christ that lives in you. It is the Spirit that has been given to you. A living sacrifice walks and talks. While he has died , Christ lives in him. That my friend, if you have come to Jesus is who you are.


  1. Just what I needed to hear.its an answer ive been lookn for, for quite a while now…thank u God for answering my prayer…i always knew what most people said Romans 12 vs 1 meant was not correct…but i trusted God to reveal it to me…nd it has been rightly done…Hallelujah

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