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Romans 12:1-8

The Radical Christian Life


Recently, my wife and I were on a crowded subway in Bangkok, Thailand. The four subway cars headed from the Bangkok airport to downtown were packed to the brim. Given how full the subway was, the atmosphere inside of it was impressively calm and subdued; folks were remaining very civil in conversation and at a respectable tone so that others would not be bothered. That all changed at a stop when a couple of young men from what seemed like a country foreign to Thailand, boarded our car and spoke in loud, vulgar language. They spoke in English, but the repeated swear words that emerged from their mouths were universally known. People began to look at each other to see if they too were in a state of shock by the abrasiveness and disrespect that this conversation ignited. It wasn’t just the swearing that was intrusive, but it was the blatant cultural insensitivity that boggled the minds of the fellow travelers. There was a collective sigh of relief when these two exited the car. And of course – on our way back from downtown about two hours later, who happened to come aboard but the same young men.

The behavior exhibited by these two young men stands in stark contrast to the ethic that Paul urges the Christian community to hold to in our passage from Romans 12:1-8. Various versions of scripture title these eight verses differently, from ‘The New Life in Christ’ to ‘The Basis of Christian Ethics’ to ‘Unity, Love and Community Living’, etc. The bottom line is that the Kingdom that Jesus has ushered in is identified by a way of life that stands in stark contrast to this present age, both for the original reader, and for those of us who read it today. Instead of presenting our bodies for self-aggrandizement, Kingdom living urges us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. This posture of sacrifice recalls the language of John the Baptist in John 3:30 that speaks of Jesus increasing through our actions and our lives of worship and selfishness decreasing. As we as individuals follow along the Way, the betterment of the whole community takes place. Paul expresses this idea through addressing the community as a whole in his opening appeal in verse 1 and the presentation of all of the individual bodies to God as one living sacrifice. Mumford and Sons sang it well when they mentioned in the song Awake my Soul that “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die, where you invest your love, you invest your life.” Of course in this case, Paul is getting very specific and urging the Romans to invest their bodies in this loving, living sacrifice of worship. Paul doesn’t just refer to the intellectual or spiritual here, but he makes reference to the whole body being presented.

Most theologians agree that the therefore in verse one of our passage is the most crucial in the entire epistle. The therefore is hinged on the mercy and grace of God expressed by Paul in Romans up until this point. The Wesleyan reality of this passage cannot go unnoticed. Because of the prevenient grace expressed through the first eleven chapters of Romans, we therefore respond to that grace through lives of spiritual worship. Because of what God has done through Christ, Paul is therefore urging us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. This living sacrifice is an active one that takes place through each of the me