A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 12:1-2
In Romans 12, Paul explains how to allow the Holy Spirit to take control and direct our thoughts, purposes, and lives. Being led by the Holy Spirit, and allowing the holy spirit to take over, is not only the key to living a life that pleases God, but it is a gift from God that enables us to experience his joy, peace, and comfort.
As I was preparing for this study, I realized that there was just so much that could be unpacked in just the first 2 verses, so I decided to focus in on Romans 12:1-2 in this blog post and finish off the rest of the chapter in the next blog post.
‘And so dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.’Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)
We Are Called to Make a Choice
Verse 1 begins with Paul pleading with all Christians. But notice the language he uses here. He’s not commanding us, or telling us that we are required to obey, but rather he is appealing to our will. God is calling us to make a choice about the way we live for him. Though what Paul is about to tell us is not a requirement to remain in God’s righteousness, he gives us reasons why we should live out our Christian lives in this way.
God counts us as righteous because of our faith in Jesus’ work on the cross, not because of our own work. But we should still desire and seek to become righteous.
We Should Desire to Become Righteous
Paul begins by telling us that we should give our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice. Why? Because of all that God has done for us:
- We should do it because of the undeserved mercy and grace God has shown to us. We have been declared not guilty despite our sinful nature
- We have been adopted by God because of our identity in Jesus
- We are now under grace rather than under the law
- We are given the Holy Spirit to live within us
- We are promised help in all times of trouble
- We have confidence and assurance in our future glory because of Jesus
- We can never be separated from God’s love
What Does Paul Mean by Living and Holy Sacrifices?
Well first, the word body used in this passage is really referring to our entire being:
First century people, both Jews and Gentiles, knew what sacrifice was all about. This would bring to mind a priestly service, but the kind of sacrifice Paul is talking about here is not one that is slain, but rather remains alive, as we present ourselves at God’s altar. And God wants our entire being.
What Kind of Sacrifice Pleases God?
The goal here is not to simply present ourselves to God as we are, although he accepts us as we are in faith. Rather, we need to be an acceptable and pleasing sacrifice to God that will bring him glory.
The holiness that we bring to God’s altar will not be a perfect holiness, but rather a decision for holiness and a yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We decide to be holy, and then allow the Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out.
And Paul says that this kind of sacrifice is truly the way to worship God – to honor him with our very being.
How Do We Begin?
In verse 2 Paul now instructs us how to begin to offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice. As I mentioned before we don’t have to come to God only when we are perfectly holy, but we need to come to God after making the decision to pursue holiness. And Paul says this happens in two steps:
1. by not copying the behaviors and customs of the world, and
2. by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform your mind.
Don’t Conform to the Ways of the World
First, in saying do not copy the behaviors and customs of the world, is not saying everything in the world is bad. We need to recognize that we are no longer under the law, and God doesn’t want Christians to be imprisoned by it. What clothing you wear, or what you eat and drink, what music you listen to, what movies you watch, and what places you go that are not necessarily considered “Christian” is not necessarily wrong. In fact, later on in Romans (Romans 14:22), Paul talks about how some things can be left up to our own consciences – although within parameters.
We are free to make choices, yet we should yield to the chastening and conviction of the Holy Spirit. First and foremost, we need to consider what will be pleasing to God.
Beware of Testing Your Boundaries
And remember, as we learned in Romans 6 & 7, our sinful natures are not gone, and often, when we continuously test our boundaries or falsely think we are strong enough to resist temptation, we can be setting ourselves up for failure.
Ultimately, God looks at the heart and he knows our thoughts. More important than our choice of actions and behaviors, are our attitudes and beliefs.
In our current culture where truth is defined by whatever ‘feels’ right with an ‘anything goes’ ideology and belief system, it is so easy to get the world’s way of thinking mixed up into our own belief system and distort the truth we have found in God.
So how we do cling to what is true? By Allowing the Holy Spirit to take control and lead us.
How to Let the Holy Spirit Lead Your Life
Second, how do we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us and transform the way we think? The first and most important way is to read the Bible.
Ephesians 4:14 says,
Then we will no longer be immature children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.’NLT
How do we prevent ourselves from falling for every new teaching? By reading the Bible for ourselves and allowing the Holy Spirit to teach us its truths, transforming the way we think. The mind is the battle ground here: will we think like the world or allow our minds to be transformed by the Holy Spirit?
But I read the Bible. Why am I not transformed?
TWO MAIN PROBLEMS tend to hold Christians back from being transformed by the Holy Spirit:
1. Living life based on feelings.
2. Living life based on doing.
The life based on feelings asks, “How do I feel today? How do I feel about my job? How do I feel about my spouse?”
And the life based on doing, doesn’t want to take the time to read and learn. They just want to know what they should do. They want a list of steps and rules of how to live.
These mindsets, as foundations for living, don’t allow us to truly change the way we think – to think biblically, from God’s perspective. A transformed mind doesn’t ask: “how do I feel? or what do I do?” but it asks “What is true? What does God’s Word say?”.
Having the Right Mindset
For example, one of the most transformational steps a married couple can take is, rather than basing their marriage on how they feel about each other, they learn to base their marriage on their commitment to God and to each other. The decision to love – to place another’s interests before your own, rather than on fuzzy feelings, transforms relationships and marriages.
Another example of a transformed mindset is viewing any job – whether it’s your dream job or not – as a commitment of doing the best that your able, as an act of worship to honor God.
Knowing what is true and understanding the good and perfect plan God has for our lives, is empowering and invigorating! It has the power to change how we see ourselves and our lives! God’s Word is our source of truth, and it should be the first and last place we search for answers.
How Can We Know God’s Plan for Us?
Paul tells us in verse 2, that only when we avoid copying the ways of the world and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us by reading God’s Word, will we be able to learn God’s will for our lives, which is good, pleasing, and perfect.
Does that mean that we can’t proceed in life until we’ve figured out God’s will for our lives – who we should marry, where we should live, and what career path you should take?
No! God’s will for us is to have the freedom to choose, but within the context of what is good and pleasing to God.
Good and Pleasing
What does God consider good and pleasing? The answer to that is in the Bible. The perfect path for us is any path that does not lead us to sin, but rather gives us opportunities to glorify God. That could mean that there are an infinite number of paths you could choose and every one of those paths would be pleasing and within God’s perfect will for your life.
And finally, remember that we now live under God’s grace rather than under the law. We will mess up. We will make choices that are not pleasing and God honoring. But we are covered in God’s grace, and we are always offered forgiveness.
One note on forgiveness. Forgiveness is given by God freely, but it does require repentance: a changed heart and turning away from sin.
Rest assured that God’s grace is enough, and we can rely on it daily. We can come to God each day, offering ourselves as living and holy sacrifices all over again.
But the more you read God’s Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform you, you will find that you will mess up less and less often, as we become more and more like Jesus.
How do you let the Holy Spirit lead your life? Read and obey God’s Word.
We are counted as righteous, but we also need to make the willful choice to become righteous – sanctified – through a life led by the Holy Spirit.
New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp – Forget light, feel-good devotional thoughts. Tripp knows what a believer really needs is an encounter with the living God. Daily devotionals to prepare you trust in God’s goodness, rely on his grace, and live for his glory every day.