Formations 10.19.2014: A Holy and Pleasing Sacrifice

Romans 12:1-12

Abel and Cain Offer Their Sacrifice to God, Byzantine mosaic in the Cathedral of Monreale.

Abel and Cain Offer Their Sacrifice to God, Byzantine mosaic in the Cathedral of Monreale.

There is a good bit of practical advice in Romans 12:1-8 about the nature of discipleship. We can see the practical side of this passage if, after every major section, we ask how what Paul says helps us do what he said just before. There are certainly other ways to read this passage, but I have found this to be a helpful exercise.

So, for example, Paul begins by calling upon believers to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God” (v. 1). How do we do that? Maybe the answer is to be found in what Paul writes in verse 2: “Don’t be conformed…but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is.”

But how can our minds be renewed so that we can know God’s will? The next thing Paul says is not to think more highly of oneself than is appropriate. Rather, we should be reasonable (the NRSV says, “sober”) “since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you” (v. 3). Our minds are renewed and God’s will becomes evident as we come to judge ourselves accurately, soberly, and reasonably.

But how can we do that? Perhaps the key is to understand that we are but one part of a diverse and multi-talented body (vv. 4-5). We don’t have to do it all. In fact, we can’t do it all—nor were we meant to! Though we are many, we are one body in Christ and members of one another. I need what you can provide—and you need what I can provide.

But, finally, how can I make my unique contribution to the body of Christ? Paul reminds us that we each have different gifts. Whatever gift we have, we are to use it to the fullest (vv. 6-8).

Working backward, we might say, then, that Romans 12:1-8 calls on believers to use whatever gift God has given us. By so doing, we contribute to Christ’s body, the church. By working alongside other believers with different gifts, we realize that we cannot—and need not—carry the entire weight of the church’s ministry on our own shoulders. In the process, we begin to think more reasonably about ourselves, our abilities, and our limitations. This sober self-judgment can transform our minds and make clear God’s will for our lives. Applying ourselves to doing that will involves consecrating ourselves to God as a living sacrifice.


• How does knowing our spiritual gifts help us know God’s will?
• When has using your gift been an act of self-sacrifice?
• What can the concept of spiritual gifts teach us about humility?
• How does discerning and using our gifts help us to be better Christians?

Reference Shelf

The New Community of Believers

The phrase “body of Christ” describes the new community of believers created through Christ. The various parts of the body are united in Christ (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12-13; Eph 4:4), transcending the diversity of gifts among the members (1 Cor 12:12-31; Rom 12:4-8), as well as their social and ethnic diversity (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 2:16). This oneness is symbolized in the Lord’s Supper by the one loaf which is shared by all believers (l Cor 10:16-17; 11:23-32).

Conversely, the phrase “body of Christ” can also be used to emphasize the diversity that exists among believers. A variety of gifts of the Spirit are in evidence within the fellowship. No one is to think too highly of his or her own gift (Rom 12:3-8), nor to disparage the gifts of others (1 Cor 12:4-31). Rather, all gifts are to be used for the mutual benefit of the body of Christ (Eph 4:11-16). In Romans and 1 Corinthians, Christ encompasses the whole body, composed of its several parts. In Ephesians and Colossians, on the other hand, Christ is described as the head, with believers constituting the remainder of his body, the Church (Eph 1:22-23; 4:15-16; 5:23; Col 1:18; 2:19). As the head, Christ unites the body, guiding, nourishing, and loving it (Eph 4: 16; 5:25-30; Col 2: 19). Furthermore, in Ephesians and Colossians the body of Christ represents the church universal, whereas in Romans and 1 Corinthians the imagery is applied to local churches.

Even in passages in which the body of Christ has primary reference to the crucifixion of Jesus (Rom 7:4; Col 1:22), the idea of corporate fellowship is not totally absent. That believers “have died to the law through the body of Christ” (Rom 7:4) includes not only the idea that they benefit from his atoning death, but that they also benefit through participation in his new community, the church.

Mitchell G. Reddish, “Body of Christ,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 120–21.

Harmony and Friendship
[Verses] 3-13, in the pattern of Romans 12–13 deals with spiritual gifts within the Christian community. Paul believed that all Christians receive the Spirit when they die with Christ to sin (1 Cor 12:12-13). He understood the Spirit as God’s presence, personal presence, personal presence experienced as power. This divine presence indwelling Christians, he believed, manifested itself in two ways: fruit and gifts. On the one hand, in Galatians 5:22-23 the apostle spoke about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are not so much virtues for which one strives as fruit that manifests itself naturally in the personality that is being changed by the indwelling Spirit. On the other hand, in 1 Corinthians 12–14 and Romans 12:6-8 (cf. Eph 4:11-12) Paul treated the gifts of the Spirit. In these texts the lists of gifts vary (cf. 1 Cor 12:8-10 and 12:28 with Rom 12:6-8). In all cases, however, gifts of the Spirit refer to ministries with which Christians are gifted by the Spirit for the good of the believing community.

In Romans 12:6-8 there are seven gifts mentioned. The number seven probably indicates these seven are symbolic of the totality of God-given charisms. They are: (1) prophecy (1 Cor 12:10, 28; 14:1; 1 Thess 5:19-20), (2) ministry/service (diakonia; Acts 6:2; 1 Pet 4:10), (3) teaching (1 Cor 12:28; Jas 3:1; Heb 5:12), (4) exhortation (1 Thess 4:18; 5:11, 14), (5) generous giving (Eph 4:28; Acts 2:45; 4:34-37), (6) diligence in leading (1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:15, 17), and (7) cheerful compassion (Tob 1:3; 4:7; 9:6; Sir 7:10; 35:2).

The problem with spiritual gifts in the Pauline communities was that those so gifted often viewed their empowered actions as grounds for personal pride rather as ministries for mutual upbuilding. It is for this reason that Paul gave his exhortation in vv. 3-4: “not to think of yourself more highly that you ought to think, but to think…each according to the measure of faith (= the trust, cf. 1 Cor 12:7; 1 Pet 4:10; pistis is so used in Polybius 5.41.2—“This Hermeias was a Carian who had been set over the affairs of Seleucus, Antiochus’s brother, who had committed this trust [pistis/responsibility] into his hands”) that God has assigned.” What would it mean to think of oneself in terms of one’s own responsibility? It would mean to recognize that one’s gift is only part of the Spirit’s arsenal. Others have different gifts; yet we are all part of the same community. “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another” (vv. 4-5; cf. 1 Cor 12:14-27). There is a variety of gifts, and each is important to the community. Gennadius of Constantinople, in his Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church, said in this regard:

God did not give us His gift in order that we should hate each other or that spiritual things should become an excuse for warfare, but so that we should enjoy harmony and friendship and the common salvation of all.

The important thing for Paul was that the motive for the employment of spiritual gifts be right. That motive is love. In 1 Corinthians 12–14, chapters 12 and 14, which discuss spiritual gifts, are separated by chapter 13, which is devoted to love. Love is not there regarded as the supreme spiritual gift. For Paul love was a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). So 1 Corinthians 12:31 should probably be translated: “But you are striving for the greater gifts” (= a conclusion to chapter 12, observing that the Corinthians were indeed striving for the superior gifts for status sake). “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (= an introduction to chapter 13, where love is displayed as the proper motivation for use of spiritual gifts). Likewise in Romans 12 the section on spiritual gifts contains the Pauline emphasis on love. So v. 9a goes with vv. 3-8. It is an exhortation for proper motivation in the use of spiritual gifts. Just as in 1 Corinthians 13, there is then a sketch of what love looks like in Romans 12:9b-13.

Charles H. Talbert, Romans, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002), 286–87.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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