Romans 12:1 means to be so completely submitted to God that even our bodies are under His will. When Paul says “present your bodies as a living sacrifice”, he was trying to encourage a life lived from a place of gratitude.
In this post, we will examine the meaning of Romans 12:1. What is the idea of a “living sacrifice” and how can we apply it to our lives in the 21st century?
Present your body as a living sacrifice scripture
Before we jump in, let’s read versions of Romans 12:1
Present your body as a living sacrifice KJV
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Romans 12:1 NIV
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.
Romans 12:1 meaning in context
Before we get into our Romans 12:1 explanation, let’s look at some background. This will help us understand the verse better.
The book of Romans is a letter. It was written by the Apostle Paul and sent to members of the church who lived in Rome. This is the reason the book is called Romans.
In this letter, Paul talks to the church members about many different subjects. One of those subjects is how to live a good Christian life.
Why did Paul need to talk to them about Christian living?
These Christians lived in a society in which most people worshiped a number of different pagan gods. In fact, many of these Christians used to be pagan.
When they accepted Jesus and converted to Christianity, they needed to learn about what it meant to live like a Christian.
Some other church members were Jews who converted to Christianity. They also needed to learn how to live like a Christian.
Both sets of Christians needed to learn to get along and live together as Christians in the same church.
This was not easy for either of these groups to do.
As we study this portion of Paul’s letter, keep this detail in mind.
What is the meaning of living sacrifice in Romans 12:1?
In his writings, Paul often uses metaphors to help people understand the lessons he’s trying to teach.
The idea of a living sacrifice is a metaphor. His Jewish and Gentile (not Jewish) audience would have understood what he meant.
Let me explain more.
Offering animal sacrifices was an act of worship that was common practice for both Jews and pagan Greeks (or Gentiles).
For us to understand the Greek meaning of living sacrifice, we have to go back to the Old Testament.
The Old Testament has detailed descriptions of what the Jewish system of animal sacrifices looked like.
The purpose of the sacrifice was to atone for the sin of the person offering the sacrifice.
So it would work something like this:
An individual would take an animal to the priest. The individual would then confess their sins over the animal by laying their hands on it. The priest would then kill the animal, drain its blood and perform different things with it.
Depending on the type of offering, the dead animal was either burned or thrown away or eaten by the priest.
This is an extremely simplified explanation of what really happened but I hope you get the idea.
The innocent animal basically took on the sins of the individual who sacrificed it. The animal suffered what the individual should have gotten.
In other words, the animal took the place of the person. All this was to point to what Christ would eventually do for the sins of those who believe.
Romans 12:1 meaning – What Jesus has to do with it
Now, when Jesus came and died on the cross, it was no longer necessary for animals to be sacrificed.
Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice that atoned for every sin ever committed in history by anyone who accepts Jesus as their savior.
That included the Jews and Gentiles who accepted Jesus. And of course that means you and me.
The primary reason animal sacrifices are no longer a part of our worship services is because of what Jesus did.
In writing to the church members in Rome, Paul wanted to remind them of this fact.
That God, through Christ, has done everything to save them. God’s mercy has been extended towards them in such a beautiful and bountiful way that they should really consider how they lived their lives.
Romans 12:1 meaning in the church in Rome
Paul’s idea of presenting the idea of the body as a living sacrifice would be understood differently by the Jewish Christians and the gentile Christians who were Greek.
First, the gentile Greeks did not consider the human body as being worthy of being sacrificed. They were of the idea that the human body is too dirty and too vile to be acceptable to God.
For them, God was only interested in the soul which was separate from the body and was therefore clean.
Because they didn’t think God cared about the body, they were committing all kinds of sins like adultery and fornication.
Paul wanted to tackle that idea and help them understand that God cared about every single aspect of their lives, including what they did with their body.
For the Jews, they understood that the soul and the body were one. They knew that God didn’t separate the two.
However, to the Jew there was no such thing as a living sacrifice.
Because every animal that was offered as a sacrifice was first killed.
Even to the former pagan, the idea of a living sacrifice would be strange. Nobody offered a sacrifice without killing it first.
This was a novel idea for them all.
To the Jewish Christians they might have taken it for granted that because Jesus died for their sins, they were free to live anyhow they wanted, especially since they had been God’s chosen people for a very very long time.
Paul desired to correct their thinking about this.
What is a living sacrifice?
A living sacrifice is a life that has been so completely given over to God that even the body is under subjection to the will of God.
Through Christ, we die to self on a daily basis and live to show off the glory of God.
Jesus went to the cross for you. The least you can do is to show you are truly grateful for what He did on your behalf.
How do you do that?
By being a living sacrifice.
What are the characteristics of a living sacrifice
Paul lists two characteristics of a living sacrifice. It must be:
The living sacrifice must be holy and acceptable.
Let’s examine these criteria.
Characteristics of a living sacrifice – Holy
The Greek word for holy that Paul uses is hagios. It means to set apart or to be separated for a specific purpose. In Scripture, this usually refers to being reserved for God’s unique uses.
Remember earlier I talked about how in the Old Testament sacrificial system an individual would take an animal to the priest to be sacrificed in atonement of their sins?
The word holy would call to mind that sacrificial system.
You see, God had very specific stipulations for picking an animal to be sacrificed. Animals set apart for the purpose of being an offering needed to meet certain criteria.
First, only certain types of animals could be sacrificed. Specifically, those considered clean according to Levitical laws. So sheep, goats, bull, dove, pigeon for example were allowed.
Second, the animal must have no defects. It could not have any disease, disability, deformity or damage in any way (Leviticus 22:17 – 25).
God was very specific about what was to be set apart as a sacrifice for Him.
As the Jewish Christians in Rome are listening to Paul’s letter being read to them, the idea of a living sacrifice that is holy would remind them of God’s Old Testament requirements.
The difference is, now Paul wanted them to understand that God is not interested in animals. Jesus had already fulfilled that role.
Now God wanted them, their bodies, their lives to be set apart for His special, unique purpose.
You’re probably thinking that those animals were without blemish but our bodies and lives are far from perfect.
And you would be very right except you are forgetting one crucial truth.
In writing about marriage, Paul used the story of what Jesus did for the church to talk about our current reality in Christ.
He uses the same idea from Romans 12:1 to make his point:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy [hagios] cleansing her by the washing with water through the word… (Ephesians 5:25-26, NIV)
And just in case it hasn’t dawned on you recently, please remember that the church is not a building. The church is you.
So, Christ gave His life to accomplish the work of cleaning you up and setting you apart. Christ did this for His purpose, for Himself.
Jesus has already paid the price to clean you up and to make you useful and usable by God.
It doesn’t matter where life has taken you. Through the blood of Jesus Christ, you have been made whole again and you have been reserved for a purpose.
Your only job now is to say yes to being a living sacrifice for Jesus on a daily basis.
Characteristics of a living sacrifice – Acceptable
Along with being holy, the characteristic of a living sacrifice Paul highlights is that it must be acceptable.
The Greek word for acceptable is euarestos. It means fully agreeable, pleasing, desirable. It carries the idea that something is approved by someone because they find it satisfactory. It pleases them.
Let’s go back to the Old Testament sacrificial system for a minute…
Leviticus 1:9 (ESV) says:
And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
Did you see that?
Paul uses the same idea of the animal (and food) sacrifices bringing God pleasure. A sacrifice that is acceptable to God is that which He has specified that He wants.
In the Old Testament, it was animals of a certain kind which needed to be sacrificed in a certain kind of way.
But again, after Jesus came and gave the ultimate pleasing sacrifice, God is no longer interested in animals.
The sacrifice that pleases him is us…you and me, living for Him each day.
What does it mean to present yourself as a living sacrifice
The meaning of presenting your body as a living sacrifice might not be as sharp to us because so much time has passed since it was first written.
Paul uses the word present to describe for the Romans how they should give their body as a sacrifice.
Let’s zoom in on the word present.
In Greek, the word for present is paristemi. It means to set or stand beside or near to. It also means to place a person or thing at one’s disposal.
It seems like these two definitions do not connect but hang with me…
Suppose you decided to have some ice cream (because it’s my favorite dessert) while watching your favorite Netflix show.
You are probably not going to serve yourself the ice cream and leave your bowl in the kitchen then go back each time you want to put a spoon into your mouth.
Of course not!
What would you do instead?
You would put it near to you. In fact, you’re going to set it down right beside you.
Why would you do that?
So that it can be at your disposal.
Does that make sense?
This is the idea of paristemi. When we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, we leave ourselves open to be at God’s disposal. To present our bodies means to surrender fully to whim and fancy of God’s will.
Just like we keep our ice-cream bowl handy, God wants to be able to keep us handy so that he can use us for His glory.
Why you should present yourself as a living sacrifice
Paul begins the sentence in Romans 12:1 like this:
I urge you, by the mercies of God
For much of the book of Romans up to chapter 12, Paul talks alot about the mercies of God.
He explains to the church members in Rome that while they were still living in sin, Christ died for them (Romans 5:8).
God’s decision to save them even when they didn’t realize they needed to be saved is such a powerful show of God’s mercy.
Therefore, they should present their bodies as a living sacrifice as a grateful response to God’s mercy towards them.
Paul’s message to them is also God’s message to us today.
God has done so much for us that we should respond with a willingness to live in a particular kind of way, the way of sacrifice.
We should do it because when we think of what Christ has done us, our hearts should just be overflowing with gratitude towards God.
The big question is, how do we do this on a daily basis in a practical way?
Paul says, present your body for God to use. Give up all your rights to it. Submit to God’s will and plan for your life.
How do you present yourself as a living sacrifice?
Here are a few practical ways to accomplish sacrificial living this right now.
Change the way you think about your body
Just like the Greeks, many of us have ideas about what we think God thinks about our bodies. And those ideas are not necessarily true.
As Christians, we are not one dimensional beings. We tend to think that God is only interested in our relationship with Him.
We aren’t just spiritual beings. God created us in a body which means we are also very physical beings.
God cares about all of you, including your body.
You probably need to repeat that to yourself a few times.
Say after me: God cares about my body.
No matter what shape or size, your body is one of God’s concerns for you.
When Jesus was on earth, notice that many of the miracles He performed had to do with the body.
Healing blind eyes, allowing lame bodies to be able to walk, bringing dead bodies back to life, and releasing bodies from demons that possessed and ravaged them.
Your body is the vessel in which you exist and it is the conduit through which God reaches those around you.
Bring your mind, your thoughts and feelings about your body into alignment with what God says. He has placed value on you.
for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:20
If you have experienced your body being violated without your permission, know that God still wants to use you. He sees you as healed and whole through Christ.
You are not too broken for Him to take hold of your body by His Spirit and use you. The woman at the well can testify to that. God just wants you to be willing.
Start loving the body you are in. Learn to appreciate the fact that God cares about your body.
This takes me to my next point.
Take care of your physical body
Because God cares about our bodies, He also is concerned about what we do with it.
Unlike angels who do not need a physical body to exist in, we do need our body in order to exist here on earth.
God knows that if our bodies are saddled with sickness and pain, it is difficult for us to be living sacrifices.
Instead, we will be given over to concentrating on our pain instead of working for Christ.
Taking care of our bodies is no guarantee that we will not get sick. But when we are intentional about caring for our bodies we reduce health risks.
God cares about what you eat and drink, how much you move your body, the amount of rest you get, and how much water you drink.
When we abuse our bodies, we are limiting how much God can do through us and we are also limiting our worship opportunities.
Here is something to consider: a healthier body helps you to have a clearer mind.
When our minds are clear, we can more readily hear God’s voice speaking to us. As we become more sensitive to God’s voice, He is able to use us more powerfully.
And just like that, you become a living sacrifice.
In case you had not thought about it, health goals are spiritual goals too. You would be surprised by how much your health will enhance your relationship with God.
Invite God into every single aspect of your life
Stop compartmentalizing your life. We often reserve spiritual things to certain times of the day and/or week.
The difficulty with this is that we put God in a box and assume he’s not interested in the other parts of our lives.
But what if we actively and intentionally invited God into all the other aspects of your life?
Your meal planning. Your grocery shopping. Your workout routine. Your water intake.
What you wear today. Planning your daily schedule and implementing your time management strategies.
Your entertainment. Your social media scrolling. Your interaction with your friends and family.
Your sex life (yes, God’s very interested in that too!). Your date night or games night.
Your parenting at home. Your supervising at work. Your driving down the street.
What if you decided to truly live for Jesus…in a comprehensive and complete way, being obedient in every aspect of life?
What if you decided that you were going to become a body completely obsessed with and possessed by the Holy Spirit?
Everything we do in our bodies and with our bodies is an act of worship. You are never not worshiping God.
Benefits of being a living sacrifice
Not too many of us are keen on giving over ourselves completely to God.
Everyday we wrestle with our flesh and struggle to give up our rights in complete submission to God.
It helps to think about what we have to gain instead of what we might lose.
Consider these two benefits of sacrificial living.
You will be more confident and at peace.
Do a quick survey of Bible characters.
Abraham. Jacob. Moses. Joshua. Paul. Deborah. Elisha. Elijah.
All these Bible characters had one thing in common:
They were living sacrifices. Their very existence was completely surrendered to God. They did whatever God wanted them to do.
Life wasn’t easy for them but what made the difference was that they knew their why. They embraced the reality that their existence had little to do with them and everything to do with God.
For that reason, they had confidence in God through the thick and thin of life.
With this confidence comes a certain level of peace.
God will show up to support, guide, and help you
Life is filled with decisions.
We make an estimated 35,000 decisions each day.
I don’t suppose every single one of them is life-changing or earth-shattering. But one thing is sure:
God is willing to show up for them all, whether minute or major.
When you are a living sacrifice, you are always open to God’s influence over your decisions. And He’s good for it.
He will show up to guard and guide you.
Remember, if your existence is completely for His glory, then He will do everything to protect His own reputation.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:3
No matter how mundane, God will show up.
He can show up to help you decide whether you should change your password or wait for Him to remind you…True story!
As a living sacrifice, you will have your own personal, 24/7, all-knowing personal helpdesk.
You don’t have to be anxious about anything at all!
Who doesn’t want to live like this?
What does the Bible say about presenting your body as a living sacrifice?
There are tons of other Bible verses about being a living sacrifice. Here are a few to chew on:
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 9:26 – 27
So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
2 Corinthians 2:15
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,
2 Timothy 2:20-21
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable,[a] he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
Final words on Romans 12:1 meaning
Whew! What a study. I hope the idea of being a living sacrifice was clearer to you. I hope it made you reflect and engage in self-examination.
I confess that this challenged me a bit. I realize that I need to really consider how I can worship God by taking better care of my body.
God wants all of us. He doesn’t just want our spiritual hearts. He also wants our physical hearts. How can you improve your heart health for Jesus today?