What is a Living Sacrifice?- Romans 12

13 Dec 2013 by Simon Yap-


“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.”

(Romans 12:1-2a)


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 it is what it means. While I am all for this meaning, I must take an exception to how this verse is constantly thought about. Rather as an exaltation, many church leaders have used this verse to demand as well as to condemn.

We have often used this verse to tell people that they are not doing enough, giving enough, or holy enough. This is not what the verse suggests. There are also people who use this verse to say that we have to change our thinking from being worldly into a stoic form of piety. Hence, we call other's to 'not watch this movie, not listen to that kind of music, and abstain from certain entertainment.' Let’s set one thing straight; 'the patterns of this world' are not what many call today as '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 is pertinent to note that Paul’s message in Romans is this: 

The Law of Moses cannot save 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 their's alone. It is also freely given to the Gentiles by faith. Paul started 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 that 'all have sinned.' While this verse means everyone has sinned, what he really wanted to emphasize on is both Jews and Gentiles are under judgment and that Christ is the solution for both.


You will see this theme occurring in the rest of his writings, where he said, 'there is no longer Jew or Gentile, neither male nor female.' Hence, Paul in Chapter 4 used Abraham to tell 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 sins on him.

Paul then stated that in Adam, the whole humanity (Jews and Gentiles) had fallen into sin and many will die because of this. Paul then switched 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 perished 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 and justified by faith in Christ.




In Romans 6 and 7, Paul spoke 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; thus, you have no relationship with it. This is significant because this means that '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, good deeds, sacrifices, money, attempt to please God will earn you demerit points with God.

Paul used Romans 9-11 to tell us that God chooses who He wants to have grace upon and it is totally independent of what we do. This is because grace is poured out on us even before we were born. Paul used Esau and Jacob here as an illustration. Before Jacob did anything, he was chosen over 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 ended Romans 11, he said 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 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?
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 stated 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. And 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.’”

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 described this:

1 Peter 2:3-6

New International Version (NIV)

now that you have tasted that the Lord is goodAs 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 to be a holy priesthoodoffering spiritual sacrificesacceptable 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 God 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 issued a list of instructions but he said 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 your's. 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 is offered under Law. You are not under Law but 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 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— a living sacrifice is who you are.


Source :




Disclaimer : The views or opinions expressed by the columnists are solely their own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Christianity Malaysia. The article published in Christianity Malaysia may be edited to correct grammatical errors and/or improve sentence structures, while maintaining the authenticity of the content as much as possible.


Share the Good News


References for pictures:









1 Comment

  1. Dear Simon, you wrote beautifully about Romans. One of the best articles i have come across in this website. Would love to meet up and discuss with u about Jesus and His Word. Do mail me if u have some time. In Christ, melvyn ong

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.