Read Romans 12
The twelfth chapter in Romans marks a shift from Paul’s systematic laying out of God’s plan of salvation to discussion on how we are to respond to it. Paul has talked extensively about guilt in the first couple chapters, followed by a much more extensive discussion on grace up to this point. Now we come to what is known as “grattitude,” that is, again, how we are to respond to the unmeritted, undeserved, life-changing grace that we receive from God in Jesus Christ.
Right from the start, Paul draws on the imagery from the Old Testament to draw forward the meaning into a contemporary response. Sacrifice was the way of worship, or repentance, and of relationship with God in the Old Testament. It was an acknowledgement that something always had to die so that others could live.
Jesus, though, was the ultimate sacrifice, a final, once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the whole world that opened the way to full relationship and reconciliation with God. No longer to other things need to die, which was never really a true way to salvation, because Jesus died in our place.
This act, then, shifts the paradigm of our response. No longer to we need to sacrifice, but instead we are “living sacrifices” that are living lives in full response to what God has done for us.
What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? Interestingly enough, Paul also draws this forward into a contemporary context; it looks like loving your neighbor as yourself. It doesn’t look very different from what the people of Israel were called to except that instead of doing it out of obedience to the law we do it out of grateful obedeince to to the love of God that has been shown in Jesus Christ.