Paul summons believers to present themselves to God as a living, holy, and pleasing sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
That is, he calls for total consecration, what some nineteenth-century Holiness preachers called, “laying all on the altar.” Moreover, he identifies this sacrifice as one’s “rational service,” a form of worship offered by a mind that thinks about reality in the right way. (Though some translations render the Greek word here as spiritual, the term more often involves the intellect.)
This consecration to God contrasts with blending into the world and its values that dominate the present age: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Too often the world around us sets our agendas for what we value: status, wealth, convenience, sex, honor, and so forth.
Worldliness takes different forms in different cultures. One example in much of Western culture is that most of us cannot readily understand the concept of a “Lord.” While there are definite advantages in having a president rather than a king, U.S. culture is accustomed to voting for or against presidents, and then criticizing them afterward even if we voted for them. Voters expect them to work for (or against) our special interest groups. But Jesus is not our president; he is our Lord. We have often reduced God to a means to give us what we want, instead of considering how we may serve God.
Yet Paul tells us the outcome of our minds being renewed: we perform our rational service of yielding our lives to God’s service (Romans 12:1-2). We also learn to recognize God’s will: that which is “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Paul here describes God’s will with three adjectives, one of them carried over from the three adjectives describing the living sacrifice in 12:1. The renewed mind recognizes what is good, and acts accordingly, for that is God’s will. Paul goes on to show that the renewed mind is not self-centered, but thinks about how to use God’s gifts to serve others (Romans 12:3-6). Sometimes we need to pray for the Spirit’s guidance, but sometimes God has already given us guidance and we just don’t want to recognize it. If I see needs, and God has equipped me to help meet those needs, I don’t need to pray for guidance; I already have guidance. We must use our bodies to serve Christ’s body (Romans 12:1, 4-5).
What Do You Focus On?
What we choose to meditate on, what we deliberately fill our minds with, will be what shapes our understanding of our identity, mission and activity in this world. As early programmers said about computers, “garbage in, garbage out”: what you put in is what you get out, whether data or nonsense. If we use our free time to imbibe more deeply the values of the present world, we will inevitably conform to those values. If instead we fill our thoughts with God’s Word and God’s values, God might just use us as prophetic voices to speak God’s heart to our world and his church today.