In the Old Testament, the word sacrifice contains numerous implications. Sacrifice is a word used to describe the Israelites’ worship practice (Gen 8:20, 22:2). Sacrifice represents the offering (of bulls, sheep or birds) that the worshipper must bring when they come to God (Lev 1:2). Sacrifice symbolises the transference of one’s guilt. “When the worshipper lays his hand on the head of the offering, it shall be acceptable on behalf of the worshipper as atonement for him” (cf 1:4). Finally, when the sacrifice is killed and burned, it showed God’s delight with the offering (cf 1:9).
The Romans must have been familiar with this worship practice that is why Paul used this example. On another note, pagan worship of the day always involved acts of immorality so Paul reminded the believers “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” (Rom 12:1).
In the first eleven chapters of his letter, Paul expounded on how marvelously God has worked on behalf of the guilty to make them His family. Christ has come and His death fulfilled the Old Testament’s requirement of sacrifices for sin. So in chapter twelve, Paul addressed these recipients of God’s mercy to show them a new kind of sacrifice.
Present your bodies. “God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body” (1 Cor 6:20). “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom 6:6).
As a living sacrifice. Chuck Swindoll said, “the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.” “Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God… do what is right for the glory of God” (Rom 6:13).
Holy and acceptable to God. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Rom 12:2).
This is your spiritual worship. As true disciples of Christ and recipients of His great mercy, we are called to live a life of worship. A life of worship remembers that everything springs from God’s mercy, and in return, we are called to be merciful people. Love one another… Be devoted to each other… Practice hospitality… Be joyful… Bless those who persecute you… Live in harmony… Do not be proud… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12).