It pays to see what the ‘therefore’ is there for. That is, look at the previous verses, chapter, or even the first part of the book to better understand the context of the verse or chapter that is preceded by the ‘therefore’.
In this case Paul is referring more specifically to the whole book of Romans leading up to this point. That is why this study is started from Chapter 12, not from Chapter 1. In a way, it is a shortcut to the ‘meat’.
1.2 “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy”
There is so much rapped up in this statement: the humble urging and compassion of Paul; the exhortation to not just the leaders, but to all people; and the recognition of the awesome grace and mercy of God to each one of us.
At this point we need to see ourselves as God sees us—understand who we are in Christ.
15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” ~ Romans 8:15 (NIV)
We are slaves—whether we like it or not. We cannot be slaves to ourselves, or be masters of our own lives: only to ‘obedience’ or to ‘sin’—that is, to God or to the devil (or our own sinful nature).
16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? ~ Romans 6:16 (NIV)
However, when we are slaves to obedience (righteousness) then we are not slaves unto fear:
7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. ~ 2 Timothy 1:7 (KJV)
Instead, through Christ’s sacrifice and by the grace of God, we become sons and daughters of God—with the full legal inheritance of one that is a son.
We are in Christ, who is seated at the right hand of God in heaven; therefore we are already in heaven. As sons and daughters of God he wants to show us “the incomparable riches of his grace”.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. ~ Ephesians 2:6-7 (NIV)
So we now see who we are in Christ, and the blessings that God wants to pour out on us. Also, remember that we need not fear that we could ‘stuff up’ and loose your sonship. After all, can anyone of us stop from being sons and daughters of our earthly parents? Would a loving father or mother throw us out of their home and disown us because we ‘sinned’—or were disobedient to one of their commands?
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)
We need to understand the depth of the freedom we have in Christ. God is not an angry judge waiting for us to do something wrong so he can cast us out of his home and condemn us to eternity in hell.
Why would he have come in the form of a man, humbled himself unto the cross and suffered and died for us, knowing before hand who and what we are—sinners addicted to our sinful ways—if he was just going to cast us off at the first opportunity?
This kind of thinking is simply us putting God onto a framework of our own human understanding—which means that God is no longer God, but just a deity that we have made up and can control. His grace—the ability to allow us to learn and grow over time—is beyond measure.
How evil are we? Yet we allow our children to make mistakes and learn from them—yes? Is God not more loving than we are?
8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. ~ 1 John 4:8 (NIV)
It is time we recognized the true place we hold in God’s heart and understand just how much He wants to bless us.
1.3 “To offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”
It is from this understanding of who we are in Christ that Paul is urging: “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”.
In a way, he is simply saying, “Be who you already are.”
16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. ~ Philippians 3:16 (NIV)
And this verse is also about trusting God for our supply.
We are a son or daughter of God, and we should know that he wants to pour out His blessings on us and take care of our every need:
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
~ Psalm 50:10 (NIV)
Do we not believe that God can take care of us? Do we think he has somehow forgotten us and left us to die in poverty? Do we think that if we give someone a little milk, or a little money—even if it is our last milk or money—that God will now allow us to starve to death?
We need to live by faith, not by fear. We need to constantly remind ourselves who God is, and who we are in Christ. We need to always remind ourselves of what God has already done for us. We need to sing as David did:
1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
~ Psalm 34:1 (NIV)
If when we wake up in the morning we spend some time praising God for what he has given us, then the next day we will have more to praise him for—and so on and so forth until we cannot contain the blessings.
Also, in this way we are not dragged back into ‘stinking thinking’—instead our spirit is lifted and we are made strong in Christ:
13 I can do all this through [Christ] who gives me strength. ~ Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
That is, our current circumstance cannot defeat us. It is interesting to note that God often changes our heart, not our circumstances. Through our renewed faith we can move forward—regardless of our current resources or lack thereof.
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. ~ Romans 8:37 (NIV)
But it is more than just about God supplying our needs; from this knowledge and faith we can now give up our rights.
If we know who we are and that we have rights as the sons and daughters of God, then now we can give up those rights—the right to be respected; the right to be treated fairly; even the right to life and liberty—and ‘sacrifice’ ourselves to those around us in love—just as Christ did.
We have now become mature in Christ as we are now acting as he did—we are becoming Christ like.
It is important to understand what it means to be holy. There is often a lot of emphasis put on this. Sometimes we are told to, “Be holy as your father in heaven is holy (which is a mistranslation of Matthew 5:48, which reads: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect)”. However, the implication is that we are not holy and we therefore need to strive to correct this problem.
From the article “Words I Don’t Really Understand: Holy” comes a lovely definition of Holiness and what part we play in it.
What holy means
When we talk about the holiness of God, we’re talking about his separateness. That is, God is set apart from this world. He is set apart from the evil acts of a sinful people. Leviticus shows us that priests would need to be “cleaned” from sin, through ritual and sacrifice, before they could meet with God. The holy and the unclean could not co-exist.
As God’s people, living on this side of the cross, we have been cleansed from our sin. The sacrifice of Jesus has made us clean in the sight of God. We have been made holy through Jesus. We can interact with God because of this great gift.
Living a holy life
So because we have been made holy, we need to [live] like we’re holy. We are to be set apart from the world. We are to stop acting like sinful, unsaved people. We are to hate sin and steer clear of sinful situations. We are to honor God with our every breath and our every thought. That’s what it means to be holy.
Notice the idea of being who we already are.
If you are a woman, can you stop being a woman? If you put on trousers, does this stop you from being a woman? If you cut your hair short, are you now a man? While mothers teach their daughters how to behave like a woman (or lady), they do not need to make them into a woman—true? So now, if you are holy, then you cannot stop being holy, but you need to learn how to act as one who is holy.
You did not make yourself holy, and you cannot change what you are—only Christ has the power to do this.
Do you want to see what type of sacrifice is pleasing to God?
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
~ Isaiah 1:11-17 (NIV)
This is the sacrifice of LOVE! The gospel is all about love. God created us to love Him; Christ came and died so that that love bond could be restored; the Holy Spirit indwells us so that our spirit is brought back to life and we can then love ourselves and others—overcoming our selfish human (or sinful) nature.
When you can love yourself, then you can love someone else. However, if you have never learned to love yourself, then how can you love someone else? When you “love your neighbor as you love yourself”—and you hate yourself—then you will simply end up hating your neighbor.
The Spirit of God gives us the ability to firstly love ourselves, then to love others.
Sin is self-ish, love is self-less.
1.4 “this is your true and proper worship.”
Obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit is vital to living a life of freedom. Christ wants to be lord of your life—your whole life. He wants to be lord over all that you say and do—just as His father was lord of what he said and did:
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. ~ John 5:19 (NIV)
Worship means to submit ourselves to the will of God. So our ‘true and proper worship’ is to be as Christ was—sacrificing ourselves and being a servant.
In order to fully submit to God’s will, we need to know that He loves us and has ‘our back’. We need to have no fear for what the outcome will be. We need to operate in faith.
However, we can only do this when we are being true to ourselves—being who we have been created by God to be.
Do we think God made a mistake when he created us? Do we think we now need to fix this mistake and be someone that we are not? Do we feel that we must strive to be someone else—a more perfect person—so that now God can love us? Do we feel that only then maybe God will stop ignoring our problems and start blessing us?
The truth is, God cannot love us more than he already does.
He created us just as we are—warts and all! We simply need to recognize the person God created, not the damaged individual that the world has told us we are, and start living as one of His sons and daughters—an obedient son or daughter.
Remember, we have no power—even over ours lives and situation.
Only God has the power to change us. We need to let go and let God: let go of our need to control every situation and let God have full control over our lives; to fully surrender to His will—not ask him to endorse our will. Only then can He transform us to be more like His son. He does this by knocking off the dross and rough edges that has collected on us through living in this sinful world—thus revealing the true beauty of His perfect creation: the real person he intended us to be when he created us.
We need to know who we are in Christ: live by faith—not fear. We need to know that we are sons and daughters of God—while slaves to righteousness; we are not fearful slaves without an inheritance and without a father. That is, we have the full rights of a child of our father—who is God: the creator of all that is seen and unseen (For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities ~ Colossians 1:16).
We need to be confident—understanding the true extent of God’s grace and love for us: His protection and covering; His desire to see us succeed (“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” ~ Jeremiah 29:11); and His patience and gentleness towards us when—not if—we do make a mistake (he will never leave you nor forsake you ~ Deuteronomy 31:6).
With this understanding (in view of God’s mercy), we now know that we can consciously do as Christ did—give up our rights. We can ‘offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice’. Knowing who we are, we can now behave and conduct ourselves (in private and in public) in a Godly manner. We also know the standards we must maintain in our life—living as one who is holy.
If we do this, whatever we do is ‘pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship’. This is the truest form of worship—a full surrendering to the will of God. Through this obedience God can then fill us with His Spirit so that we can now love ourselves and so also love God and our neighbors—which is what the gospel is all about. Turning our selfishness into selflessness.