I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God…
We have here —
I. A HIGHLY FIGURATIVE BUT EXCEEDINGLY SIGNIFICANT REPRESENTATION OF PRACTICAL AND DAILY VIRTUE. It is given under the form of a presentation.
1. The Romans could not fail to be alive to its meaning. They had always been accustomed to sacrifice and splendid ritualism. They had to turn away from this, and to become members of little private societies, in which there was nothing of the kind. And I can imagine that they would almost feel the want of it; and in consequence of the absence of it to the heathen they did not seem to have any God or religion at all. But the Christian convert was now taught that he himself was a priest of God, that everything he did should be presented on the altar of a religious faith.
2. By the term "bodies" we are to understand the whole person. Though the body is the instrument, yet the mind is that which we always consider as acting. Of course you may take the term as it stands. You are to present your hands by keeping them from violence and fraud, and putting them to honest work. You are to present your eyes by turning them away from objects which may excite concupiscence, or fill you with the workings of unholy passion. The senses and appetites must all be controlled; and the understanding must learn to cultivate the knowledge of truth.
II. "BE NOT CONFORMED TO THE WORLD, BUT BE YE TRANSFORMED."
1. Here, again, the primitive Christian would have a stronger feeling than we can have. The Church and the world were things very distinct then. On the one side were the idolatry, godless philosophy, and vicious habits of heathen society; on the other a little flock, bearing the marks of that holiness which the Christian faith was designed to produce. But things are so wonderfully intermixed now that we do not know where the Church ends and where the world begins. There is a kind of border land; and there they are, going to and fro. Of course there are a number of things which the Church and the world must do in common, and in many cases non-conformity to the world consists, not so much in doing different things as in the different feelings that underlie what we do. "Why," says the apostle, "if you are not to come in contact with certain persons, you might just as well be out of the world." If an unbeliever ask you to dine with him, and you are disposed to do so, go; only bear in mind that you are a Christian, and that whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, you are to do all to the glory of God. Now there can be no doubt at all about one thing. If anything presents itself as sinful there must not be conformity. Well, then, if you are really wishing to be a Christian; and if you find something which is injurious to you — you are not to enter into the question whether it is injurious to your neighbour; if you find it injurious to you do not be conformed to it. You may be conscious, e.g., that a certain kind of reading or music is a hindrance to your religious life. Take care, then, that in these respects you "be not conformed to the world." So with respect to anything that is doubtful with regard to the expenditure of time or money. Let me here whisper to you young people — whenever you find anything condemned by your intelligent and cultivated elders, you may depend upon it that there is something right lying at the bottom of their antipathy.
2. But besides this negative abstinence outwardly, there is to be a positive opening and development of the mind and affections towards that brighter world of Divine truth and goodness, to which it becomes us to be conformed. You must not be contented with outwardly resisting and inwardly longing. There is plenty of non-conformity to the world in the inside of a jail. Butts there the renewal of the mind? Unlike the man coming out of prison, who immediately returns from the force of the life that is within him to the things from which he has been parted for a season, there must be in you such a renewal of the soul that you will detest the things which have been given up; you must feel that you have meat to eat which the world knoweth not of. You will then have the satisfaction of another kind of life within you.
III. THE RESULT OF THIS IS THAT YOU MAY KNOW BY A POSITIVE, SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE THE WILL OF GOD, how beautiful, how perfect, how good it is; how it is just the thing for which man was evidently made.
1. There have been men of great genius who have been very immoral. "Well, now, let us suppose such a man to have studied Divine truth until he apprehends it just as he might apprehend astronomy. He has knowledge; he has a perception of the beauty of the system, but he has not tasted and seen. There it is, lying above the intellect just as the stars lie above the sky; he has not within him the sense of an actual loving spirit, instinct with the spirit of truth.
2. Take a man of inferior faculties — who, having some little to begin with — the lessons of his father, the prayers of his mother, by which his young heart was early, taught to love holiness and to hate sin; having very few ideas, and those not well arranged, but still daily presenting himself as a living sacrifice unto God, and going on learning the truth by loving it — oh, what different feelings will such a man have, as the whole system of truth gradually opens and reveals itself to him, and he gets more and more an apprehension of it! That is the way in which I want you to come to a knowledge of the Christian system.
IV. THIS SACRIFICE IS A VERY REASONABLE THING. It is a service agreeable to your rational nature. Take the case of a man who does not believe in God; suppose that man to come in contact with another who is disgracing humanity by drunkenness or licentiousness. Can you not conceive him saying, "Well, now, you know you were not made for that"? Or if he did not believe man to have been made at all, can you not imagine him saying, "However, you were made, considering what your mind is, and what society is, with your own knowledge of what is becoming, it is a most irrational thing for you to sink down into such a low, gross existence"? Ay, and we say to the man who talks thus, "Sir, if there's a God that made him, and you, and me; and if the relations which we sustain to Him as reasonable creatures are far more important than our relations to one another, then is it not required by our rational nature that we should not only avoid the abominations which you have denounced, but that, by the culture of what is good and beautiful and pure, we should present ourselves to God "as a living sacrifice?"
V. THE EXHORTATION IS ENFORCED "BY THE MERCIES OF GOD." The word "therefore" connects the exhortation with the preceding argument of the apostle, and without referring to that you cannot understand what are the mercies to which he especially refers. That argument bears principally on two points — the mediation of Christ, and the work of the Spirit. These are the two pillars on which the mercies of God are inscribed. You are to "present yourselves a living sacrifice"; you are not to be "conformed to the world," but to be "transformed by the renewing of the mind." Hard sayings. But you are not to take them by themselves. There is a provision to meet your weakness.
Parallel VersesKJV: I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.