Having spent eleven chapters giving us a firm theological footing so that we will understand the situation without God and all God has done for us in Christ, Paul moves on to the practical application of this in everyday living. The chapters are linked with that vital word ‘therefore’ (I hear a former pastor’s words echoing through the ages: “every time you see a ‘therefore’ in the Bible, you know it’s there for a reason!”) We really must not divorce the ‘theoretical’ from the ‘practical’.

There are many branches of mathematics, but these are often divided into ‘pure’ maths and ‘applied’ maths – this same idea of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’. Pure maths can, like theology, end up very abstract and philosophical. But life involves nitty-gritty as well as theory and Paul is keen to show us how the two strands fit together.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, 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)

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” (Rom 12:1, The Message)

The first thing we considered was the word ‘urge’. Paul is not commanding the Romans to do this; God so often is looking for a heartfelt response, not a robot-like obedience that has no choices. In view of all that we have learned about God’s love, grace, mercy and provision, however, the logical, rational, reasonable and sensible response is to offer our whole lives to Him. As Jim Eliot, the missionary to Ecuador who lost his life there, is reputed to have said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Everything we have comes from God, even life itself. We have nothing really to cling on to, despite our illusions. All we have is the now of today to offer ourselves in service to Him.

God’s into the business of recycling! Long before this became fashionable (or expedient) to do, God has been taking ‘broken, shattered pieces’ and making them ‘more beautiful than I have ever known’ (Aaron Shust, ‘Long Live the King’). The old way of living, with its sin-tainted bias, is cleansed by God and our parts offered to Him (Rom 6:13). We are now set apart for God. The idea of ‘living sacrifices’ is memorable, for sacrifices in the Old Testament were always dead. But this is the very idea that Paul has explored earlier in Romans (notably chapter 6), that we are now dead to sin but alive to Christ. God does not waste anything!

‘True and proper worship’, ‘spiritual act of worship’, ‘reasonable worship’
… all of these phrases convey the life-changing idea that worship means everything we do and are, offered to God. The rest of Romans will explore this in depth: what does this look like in the life of a believer? Is it just what we do in church? Emphatically not! It may be connected to ceremonies, songs, liturgy and celebration, but it is far more than these things. ‘Worship’ (also translated ‘service’) is our offering to God, and what we offer is our whole lives, our very beings.

As the Frances Havergal hymn goes,
“Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.”

Or, as the Tim Hughes’ song reminds us, God is in everything:
“God in my living
There in my breathing
God in my waking
God in my sleeping
God in my resting
There in my working
God in my thinking
God in my speaking

God in my hoping
There in my dreaming
God in my watching
God in my waiting
God in my laughing
There in my weeping
God in my hurting
God in my healing”