While the principal theme of Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans is that we are saved from our sins through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul urges his audience to live out their faith. In chapters 12 through 14, he demonstrates how Christians ought to live as disciples of Jesus. These chapters put to rest any notion that faith alone matters. Our actions have consequences.
I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
How do we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice? Sacrifice is a word we tend to shrink from in our abundant society. At worst, the idea of sacrifice conjures up ancient pagan rituals of human sacrifice; at best, becoming a living sacrifice sounds like a perpetual Lent, filled with mild resentment and longing for chocolate. I’m sure Saint Paul isn’t talking about the former and highly doubt he has in mind the latter. As Saint Teresa of Avila put it, “God save us from gloomy saints.”
As he continues Saint Paul gives concrete examples of what a living sacrifice might look like:
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2). Not conforming ourselves to this age, not getting caught up in the passing pleasures of this world, resisting the groupthink of secular society – all of these things are sacrifices pleasing to God. We give up the easy path of conformity and take the time and effort for prayer, meditating upon the word of God and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us, to discern God’s will. We have to know God’s will first before we can act upon it.
For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. (Romans 12:3) Thinking of the needs of others rather than our own needs is a sacrifice. Our actions flow from our thoughts, and our thoughts flow from the depths of heart. If we fill our hearts with the love of God and neighbor, that love will flow through our thoughts and our actions.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them (Romans 12:6). God has called each of us to a particular mission, and has given us the gifts and graces we need to fulfill that mission. Using our gifts from God for His greater glory, rather than squandering them for our personal gain – this too is a sacrifice.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse (Romans 12:10,14). Love always entails sacrifice. It is relatively easy for us to love sacrificially those with whom we have mutual bonds of affection – family, friends, or maybe more simply, the people we laugh easily with. We make sacrifices for these people, but we do it with a joyful heart. Blessing those who persecute us, loving our enemies, as Jesus instructs us to do – this is very much a sacrifice. We have to put aside our own egos and our self-righteousness to do this. We perceive that our enemies have wronged us, and even if that’s true, and we’re 100% right and they’re 100% wrong, still the Lord calls us to respond to them with charity, mercy and meekness. Impossible? He showed us the way. However much anyone else has wronged us, it is far less than Jesus was wronged on Calvary, yet He forgave His enemies on the cross. We must be like Him to abide in Him, to enter into His joy.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). When others triumph, share in their victory, and do not begrudge them their success out of jealousy. Make that sacrifice, for your own spiritual health. And for those who mourn, resist the urge to avoid them. Share in their grief. When you comfort the sorrowful, you perform a spiritual work of mercy, and store for yourself treasures in heaven.
Image: Romans 12:9 (downloaded from dailyverses.net).
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!