Romans 12:1-8 Exegetical Study : On Spiritual Worship/Reasonable Service in Regards to a Living Sacrifice and Gifts.

*This is a recent essay I wrote for school—limited to 1,000 words 🙁 . Haha, there may be some useful information in there.

Romans 12:1-8 (NASB) Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.


Romans 12 marks the practical section of Paul’s letter[1], or his appeal and exhortation[2] based on the previous 11 chapters. Because of this the first two verses are some of the most quoted in Christendom, even though there is widespread disagreement on the best translation of the end of verse 1. In light of justification, redemption and propitiation, believers are now told to present their bodies as “living sacrifices”, which is either their “reasonable service”, “spiritual worship”, or a handful of other mixes and matches of similar words[3]. This paper will show that a thought-for-thought translation would probably work better in this scenario, such as “…the only rational way to worship God.” While most are in agreement about the interpretation and application of the rest of the text, there is a connecting point between being “living sacrifices” and spiritual gifts that often gets overlooked. While some view the seven gifts listed in verses 6-8 as arbitrary, there are some who agree that these gifts are what make up the members, and therefore are what make up the body. This paper will show that for a believer to properly be a “living sacrifice” in the body of Christ, they should be operating in their gift(s).


Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was likely written between 55-58 AD[4] while Paul was in Corinth or Cenchreae.[5] The church was most likely a very large church and consisted of both Gentiles and Jews,[6] the former most likely being greater in number. At the time of writing, Nero had recently lifted Claudius’ ban on Jews in Rome[7] (which included Jewish Christians), so Jewish believers were returning to live and worship among Gentile believers. It is possible that this created tension between the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians on matters of the law and righteous living.

The genre can be called “persuasive discourse”, or “protreptic”, consisting of 1) a refutation, 2) a demonstration, and (as Vanhoozer suggests) 3) a personal appeal.[8] Romans can be labeled with the “diatribe” style of writing, which refers “either to the activity of teaching in a school or to the texts describing that activity.”[9] Romans fits this description because it addresses a serious philosophical or moral issue and cites other sources (mostly scripture in Paul’s case) to support truths and refute falsities. The genre and style of Romans indicated that this was more than just a simple letter to be read at synagogue or proclaimed in the streets. It was one of persuasion with the intent of leading its hearers to the truth while also refuting and correcting those who would oppose the truth.[10]

The fact that this is a persuasive discourse adds more weight to Romans 12. If the protreptic book of Romans were split into three parts, 1:16-4:25 being a refutation of the false view that justification was based on anything other than God’s grace, 5:1-11:36 being a positive demonstration of how a life of faith in Christ leads to freedom from condemnation, Romans 12 begins the appeal (or exhortation) section of Paul’s letter.[11] If Romans 1-11 is the description, Romans 12 is the start of the prescription. Utley says that verses 1-2 are not just an introduction to chapter 12, but to the entire “personal appeal” section. They are the basis for a Spirit-led life.[12] The two most popular interpretation of why one should present their body as a living sacrifice is “reasonable service”[13] and “spiritual worship”.[14] The former adds more importance to the term “living sacrifice”, while the latter has the potential for one to view it as optional. Witmer prefers “sacred service”[15], Jamieson “rational service”[16].

The two words that must be examined are:

???????logikos; from 3056; reasonable, rational:—spiritual(1), word(1).[17]

???????latreia; from 3000; service:—divine worship(2), service(2), service of worship(1).[18]

Four translations are:

“…your spiritual service of worship”[19] NASB

“…which is your reasonable service”[20] NKJV

“…which is your spiritual worship”[21] NRSV

“…in a way that is worthy of thinking beings”[22] JB


“Therefore I urge you…”[23] “Therefore” shows the transition into Paul’s practical appeal.[24] “The mercies of God”[25] are what Paul has just finished demonstrating in his prior writing[26], and now uses it to urge (this word can also be translated as beg or plead[27]) them to offer up their bodies as living sacrifices. Animal sacrifices were killed before being offered to God. Paul contrasts the old with new. Born-again believers no longer take their sacrifices to the temple, they are the temple, having the Spirit of God dwelling in them.[28] Jamieson goes as far as to say that the old sacrifices, being dead, were not sacrifices at all.[29] Wiersbe makes a relationship between Jesus’ earthly bodies and our own. Just as God used Jesus’ body to glorify himself, God now expects to use our bodies by the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ absence.[30] Whittle says of 12:1 that we have “the human response to the mercies of the covenant-making God, set out in the technical language of sacrifice.”[31] But what of this sacrifice, is it one’s “reasonable service”, as in something that is so expected that it’s almost the “least he can do”? For instance, there is nothing extraordinary about leaving a 10-15 percent tip, anything less would be rude or imply poor service. Or is it our “spiritual worship”, implying that every move we make that is yielded to God is an act of worship?

Logikos is derived from logizomai, meaning “to reason”.[32] It could mean rational or reasonable, but in 1 Peter 2:2 it is also used in the sense of “spiritual”. Fisher suggests that the two words are best represented as “reasonable” and “worship”, and that Paul is saying, “This is the only kind of worship God will accept from a rational being.”[33]

This makes sense, seeing that the subject is the believer’s body as a living sacrifice. Paul explained the topic of justification and propitiation just chapters earlier. Since the believer truly is in right standing with God and Jesus Christ has appeased the wrath of God, eliminating the need for further blood sacrifices, why would God accept anything less then a living sacrifice? Scripture states that the blood of Christ cleanses the conscience of dead works so that they may serve the living God.[34] Therefore the only rational way to serve God is alive through the Spirit, which is not only our rational service, but also spiritual worship. Perhaps a less literal interpretation of the text would better convey the meaning: “…acceptable unto God, which is the only rational (or reasonable) way to worship God.”

As living sacrifices, Paul goes on to make the point that believers are members one of another.[35] They are dead to individuality and connected to Christ’s body through each other. Verse six clarifies that it is the gifts that determine the members, therefore each member’s place in the body is determined by their gift.[36] So to function optimally as a “living sacrifice”, believers should be aware of their gifts. Witmer agrees with the importance of connecting the gifts, he says, “A believer’s consecration to God and his transformed lifestyle is demonstrated in his exercising his spiritual gifts in the body of Christ.”[37] Therefore a living sacrifice is one of serving God and others with the gift(s) they have been given.[38] It is only natural or reasonable that those who would be a living sacrifice to God would do so by carrying out the gift(s) God has given them.

Theological and Life Application

If Romans 1-11 is arguably the greatest Biblical case for the atoning, justifying work of Christ that leads to grace through faith for mankind, Romans 12 is the greatest call to action. “Living sacrifice” must taken in light of a living God taking away dead sacrifices and making believers alive in him. Due to Christ’s sacrifice, it is reasonable for all believers to live a life of complete surrender to God—dead to selves but alive in Christ—for this spiritual worship is the only kind God will accept. If Paul’s use of two words is inadequate to present his idea properly in English, a thought for thought translation of the latter portion of verse 1 might be beneficial. Being a living sacrifice is not a dry or hollow experience for believers, as God has specified gifts that determine their place in the body. If depraved, earthly fathers know how to give good gifts, how much more will one’s perfect, loving heavenly father give gifts of the Holy Spirit to them that ask?[39] Yes, God has equipped believers to operate within their “function” (or member) joyfully, as living sacrifices that are empowered by specific spiritual gifts. This is the only rational way for spiritual beings to worship a spiritual God.


[1] Witmer, John A. “Romans.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985. 487.

[2] Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. London: SPCK ;, 2005. 697-698.

[3] Rom 12:1 (NASB)

[4] Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985. 877.

[5] Vanhoozer, 697.

[6] Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible Dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1893.

[7] Achtemeier, 877.

[8]Vanhoozer, 697.

[9]Ibid, 698.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid, 697-698.

[12] Utley, Robert James. The Gospel according to Paul: Romans, Vol. Volume 5, Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1998. Ro 12:1–8.

[13] Rom 12 (NKJV)

[14]  Rom 12 (ESV)

[15] Witmer, 487.

[16] Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997. 252.

[17] Thomas

[18] Ibid.

[19] Rom 12:1

[20] Rom 12:1 (New King James Version)

[21] Rom 12:1 (New Revised Standard Version)

[22] Rom 12:1 (Jerusalem Bible)

[23] Rom 12:1 NASB

[24] Witmer, 487

[25] Rom 12:1

[26] Gupta, N. K. 2012. “What ‘Mercies of God’? Oiktirmos in Romans 12:1 against Its Septuagintal Background.” Bulletin For Biblical Research 22, no. 1: 81-96. New Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed May 3, 2015). 96.

[27] Thomas, Robert L. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998.

[28] 1 Cor 3:16

[29] Jamieson, 252.

[30] Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996. 554.

[31] Whittle, Sarah. 2011. “Bodies given for the body: covenant, community, and consecration in Romans 12:1.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 46, no. 1: 90-105. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 3, 2015). 98.

[32] Utley

[33] Fisher, Fred, L. “Romans.” In The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, edited by H. Franklin Paschall and Herschel H. Hobbs. Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1972. 717.

[34] Heb 9:14 NASB

[35] Rom 12:4-5

[36] Rom 12:6

[37] Witmer, 488.

[38] Rom 12:6-8

[39] Luke 11:13