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What does it mean to present your body as a living sacrifice to God? The imagery is drawn from the practice of animal sacrifice, where the central idea is that of a worshipper presenting an animal to God as a sacrifice to be slaughtered. Once presented, the animal no longer belonged to the worshipper but entirely and completely to God. Just as a sacrificial animal belonged wholly and irrevocably to God, Paul says true worshippers of God are to present and devote their bodies wholly and irrevocably to God as a living sacrifice. By this, he means not just our bodies but devoting our entire selves to God. As John Calvin observes, “By bodies, he does not mean only our skin and bones, but the totality of which we are composed . . . for the members of our bodies are the instruments by which we perform our actions.”2
What does this entail? Paul made it clear earlier in Romans when he said: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13). We are to present our entire selves, which includes our “members.” By “members” he meant the members of our bodies—our hands and feet, eyes, ears, lips, etc. They are the instruments through which we express ourselves in deeds of either good or evil. Thus, in concrete terms, when we present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, we cease to use our members for sin and begin to use them for godliness. We choose to no longer look with our eyes at lustful images but rather at things that are wholesome; to no longer listen with our ears to dirty jokes, evil speaking, etc., but rather to things that are edifying; to no longer use our tongues to criticize, tell lies, gossip or slander but rather to speak wise, truthful words that bless people and to share the gospel; to no longer use our private parts to have illicit sex but to be chaste; to use our hands to work and to serve; to no longer sit around in selfish ease but rise to our feet and get up and out in service to God and neighbor (Rom. 6:17).
A specific example of this is found in 1 Corinthians 6:18–20, where a member of the church was involved in sexual sin: Paul said: “Flee from sexual immorality . . . Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Or as Paul said elsewhere, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Surrendering ourselves fully to God is an essential key to how we “glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” to quote the Westminster shorter catechism. It isn’t in some act of heroism or great sacrifice; those are few and far between. Rather, it is in choosing each day to use the members of our bodies as befits children of God, new creatures in Christ, members of the kingdom of God. And this is possible through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Why do so few people in the church fully surrender to God?
Why do so few people in the church seem to live this way? Some in the church are not truly saved, do not love God, and therefore have no interest in submitting to Him. But that is only one part of the problem. Others are saved but have not been taught that they are called to full surrender to God. Still others do know but are fearful of what it might cost; they avoid even thinking about it. Finally, there are those who have heard and accepted the call to full surrender but for some reason have relapsed, gotten off track, and taken back the control of their lives. As D.L. Moody observed, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.”
How people react to this call depends on where their hearts are. The idea of a total, absolute, and irrevocable surrender of our whole selves to God will come as a shock to those who have never heard or read about it. Others, who want to exempt certain areas of their life from God’s control, will see it as an unwelcome and unreasonable intrusion upon their freedom. Still others will see it as an impossible ideal not meant to be taken literally; “after all,” they reason, “God made us and knows how weak we are.” But those who truly know God will hear His voice through Paul’s words and will not refuse Him or rationalize away His call. They will desire to be entirely His, even as they recognize their own weakness and inability to live up to His call perfectly.
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