With chapter twelve, Paul now switches gears for the rest of the letter. Romans 1-11 were doctrinal in character teaching us about justification by faith, life in the spirit, matters concerning Israel (the Jews), and other theological concerns; Romans 12-15 take up matters which are more about living the Christian life, or how to apply the teachings of Romans 1-11. We must always bear in mind that the result of our faith should produce a sanctified life that is to be lived out before the eyes of the world.
Romans 12:1-2 are some of the most beautiful verses in Scripture and sum up as succinctly as possible what holy living entails. First, we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship. Behind this verse is the sacrificial system of the old covenant whereby the Israelite worshiper brought his animal to the priest to be sacrificed on his behalf. Of course, this is no longer the case for the Christian as Christ is our sacrifice offered once for all (Hebrews 7:27). But that does not mean that we no longer offer sacrifices; indeed, we do. But those sacrifices are now evidenced in our lives as we shun sin, guard our hearts, and place others ahead of ourselves. We turn the other cheek, forgive sins, overlook insults, and if we must, endure abuse for the kingdom’s sake. And this is our spiritual worship: not the holocaust of an animal, but “love that issues from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Such a life is the Christian’s daily worship.
Verse two commands us to not be conformed to this world but transformed by the renewal of our minds. If Israelite worship was behind verse one, the pagan worship described in 1:18-32 is behind verse two. Paganism worshiped the creature instead of the Creator which resulted in debased minds evidenced by unnatural relations and hateful deeds. The Christian is marked by a renewed mind, a mind not set on the concerns of this world but of the next. The grace of our Lord and Savior slowly but surely heals the mind of the Christian as he begins to see the vanity of worldly things, despise them, and yearn for and think on heavenly things (Colossians 3:1-17). And this is the way of thinking that we must adopt, which is why we are told to not conform to the world, our natural way of thinking. Only with a renewed mind can we discern the will of God. If we allow our minds to be conformed to this world, we will have a warped view of things and will not know God’s will for the cloud of sinful unknowing that envelops them. But it begins in the mind; that is where you must wage war (2 Corinthians 10:5).