Romans 12:1 is a challenging Bible verse to understand. The apostle Paul urges Christians to live out the truth they have received by offering their whole beings in service to God: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (NKJV).
Paul asserts that offering our entire bodies as a living and holy sacrifice—the kind God finds acceptable—is our “reasonable service.” Bible translators are somewhat split about what Paul means by this richly complex expression. Service refers to divine service or worship. The Greek word translated as “reasonable” (KJV, NKJV) is logikos, which can mean “rational” or “proper” (NIV). Paul may have had in mind worship that reflects an accurate understanding of the gospel and a well-thought-out response to it. On the other hand, logikos can also mean “spiritual” (ESV, HCSB, NASB), indicating worship that springs from a person’s heart and mind as opposed to physical sacrifices and ritual offerings. The word can also be rendered “true” (CSB, NIV), as in worship that does “not conform to the pattern of this world” but instead reveals a renewed and transformed mind, “able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
The New Living Translation expresses Paul’s appeal like so: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1). No matter how we interpret reasonable service, we can conclude that God desires worshipers who offer Him authentic, heartfelt, and radically lived-out devotion based on a solid foundation of gospel truth.
Paul wants his readers to understand that New Testament worship is no longer a system of ceremonial offerings and sacrifices. Today our acts of worship flow from the inner self—the realms of the heart, mind, and spirit (John 4:23–24). Church age worship is both cognitive and spiritual. Our reasonable service is rational because it grasps the truth of what Christ has done for us and then responds to that knowledge with grateful, wholehearted devotion (Hebrews 12:28). Only when our minds are transformed and renewed, no longer fixated on worldly things but centered on God, can we worship Him in spirit and truth.
Today our reasonable service is expressed through the presentation of our whole bodies to God in gratitude, praise, and worship (1 Corinthians 6:19–20; Philippians 1:20–21). In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people offered sacrifices for sin as well as thanks and praise offerings. But when Jesus Christ laid down His life and died on the cross for our sins, “once for all,” no more sacrifices for sin were needed (Hebrews 9:13–14; 26; 10:10, 12, 14).
The Bible says, “Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God” (Romans 6:13, NLT). Our reasonable service now is to be a living sacrifice. In the Old Testament, God’s people “made” sacrifices. Today believers are to “be” sacrifices (1 Corinthians 15:58; Matthew 16:24; Philippians 3:8).
The Old Testament sacrifices were dead sacrifices, but we are now living sacrifices. Jesus is our example—the perfect model of a living sacrifice who lived and died in obedience to His Father’s will. We are made alive in Christ and empowered by Him to live a righteous life (Romans 6:17–18; 8:11–13; Ephesians 4:20–24; Colossians 3:1–11; 1 Corinthians 1:30). Holy living is now our reasonable service (Ephesians 4:1–3; 2 Peter 3:11; 1 Peter 1:15). “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:7–8). We offer our bodies not as “slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness” but “as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness” (Romans 6:19). Every day that we live to please God and obey His will, we are performing our reasonable service of genuine, wholehearted worship of God.