Worship is the praise, the devotion, and the reverence we give to that which is the center, the most important thing of our lives. Worship is the response of who we are, heart, mind, bodies, words, and actions. Worship is the response of the whole self. Who or what we worship affects the way we live life. “What I worship sets the agenda for how I deal with all the situations and relationships of life.”1 This principle is seen in the apostle Paul’s description of the rejection of God by the Gentiles in Romans 1:18ff.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:21-25)
They worshiped creation instead of the Creator. Creating their own gods they made idols and bowed down before them. This worship set the agenda for how they lived their lives in pursuit of their selfish passions. What agenda for life is set by the worship of the God of Scripture, of the Father of Jesus Christ?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1).
The picture Paul paints is a familiar picture to the people of his day. Every city in the Roman Empire had temples to various gods. Herod’s temple, the temple of God, still stood in Jerusalem, worship still continued there, sacrifices were still offered. Exhorting Christians to a way of life Paul paints the picture of a worshiper offering a sacrifice to God at the temple. The picture comes to mind of the worshiper coming to the temple bringing the animal to be offered. The animal is slain, butchered according to what portions are to be laid on the altar as a burnt sacrifice and what portions are to be eaten and/or given to the priests. Sacrifices were offered in worship, offerings of thanksgiving and of praise.
Paul uses the language of worship at the altar of God to call Christians to worship God, the Creator, the one true God, the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The worship of the people of God is to be a response to God’s mercy toward them in Christ.
Using the language of sacrifice Paul pictures the worship of disciples of Christ as each disciple offering up a sacrifice on the altar, a sacrifice to God. Not an animal slain and burned on the altar. The sacrifice offered by the Christian is a living sacrifice. It is a sacrifice, not burned up, but a sacrifice that never ceases being offered. The worship offered by Christ’s disciples is a living sacrifice, their very bodies used to glorify and praise God. Paul’s picture is that of approaching God in worship, bowing down before him or standing with hands raised in praise, as the sacrifice is laid on the altar. What an image of the words my mouth speaks or the thoughts of my mind or the use of my appendages and of the organs of my body! Sacrifice laid on the altar. Worship offered up to God.
Bodies offered to God as living sacrifices. In Romans 6 Paul uses resurrection and slavery to make his point of using our bodies for the doing of good, for righteousness. Put yourselves instead at the disposal of God; think of yourselves as raised from death in life, and yield your bodies to God as implements for doing right (Romans 6:13 REB). As you once yielded your bodies to the service of impurity and lawlessness, making for moral anarchy, so now you must yield them to the service of righteousness, making for a holy life (Romans 6:19 REB).
Such worship, living sacrifices offered up to God, certainly sets an agenda for the lives of disciples of Christ. Their lives, the offering of their bodies, are to be holy, and pleasing and acceptable to God. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Christians are called to offer to God the worship of lives filled with God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.
1 Paul David Tripp, “The Way of the Wise” in The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Spring 1995), 42.