In the final part of his Letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul turns his attention towards the way we should worship God and starts where he had left off at the end of Romans chapter 8. Chapters 9-11 were a digression by the apostle about God’s longstanding purpose with the Jewish people. For you could read on from Romans 8:39 to 12:1 without noticing any break in the apostle’s thought. Like this:
“I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord … I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 8:38,39; 12:1).
Because of all that God has done and is doing for them, baptized believers should want to live for Him and surrender their lives in His service. It should be our aim to live a holy life, which is what God will find acceptable, and that will constitute “spiritual worship”. Sometimes, when there is doubt about how best to translate the original language in which a Scripture was first given the translator may offer an alternative rendering. This is one such case, where the ESV also suggests
“which is your rational service”.
We are certainly expected to make a heartfelt response to all that God has done for us; anything less would be ungrateful. It is also perfectly reasonable for God to expect us to want to live in a way that pleases Him if we really want to become members of His family and spend eternity with Him and with other members of His family, including the Lord Jesus Christ. So how do we do it? The apostle now explains that we have to get our minds right with God. In Romans chapter 8, Paul talked about the need to develop “the mind of the Spirit” (8:5,6); now he explains a little more what that involves:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).