“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1
The above quotation sounds nice to my ears as I read it, at first. I say “at first” because there is a whole lot of potential conflict packed into these two sentences.
First, what does it mean to present our bodies as living sacrifices? Do we take care of our bodies? I think this is important and as an endurance athlete I could extoll the spiritual benefits of hours and miles out on the roads and trails. I would love for this text to be pointing us in this direction. But I’m afraid I would be reading my own desires into the text…a danger for every preacher.
Contextually, I’m convinced this text is part of Paul’s (the author) instructing his audience, and us on how to live as people of faith. The “therefore” bridges us to the earlier arguments against anti-Semitism. So to present our bodies as living sacrifices (as did Jesus) means to live the sometimes difficult life in defense of and love for neighbor. In this case, Jewish neighbors.
Second, what about non-conforming to the world? This sentence is so ripe for misuse. We could say we are not conforming to the world when we choose to persist in our stubbornness (whatever that may be).
As I think about this I am mindful of our problems with racism. Seeking to understand the privilege that is “white culture” is an example of what Paul is getting at. The easy thing is to ignore the issue, choosing to “just be nice” to everyone. I think that as we do this we somehow numb ourselves to the real challenges that are before us. Seeking to do what is good, acceptable, and perfect in God’s view is, I believe, to embark on that difficult journey.
This takes me back to endurance sports. Transformation from an overweight walker to a Boston qualifying marathoner came through the persistence, pain, and sometimes suffering of running long distances. Through this experience I know I can withstand anything. I also know that lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. While we may want to see quick results, we learn through endurance training that transformation comes, but only through patience and persistence.
Today I am personally thankful for: my pianist friend who used my running to reminded me yesterday that transforming doesn’t happen overnight; coaches and exercise instructors; the continued love of God.