The word of the day is “sacrifice.” When we desire to grow in the spiritual life, we might be tempted to disregard and even denigrate the body. We might treat it as the seat of the passions and the source of the corruption of our soul. However, Paul says that we should “glorify God in your body and your spirit” (OSB 1 Cor. 6:20). Today we will seek insight into offering our bodies as “living sacrifices” to God as Paul instructs in our reading of Romans 12:1-3.
In today’s short passage, we read a fitting summary of our study of 1 Corinthians about the moral issues of celibacy, marriage, and foods offered to idols. All these deal with the conduct of the physical body, the physical self as contrasted with the spirit (Strong’s #4983, 245).
In itself, the body is neither moral nor immoral. But the body can be either sanctified (1 Thessalonians 5:23) or defiled (1 Cor. 3:17). The body is God’s creation meant to be the “temple of the Holy Spirit,” the “dwelling place of God” (Strong’s, #3485, 170).
St. Paul writes, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). In the basic sense, a sacrifice is an offering of an animal to a deity by slaying it and burning it on an altar (Strong’s #2380, 118). But the crucifixion and death of the Son of God was the once-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10). On the cross, he gave “Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). The Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law of blood sacrifices. No more are necessary. Instead of them, St. Paul says we are to “present” our bodies to the Lord as a “living sacrifice.”
The Greek term for “present” is derived from the thought of setting something beside another thing (Strong’s #3936, 193). Our bodies, therefore, are to be an offering lifted up to God as the Holy Gifts of Communion are lifted up in the Divine Liturgy. As the priest lifts the sacred elements to God, he says, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 67).
Our Bodies are God’s Own
Likewise, Paul writes that our bodies are God’s. He says, “For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (OSB 1 Cor. 6:20). Thus, when we present our bodies as a “living sacrifice,” we are giving back to Him what is His, for He made it and consecrated it.
There is nothing more precious to us than our bodies together with our spirits, that is, our selves (Romans 6:13). And so, it is the most suitable gift to God, the Giver of Life and every blessing. In this vein, St. Mark the Ascetic wrote, “What repayment for all these blessings can you possibly make to Him who has called your soul to eternal life? It is only right, then, that you should live no longer for yourself, but for Christ, who died for your sake and rose again” (St.-Mark-the-Ascetic 1981, Vol. 1. Kindle Loc. 3662).
For Reflection: How to Offer Our Bodies as Living Sacrifices
How then should we dedicate our bodies to God? St. John Chrysostom gives us a practical answer. He writes, “when our eyes look at nothing indecent… when our tongues speak nothing dirty… when our hands do nothing wicked… then they are suitable for offerings to God. They become instruments of proper sacrifices to God because they are pure and clean. And then, when we use these faculties to do good works–when our eyes see our neighbor in need, when our mouths bless even our enemies, and when our hands do works of charity and mercy, then we offer living sacrifices to God. (NfPf1:11, 406 paraphrased).
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.
St.-Mark-the-Ascetic. 1981. ” Letter to Nicolas the Solitary.” In The Complete Philokalia. New York: Farber and Farber.