1. I BESEECH you therefore, brethren, through the mercy of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, your reasonable service.
2, And refuse to be conformed to this world, but be transformed in the newness of your sense: that you may prove what is the good will of God, well-pleasing and perfect.
Chapter 12. Having stated and explained the doctrine which it is the object of this Epistle to enforce, justification by faith, the Apostle proceeds to show what should be its practical effect. Men redeemed by Christ, and who have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, the adoption of the sons of God, and the hope of eternal glory, should present themselves a living sacrifice to God, and live as in the hope of a better and nobler life to come. And for this he lays down rules and directions, general and detailed.
1. I beseech you by the mercy of God. A strong form of adjuration, intended to express the earnestness of his entreaty. Offer to God, not sheep and cattle killed in sacrifice, but your own bodies, a living sacrifice. He makes no special mention of the soul, for soul and body are one man, and the sacrifice of the body involves that of the soul and will, and would be impossible without it. The body, made holy, will be a pleasing and acceptable sacrifice.
This is the reasonable service, the worship due from the intelligent and rational creature to the Creator. The Syriac has: made acceptable to God by rational ministry, or spiritual worship. This sacrifice of the body appears to be what our Lord referred to when he said, worship him in spirit, in the due supremacy of the spirit over the flesh, and in truth, in Catholic belief (see John 4:23-24).
Saint Thomas observes that man has a threefold gift from God: his soul, his body, and his outward possessions. His soul, the Christian should sacrifice to God by the humility of devotion and contrition: his goods, by liberal almsgiving: his body, by mortification. It is this last to which the Apostle particularly refers in this passage. Of this Christian and spiritual sacrifice, the spirit is the priest; our heart, the altar; contrition and mortification, the two-edged sword that slays the victim; charity the fire that consumes it. The victim is the body, under sentence of death for sin, yet living to God, and animated by a pure and holy mind, which directs and offers itself, its body, and all its body’s actions, for the glory of God.
The Jew or the pagan may offer dumb and irrational victims, incapable of praising God or pleasing him. The Christian offers his own body, living, and sanctified by the Holy Ghost in Baptism.
How shall the body be made a victim? asks Saint Chrysostom. Let the eye look not at evil, and it is made a victim. Let the tongue speak no word of shame, and it is an oblation. Let the hand do no injustice, and it becomes a holocaust. This is not all. Let the hand give alms. Let the tongue bless those who curse us. Let the ear be always open to the words of God. Such a victim as this has no blemish; it includes the first fruits of all others. Hands, feet, mouth, all the members of the body, yield all as first fruits due to God.
2. Be not conformed to this world. The Greek: be not made like the figure of this world. The Syriac: be not assimilated to this world. Live not as those live whose hopes and aims are bounded by anything on this side of the grave. Saint Chrysostom and Theodoret remark that Saint Paul speaks of all things belonging to this world, its wealth, power, honours, as figures, because they pass away. The fashion of the world passes. But he speaks of what belongs to the spirit as form, because this alone is true, solid, permanent. This distinction is founded on the Greek text, and does not appear in the Vulgate. We are not to be transfigured into the image of the world by following its desires, but transformed into the likeness of Christ by charity. In the newness of your sense, the freshness of all that you now feel and know, as if a new world was opened to your view.
That you may prove what is the will of God. That the will of God is the rule, measure, source, and origin of all sanctity. This knowledge results from the interior renovation just spoken of. The more we are reformed in the spirit of our mind, the more we are enlightened by God to see and understand what is good, for beginners; what is well-pleasing, for the more experienced; what is perfect, for those who see perfection before them, and strive to attain it.
The rules and principles laid down in this and the following three chapters, are rules for the secular, not the religious life. They are addressed to men of all degrees and orders, living in the world. There is the more reason to guard against being transfigured into its image, sharing its paltry and finite aspirations, and its sordid aims and hopes.