After giving the Roman Christians the most sublime theological treatise ever (Romans 1-11), in chapter 12, Paul turns to give practical application. The transitional verse is Romans 12:1: 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.
In light of God's mercies to us in Christ, it makes sens to live sacrificially for him. But the last phrase of this verse says that living this way is our spiritual worship. But what is spiritual worship?
The phrase ‘spiritual worship’ is logikos latreia in Greek. The word latreia is the word for worship and is rooted in the rituals of the Old Testament. In its most simple terms, worship is to acknowledge the greatness of our covenant Lord. In the words of the catechism – the primary purpose of man is to glorify God. The ultimate reason we engage in mission IS NOT for the purpose of saving people from hell. That’s an anthropocentric – or human-centred – way of thinking. And it's a great benefit - especially for the person saved! But that's not our primary purpose.
The reason we engage in mission – the reason we tell other people the good news - is for the glory of God. Why do we want people to be saved? So that they will glorify God and worship him. According to Jesus in John chapter 4, the Father has been on a mission through the centuries of looking for people who will worship him. We are defined by what we worship – and the most liberating thing we can do is to acknowledge God for who is.
This is hard for us to wrap our minds around because we tend to think according to a human-level perspective. We think that the best thing about salvation is that we get to miss hell. Or we think that if a person gets saved they may have a better life. Both of those are true, but they are simply added bonuses: the great thing about salvation is that WE GET GOD! We are brought into a relationship with the holy one, the beautiful one, the glorious one – and worship – acknowledging his greatness – is the normal and natural and expected result of encountering the God who is really there.
Now – when we use the word ‘worship’ we tend to think of what we do at our public worship gatherings. We gather as the people of God to worship Him. In the Old Testament, the word worship is specifically connected the service or worship of God according to the requirements of the levitical law. And so the High Priest had a central role in this worship.
The word 'worship' can be used in a broad sense and in a narrow sense. The narrow sense is usually what we think of when we think of worship. The narrow sense is public worship – what the Jews did in the temple, and what Christians do in our weekly worship gathering to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. But the broad sense of worship is not our weekly worship gathering – it’s the worship that we perform all the time as we live our lives for God. When we live in a way that glorifies God – it is a living sacrifice – it is true worship. Paul uses the word logikos to describe the kind of worship our lives are to God.
Some versions translate logikos this as reasonable, some translate it as spiritual. Living our lives sacrificially for God’s glory is reasonable in the sense that it makes sense. It makes sense to live completely for the God who gave himself completelty for us.
The challenge, however, is that we live in a world that reminds us daily that the only things that make sense are living for the NOW, living for the moment, living for our pleasure, living for ourselves. To the world, to the spirit of this age – it makes NO SENSE to live a life for the glory of God. It’s weird.
I remember working as a university student minister. We led some pothead to Jesus – some guy whose so high he’s floating down the corridor and flunking out of all his classes. He never hears from his family who seem to be on permanent holiday in SAMARKAND. He’s strung out on dope, and they don’t care. But then he hears about Jesus, He believes the gospel, He gives his life to Christ – and then magically, his parents show up and ask us why we’re brain washing their little boy.
Following Jesus doesn’t make sense to this age. But it makes sense to God. It makes sense in light of the mercies of God. It makes perfect sense in light of the fact that we are undeserving recipients of the love, grace, and mercy of God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So Paul is making the point that giving our lives as a sacrifice to God is a completely REASONABLE way of worship.
But the other way of translating logikos is ‘spiritual.’ It’s spiritual in the sense that it has to do with our inner being – who we are on the inside. Our heart and our motivations and our thoughts. It’s spiritual in the sense that as spiritual beings created in the image of God, it is completely appropriate for us to worship the God who is Spirit. Our lives of consecration to God are spiritual in the sense that our we are intentionally engaged in this – we’re not just going through the motions.
So: in light of the expansive and rich mercies of God towards us in Christ, it makes sense to place our lives at God's disposal, for his glory and purpose. A life dedicated to the glory of God - that's reasonable worship.