What is the spiritual act of worship in Romans 12?


Hi Ernest. There is this famous verse that we love quoting as Christians. Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” (NIV, 1984). Could you explain to me what the spiritual act of worship means?

Thanks for asking the question. I will post it as a blog so that many others can benefit from it. The first thing we note is that worship is a response. Paul says this spiritual act of worship is “in view of God’s mercy.” The text is compelling us to make a rational move based on what God has given us. What has God given us? Mercy. How has God given us His mercy? The answer is the cross of Jesus. Jesus’ death on the cross was the wrath of God due to humanity because of our sins. Instead of us experiencing the full wrath of God, Christ experienced it on our behalf. He had mercy on us. Worship is a response to this act of mercy. To articulate it fully, we can say that worship is a lifestyle response to the Gospel. The way we live considering our knowledge of God’s goodness and mercy is our worship. It begs us to ask if our worship is grateful and sincere or if it is ungrateful and insincere.

Secondly, we note that worship is a sacrifice. The text says, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” Paul’s language here compelled the readers of his time to remember the sacrifices of animals on the altars, especially in the temple. An animal, like a lamb, would be killed. Its carcass would be placed on the altar, and the fire would consume the animal. These sacrifices were done to God. The animal’s death would represent the punishment for the sins of the ones offering the sacrifice. Now, Paul compels his readers to make a similar sacrifice. The only difference is that ours is a living sacrifice. As long as we are alive on this planet, we qualify to be living sacrifices. We ought to figuratively place ourselves on the altar of God’s word and let it burn us. The problem with a living sacrifice is that when it feels the heat, it jumps off the altar. Paul is asking us to die to ourselves. He is asking us to let the fire consume us. Let it burn away the fears, worries, doubts, lusts, pride, envy, and every sinful part of us that is still alive and kicking. It is also interesting that Paul says, offer your bodies. It is with our physical bodies that we interact with our sinful world. Our bodies are receptacles. They are the ground contact with this world. If Christ gave up his body on the cross, we can give our bodies for him on the earth. If He died for us, we can live for Him. Anything that prevents our bodies from making the requisite sacrifice so that we can live godly lives, ought to be burned up on the altar. Worship is a sacrifice of denying the fleshly desires of our bodies.

Finally, we see that worship is holy and pleasing to God. In the book of Leviticus 2:1-2 God gave instructions on the kind of worship that was holy and pleasing to him. Leviticus 2:1-2 “When someone brings a grain offering to the LORD, his offering is to be of fine flour. He is to pour oil on it, put incense on it and take it to Aaron’s sons the priests. The priest shall take a handful of the fine flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as a memorial portion on the altar, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.” (NIV, 1984). Look at the kind of sacrifice that was holy and pleasing to God, according to Leviticus. This will help us understand Romans 12:1c more.

Firstly, the sacrifice was of fine flour. Fine flour did not form lumps. Fine flour represents absolute devotion to God. There is no half-heartedness in that devotion. The thing that makes our hearts half-hearted is our selfish nature. We kinda want God’s will but we also kinda want our selfish plans. We live in a world that is so obsessed with self. Paul would even later write to Timothy that in the last days before Christ returns, people would be inordinately narcissistic (2 Timothy 3:1). Worship that is holy and pleasing to God must be God-centered, not man-centered. It must not be about us but about Him. Friends, no self-obsessed person can worship God. Their lifestyle decisions will always be about them. Their sacrifices will always be about them. They are never selfless. God says, if your lifestyle responses to the Gospel and sacrifices are all about you, then your flour is grainy – unholy, unpleasant, and unacceptable to God. God cannot be worshipped by a selfish heart. A spiritual act of worship is fully devoted and selfless.

Secondly, Leviticus tells us that the offering had oil on it. Oil represents the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells inside the believer. For our worship to be holy and acceptable to God, we must be led by the Holy Spirit. For starters, that means that you must be born again. You must repent and believe the Gospel. Unbelievers cannot offer holy, pleasant, and acceptable worship to God because they are spiritually dead (see Ephesians 2:1). Even if their flour looks fine, it is dry without the oil. A believer’s worship is holy, pleasant, and acceptable because of the Holy Spirit. Please note that the believer cannot boast on this account. Why? The believer did nothing to merit the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was given freely by grace. The Holy Spirit is not a reward for righteousness. His gifts are not medals of honour. The Holy Spirit is God living inside of us out of His love for us. And his gifts are merely tools for the job. He is the oil that makes our worship stick together. Without Him, our flour is dry- unholy, unpleasant, and unacceptable. Therefore, the worship of a believer can be rejected if it is not led by the Holy Spirit but rather by our own selfish motives. How do we know what kind of worship is spirit-led? All worship that is led by the Holy Spirit will align with God’s word. A believer who has the Word of God as the authority of their life is an oily believer. A believer who has the authority of the Word of God as an option will have their worship rejected (like Cain). Our grain must have oil. A spiritual act of worship is spirit-led.

So in summary, let us ask ourselves:

  • Is our lifestyle a show of gratitude to the cross of Jesus?
  • Are we sacrificing the sinful desires of our body by aligning with God’s word?
  • Are we pleasing God with absolute selfless devotion to him?
  • Are our daily lives being led by the Holy Spirit?

That, my friends, is your spiritual act of worship.


Ernest is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband, and a father. He has been married to Waturi since September 2012. They have three children- Thandiwe, Ivanna, and Theo. He is also the author of four books. The Wamboyes are passionate to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly taught and understood in our post-modern world. They are champions of biblical discipleship and furthering the Kingdom of God by transforming one person at a time. They are the founders of The Relationship Centre Ltd (TRC), an organisation that aims to promote biblical family values in contemporary urban communities.

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