As a Worship Pastor, I try to be the best that I can be to engage the awesome people I lead in worshiping a Holy God. I make it a point to be a person who avidly studies what honors God in Scripture and also and what God is blessing in corporate worship settings. One thing that has been of concern to me is the recent and often misinterpretation of Romans 12:1 as your whole life being an act of worship. Let's look at Romans 12:1 from two translations and then I will elaborate on why I believe this has been misinterpreted.
Romans 12:1 King James Version (KJV)
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service."
Romans 12:1 New International Version (NIV)
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship."
As Romans 12:1 is read, if we are to interpret it as a standalone verse then one might imply that true and proper worship is living everyday life as a continual sacrifice to God. The problem with this viewpoint is that Romans 12:1 is not and cannot be standalone in interpretation because it references the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant and the Law. Therefore we must elude to the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant and relate it to what Romans 12:1 is instructing us to do regarding the New Covenant we have through Christ. A thorough study of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy gives us the basis of understanding the Old Covenant and the Law. But instead of getting into that complex study, let's use one particular passage from 2 Chronicles 29 where the sacrificial principles of the Old Covenant were applied in order to clarify the correct interpretation of Romans 12:1. Our focus passage will be 2 Chronicles 29:18-36, if you would like to read it in its entirety. I will use 4 points to prove my point. Let's begin with Point #1 and verse 20.
1. SACRIFICES HAPPEN AT SET APART TIMES
20. "Then Hezekiah the king rose early, and gathered the rulers of the city, and went up to the house of the Lord."
Under the Old Covenant, the sacrifices to the Lord happened at specified times at the Temple and were administered by the Priests. Under the New Covenant we have in Christ, according to 1 Peter 2:9, we are Priests and according to 1 Corinthians 6:19 our body is now the Temple of the Holy Spirit. So now we understand according to Scripture that we are priests and can now enter God's presence ourselves and we are also the temple of the Holy Spirit if we are in Christ. Therefore, we can offer sacrifices to God and enter into His presence ourselves. Though we now have the ability to offer up a continual sacrifice of praise to God according to Hebrews 13:15, we are not capable of doing such all the time. For example... Am I offering up a continual sacrifice of praise to God while I am sleeping? How about when I am watching TV? How about when I am surfing the internet? How about when I am talking to a friend? etc... Of course we're not, therefore our worship has to be set apart at specified times in order to acknowledge who God is and what He has done for us. So according to Romans 12:1, can I continually offer my body to God as a living sacrifice with a focus on nothing else. The common sense answer is NO. But the good news is that I can worship God anytime and anywhere if I set apart the time to focus only on him and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth according to John 4:24. Jesus was eluding to New Covenant worship in John 4:24 which is in Spirit and in Truth.
2. SACRIFICES WERE DEAD BUT ARE NOW ALIVE
22. "So they killed the bullocks, and the priests received the blood, and sprinkled it on the altar: likewise, when they had killed the rams, they sprinkled the blood upon the altar: they killed also the lambs, and they sprinkled blood upon the altar."
The sacrifices under the Old Covenant had to be killed in order to be accepted by God, thus the reason Christ had to die for us so that he could fulfill the Law's demands. This insight is critical when interpreting Romans 12:1. Obviously, Christ has given us eternal life through the New Covenant, so in order to offer up sacrifices or worship to Him; it makes the most sense that we be a living sacrifice. This is especially true since the Temple is now our bodies where the Holy Spirit dwells (and we know the Holy Spirit doesn't want to be in and will not dwell in a dead body...) No, the sacrifice that God most desires now is worshipers in Spirit (because we have been born of the Spirit- John 3) and Truth (because we offer worship to him according to Scripture based on how he desires to be worshiped and also because we have been made holy by the Word of Truth- John 17:17). Under the New Covenant the sacrifice of animals and possessions is no longer required in order to worship God. The sacrifice of worship now is a living and very personal one. It is very personal because the living sacrifice offered for worship to God now is YOU...
3. SACRIFICES AND WORSHIP ARE NOT CONTINUAL
27. "And Hezekiah commanded to offer the burnt offering upon the altar. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel.
28. And all the congregation worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished."
At the set apart time when the sacrifices were being offered worship was happening. This continued until the burnt offering was finished. A logical conclusion and interpretation of this would be that Worship started when the sacrifices began and ended when the sacrifices finished. In Exodus 29, we see that sacrifices of burnt offerings were made in the morning and in the evening. This would indicate that the sacrifice of worship was not a continual event during the day but instead had set apart times (morning and evening). Worship does happen continually in Heaven (Revelation 4 & 5) but it is not possible for us since we have to sleep and work. Our worship however can and should happen frequently. I really like the idea of morning and evening.:-)
4. OUR LIFESTYLE PREPARES US FOR WORSHIP
31. "Then Hezekiah answered and said, Now ye have consecrated yourselves unto the Lord, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings into the house of the Lord. And the congregation brought in sacrifices and thank offerings; and as many as were of a free heart burnt offerings."
In this passage, the people had prepared first to give the sacrifices to the Lord and then, after they were set apart, offered the sacrifices to the Lord. It is impossible for us to have a lifestyle of offering continual sacrifices to the Lord. We can live a life that prepares us to be consecrated to offer our sacrifice of worship to the Lord at a set apart time but we cannot continually do it. If we look at Revelation 4 and 5 again, we find creatures that truly have a lifestyle of Worship in that they continually say or sing "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come". These creatures live a life of worship because that is all that they do 24/7. Worship therefore cannot be a continual lifestyle for us on earth. I can live my life in a way that prepares me to offer acceptable worship to God at set apart times but I do not have the ability to continually offer worship to God.
Therefore to say that we can live a life of continual worship and interpret Romans 12:1 as stating such is in my mind a misinterpretation of this Scripture. I also believe to say such is to cheapen and dilute real and authentic worship that we have the ability to experience as Christ followers. When we frequently set apart times to worship God and be in His presence, I believe He is pleased, since we know that the Father is seeking worshipers according to John 4:24.