I have begun a series of posts on the message of Romans 12 entitled “Life on the Altar: The Life We Are Called to Live.” I expect this study will take us into the summer, and my prayer is that it will be an encouragement to you in your walk with Christ.


The legacy of the book of Romans roars through the centuries as a clarion word to the content and power of the Gospel. From Augustine to Luther to Wesley to a countless multitude, each coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ through the inspired message of this doctrinal treasure. The book of Romans continues to make an impact in this world for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

Romans 12:1 is a major pivot as the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (12:1-2 NASB)

When Paul wrote, “Therefore,” I don’t think there has been a more consequential conjunction every used! Typically, conjunctions (and, or, but, however, etc) don’t energize us. However, in this instance, Paul’s use of “Therefore” points back to the previous chapters in which he labored to communicate what God has done in Christ. This means our lives are built on something substantial.  Because of what Christ has accomplished for us as believers, we are called to live surrendered lives to do his will in this world.

Paul points us back to Romans 1-11, and in sum he presents foundational truths that are at the heart of the gospel: God, Man, Christ, and Faith:

-God: He is the creator and sustainer of all things. (1:19-25) He is holy and just. His wrath “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (1:18) Apart from his redemptive work, which displays his grace and mercy, all of creation would groan and collapse under God’s righteous judgment.

-Man: The human condition described in Romans 1-3 is tragic and hopeless. We are not able to redeem our situation or save ourselves from the rightful judgment that rests upon us because of our rebellion against God.

-Jesus Christ: He was promised from the beginning of creation (1:1-6). Jesus Christ, God’s son, is the answer to a fallen and fractured creation. (5:8; 8:1) The payment for our sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (6:23)

-Faith: This work of God through Jesus calls for a response of faith. In order to receive God’s gift of eternal life, we must believe and trust in Christ’s work on our behalf. (Romans 10:1-17) This is a work of God’s grace, not of human effort, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (9:16)

Concerning these truths, Paul urges his readers to think deeply about God’s mercies. What exactly are these “mercies of God?” Mercy points to “the compassionate disposition to forgive an offender or adversary and to help or spare him in his sorry plight.”1 Throughout Scripture, mercy is an attribute of God (Exodus 36:6-7), and his mercies are said to be new every morning and they never come to an end. (Lamentations 3:22,23)

This mercy of God experienced in salvation is cherished when we understand that we have not received what we deserve. Paul describes humanity as enemies of God, and yet through God’s mercy, “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…” (Romans 5:10 ESV)  He begs his readers to consider all that God has done and to present themselves to him as living sacrifices.

Paul’s reference to the mercies of God point to priceless gifts given to us in salvation. Mercies that spare us from our sorry and well-deserved plight.  I believe many yawn at the gospel primarily because they do not see themselves in need of God’s mercy. They are driven by a life well-oiled by their accomplishments and self-righteousness. Consequently, they do not have much tolerance for serious conversations about sin and judgment which are essential if they would see their need for Christ. The mercies of God are not a stirring topic of conversation for those who think they don’t need them.

Think with me of some of the many ways God gives mercy in the book of Romans:

-God’s love through Christ has been extended to those who are not commandment keepers, but rebels. (5:8) God’s love is described so powerfully that nothing in the universe could separate the believer from the love of God found in Christ Jesus. (8:31-39)

-God’s grace, his good favor and undeserved blessing. God has given the riches of heaven to people who deserve the righteous punishment of hell itself. (8:1)

-The gift of the Holy Spirit dwells within every believer to guide, empower, illumine, and intercede. (8:9, 26) God’s love and power have been “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (5:5) This is a mercy of God as we are given the power to overcome indwelling sin and experience God’s sanctifying work as he conforms us into the image of Christ. (6:5-23; 8:29-30)

-Added to these mercies are: peace (5:1);  faith (1:17;3:22); hope (5:1-5); power (15:13); the kindness and patience of God (2:4); righteousness (6:20); sonship (8:15); heirs with Christ (8:17), and many more as he has blessed the elect with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3-14)

After expounding the mercies of God in the gospel, little wonder that Paul concluded with this incredible word of praise: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!… For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33,36)

Oh that we would live with such gratitude for God’s grace and mercy to us, and may it lead to a complete surrender to Christ as a living sacrifice. This is life on the altar. This is the life we are called to live.


[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Mercy. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1440). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.