A living sacrifice
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. Rom. 12:1
To be a living sacrifice is essentially to give oneself up to God completely. Sacrifices are offered to God, and are given wholly to him. This is another way of saying what our Lord often called his disciples to do: to take up their crosses and follow him. It is to die to oneself, and to lay all our ambitions, our time, our resources, our affections, and our very bodies at his feet for his good pleasure. It reminds me what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." The call to follow Christ is of course more than that, but neither is it less than that.
It is easy to read this and nod one's head in agreement. But though it is easy to affirm, it can often be very difficult to implement. Let's not kid ourselves about this. For we are talking about dying to ourselves - mortifying the body of sin (Rom. 8:13). What about when we are angry with a child or a spouse who seems to be bent on making our lives difficult: are we willing to be a living sacrifice to Christ then? Are we willing to put away the anger and die to ourselves? What about when the right thing to do means doing something that is very inconvenient in terms of our time and physical resources: are we willing to be a living sacrifice then? We could of course multiply examples; the point is that this is all well and good until you actually have to do it!
So how do you get motivated to lay your life down for God - which often means laying your life down for the people around you? The answer of the apostle is to exhort, encourage, and beseech us "by the mercies of God." Really, this is a very brief summary of the first eleven chapters of Paul's epistle to the Romans. This is about what God has done in Christ to rescue unworthy sinners from everlasting destruction - at great cost to himself. It can be summarized in many verses, but perhaps no better than in Rom. 5:8, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Christ died for us. That is the gospel. It means that we don't die to ourselves or for others in order to gain eternal life, for Christ has already done that. We don't die to ourselves in order to gain God's mercies but because we already have God mercies. They ought to motivate us, and if we have truly experienced God's mercies, they will motivate us to do the very thing Paul is here calling upon us to do: present your body a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. Indeed, it is our reasonable service.