A ‘Living Sacrifice’? Paul’s Play on Words & What It Means

potter molding clay, illustration of a living sacrifice

By Curtis Zackery

The Bible calls us to be a living sacrifice. But what does that mean? Curtis Zackery explains in Finding Soul Rest: 40 Days of Connecting with Christ: A Devotional.


As followers of Jesus, the best thing we can celebrate together is the beauty of the great love and grace that Christ has shown us. Because of his great mercies, our proper response is to be what Paul calls a “living sacrifice” in Romans 12:1.

The words “living sacrifice” together don’t make much sense at first. It’s actually an oxymoron. But reading Paul’s words in Romans just before this verse, we understand that this isn’t the case. We are alive in Christ because we begin to live solely led by his desires and purposes for us. We are also an offering to God because we have chosen to sacrifice our way and plans for the better ones God has for us. 

Of course, we realize that, because of our flesh, this is a highly tricky prospect. 

Thankfully, the verse continues to reveal how this can happen: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).

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Imagine yourself holding a lump of clay. 

Let’s pretend that you were asked to conform that lump of clay—say, to the shape of a ball. You would begin to roll the clay around in your hands until it started to make a spherical shape, thus becoming your best representation of a ball. 

Now, imagine that you were asked to transform this clay into an actual baseball. We might be able to manipulate the clay to mimic what a baseball looks like, but to turn it into something that is made from cowhide and thread would be a completely different task. To “conform” the clay would be to make it take the shape of something. To “transform” the clay would be to turn the clay itself into a completely different substance altogether.

We have the power to conform. Only God can transform.

Our goal isn’t to take the shape of the world that we see around us but to allow the Lord to redeem and make us new in it. That God has the power to do this is fantastic news. In our humanity, we can attempt to change our behaviors, but this type of effort cannot be sustained. God, on the other hand, graciously restores us from the inside out. He does this by transforming and renewing the very way we think and comprehend reality. The verse goes on to say that when we are transformed, it helps us to discern, or figure out, what the Lord desires for us.

What does it look like for you or your family to exist as “living sacrifices”?


This post is adapted from Finding Soul Rest: 40 Days of Connecting with Christ: A Devotional, now available from Lexham Press. Also from Curtis Zackery is Soul Rest: Reclaim Your Life. Return to Sabbath, available in ebook and audio. Reclaim Your Life. Return to Sabbath. Learn more.

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Lexham Press

Lexham Press is an innovative Christian publishing house creating thoughtful Bible study materials, scholarly works, and pastoral resources.

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