The words and ideas that we use the most in the Christian life can sometimes lose their meaning for us. The issue is not with the ideas themselves. The concepts expressed are Biblical, true, rich and desperately needed. They are also often timely and said with the best intentions. The problem is that we have heard them so often without ever really thinking about them that they become slogans with no real heart behind them. They become comfortable lines heard without any real comprehension. As they are often some of the richest doctrines of Christianity, this is a great tragedy. One example of this can be with the application of Paul’s great exhortation from Romans to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. It is such an amazingly important direction but it is often repeated without fully comprehending just what is being contemplated.
“Lord, please let me present my body as a living sacrifice to you.” The image is usually something like this:
We may have heard this is as part of group prayer at some point and thought, “Wow, that sounds right, a living sacrifice, I want to be that too”. We then take it and apply it through our cultural or life filter. We think it just means spending time as an usher at church or reading the Bible in between our real life responsibilities. We tend to associate it with the idea of service, giving a bit of our lives working in God related things, but don’t take it as the Bible intends it – as an all-encompassing life statement. The challenge Paul lays out is so much more than just setting up chairs. It is not only giving time or effort to God but giving up everything we are and hope to be to Him. We have to look to the Old Testament to understand the imagery Paus is using to get here though.
Through the Law of Moses, God set up a system of worship for His chosen nation, Israel. It was based on the people offering sacrifices to God in the form of animals, crops, food, and drink. The people would express their gratitude, joy, and loyalty to God through the offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem. They would also sacrifice animals in their place to atone for their own sins. Here is where we get the picture of what Paul is referring to when he says we should be a living sacrifice.
The Israelites would take a grain offering, a drink offering or an animal sacrifice from wherever they were living and bring it to the Temple. They then took it to the altar and gave it completely to God. If it was an animal, it would be killed and either eaten or burned up. The same for a grain offering. A drink offering would be brought in a pitcher of some sort to the altar. It would be then poured out on the altar usually while an animal was burned. The smoke from the animal and the steam of the drink would mingle together and ascend from the altar into the heavens.
Once offered to God there was no returning the offering to the people. Even when they were allowed to consume some of it, this was part of the offering, not a retaining of ownership. The cute little lamb was given over completely to God. Its life was given on the altar in service of God and His people. There is no going back for the lamb and it was not by choice for little lamby.
Now we no longer have to bring sheep and wheat to a physical altar, but according to Paul, we do still have a clear requirement to make an offering to God. In place of things that we grow, raise or create we are now required to give our bodies up. We are the sacrifice. Our hearts, minds, and souls offered to Jesus in place of a sheaf of grain, a lamb or a pitcher of wine. He asks for every part of us laid out for Him. Unlike the lamb, this is a completely voluntary decision on our part. It is an act of worship itself.
Previously, the worshipper was required to bring an animal at certain intervals from his world, his farm, into God’s presence to show his allegiance to God. The animal would be killed and the Israelite would leave the place of God and head back to their home. No longer is this the case.
Now the follower of Jesus IS the sacrifice itself brought to God and offered wholly to Him as a sacrifice. There is no going back to tending the farm after the farmer is offered up to Jesus. The offering itself is completely consumed during the process. When Paul says it should be a living sacrifice this merely establishes the continuing nature of the new relationship. It is not intended as a limitation. A person does not need to die to be consecrated to God. It is ongoing as long as one lives.
Are we taking our bodies to Jesus every day and having them consumed in an offering to God? This does not mean that we are pastors, missionaries or professional ministry people. Rather, is our heart ready to be used by Jesus every moment of every day. Are we willing to let our own dreams and goals be burned up like the flesh of those long dead animals?
Are we being poured out like a drink offering as Paul puts it on a number of occasions? Is our strength, talent, money and time flowing like wine from a pitcher from us to God’s purposes so that it mingles with the sacrifice and rises up to heaven as a pleasant aroma to God?
Is whatever we possess being offered completely to God for the feeding of His people?
It is no longer acceptable to just give a portion and then go about our business. Jesus wants all of us to be used to go about His business. In the midst of our flesh rebelling against the thought, do we see what a privilege that is? Jesus wants all of us for Him. He wants what we have dedicated to Him so He can do His amazing work. It is simple but mind blowing
Our lives as a living sacrifice.
Are we living this way today? If not, what is stopping us?