A Living Sacrifice
The words we use the most in the Christian life can sometimes lose their meaning. 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 though we hear them often we never really examine the depth of their meaning. They become slogans with no real heart behind them. This is a great tragedy as they are often some of the richest doctrines of Christianity.
One example is the application of Paul’s great exhortation to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. It is such an amazingly important direction. Yet, 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. 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. We give a bit of our lives working in God related things.
Walking after Jesus Involves Death to Self
We rarely 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 giving time or effort to God, certainly. It is also giving up everything we are and hope to be in order to be more like our Master, Jesus. It is our lives that are sacrificed like lambs on the altar of the ancient Temple of God.
We have to look to the Old Testament to fully understand the imagery Paul is using to get here though.
Like a Sheep Led to Slaughter
God set up a system of worship for His chosen nation, Israel, in the law of Moses. People offering sacrifices to God in the form of animals, crops, food, and drink. They expressed 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 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.
There was no returning the offering to the people once it was offered to God. 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.
The lamb’s life was given on the altar in service of God and His people.
There is no going back for the lamb.
We no longer bring sheep and wheat to a physical altar. The Law was fulfilled through Jesus. He offered Himself as the Perfect Lamb on the Altar for our sins. He gave His perfect spotless life in exchange for our ugliness so we can receive eternal life. It is the greatest deal in history.
It is in gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice we are called to make a new kind of offering to God. In place of things that we grow, raise or create we are now required to give everything. Our entire lives given to God on the altar in honor of Jesus’ life.
Our Reasonable Service
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. Jesus asks for every part of us laid out for Him. This is a completely voluntary decision on our part. It is an act of worship itself.
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 himself is offered up to Jesus. We are 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 we live.
So if we are to take this direction seriously, we compare our lives to the picture presented in the sacrificial system.
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. That is a cultural idea. 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? The reason this makes any sense is what remains after the fire. Jesus takes our will, our goals, and desires that are consumed and replaces them with one that looks like His. He replaces dross with refined gold.
Are we being poured out like a drink offering as Paul puts it? Is our strength, talent, money and time flowing like wine from a pitcher from us to God’s purposes?
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, it is an amazing privilege.
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?
For more reading, please see How Do I Follow Jesus? and Why am I NOT Growing in Christ? A Hard Hitting Answer