Romans 12:1 has captivated me recently. What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? It’s quite a revelatory, life-altering thought, really, when we really, really think about it. And it is everything: the sum of the Christian life in one phrase. The Lord God, Himself, showed us how by robing His eternal being in finite flesh. He died and arose, but the very act of the incarnation was self-sacrifice.
Sacrifice, sacrifice. I won’t bother with looking up a definition. A sacrifice is something that hurts. Now, the degree to which it hurts correlates to the depth of the sacrifice. A little sacrifice still results in a twinge or a pinch…it’s not comfortable. I think of perhaps fasting a single meal. No one can deny that this is a small sacrifice because our bodies need and want food, especially when it is available. But when we forcibly push away and deny that desire, there is a twinge. It doesn’t feel good. I won’t say painful, but certainly uncomfortable.
But then – and I hate to bring it up, honestly – we consider Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac, his son.His SON, for crying out loud!No – he didn’t have to go through with the actual killing of his beloved offspring, but make no mistake: Abraham did sacrifice Isaac. It was in his heart to do it – to obey the Lord no matter what. To understate it: this is a big sacrifice…One that might have the power to destroy the mind or even the physical body of the giver. I mean – hasn’t any parent heard the story of Abraham and shuddered inwardly, thanking God silently that He hasn’t asked this of you? What parent hasn’t cringed with the near-sure knowledge that he or she would never be able to go through with it? That the price was just too high? A real sacrifice hurts.
And perhaps that’s why I just can’t get around this scripture, can’t get it off of my mind. It’s one thing if the sacrifice is a “one and done” type of thing, as in the Old Testament sacrifices. Once a year, the people of God brought their offerings to be sacrificed. I’ve heard preachers elaborate on how for a family to keep an animal unblemished, they would really need to care for it with special diligence. Sure, sure, I can believe that perhaps it became a “pet” of sorts to the family, and that when it came time for the slaughter, there may have been some emotional pain. I really can’t say, not really knowing what those ancient people were like. It was certainly a financial and material sacrifice. But the point is, that whatever the felt pain was like, it had a definite end.
But what of the living sacrifice? This sacrifice continues, day after day after day. It never stops. It is a perpetual dying, a perpetual pain.
But where is the center of the pain? Is it not in our very fleshly nature? It is the unregenerate nature that must continually be abased and crucified. Contrary to the morbid sound of this, however, the spirit is renewed and set free. As our wanton are cast down, and then cast down again, the separation that we feel from them liberates us. Does it hurt? Certainly. Is it worth it? Assuredly so.
What Does it Mean to be a Living Sacrifice?
1. It is ongoing.
It means that every single day, we have to – by the Spirit – again mortify the deeds of the flesh. Romans 8:13 goes on to let us know that this is where true living begins. However, we are never finished with this task while we remain in this mortal body. Never.
Perseverance is required. Some days, we’re just not “feeling it.” Yep, been there on more days than I care to admit. However, we are called to persevere in our decision to give all.
2. It is all-encompassing.
If my entire life is a sacrifice, then that means everything. There is nothing in my life or about me that escapes the altar of sacrifice. Goals, dreams, relationships, desires, desires, desires… Possessions, attitudes, feelings, emotions… Whatever I dream of and whatever I desire must submit to the Lord’s will.
Here’s a tough one: my image. My image is no longer mine. It is to merely be a reflection of the glory of God; I disappear in the effort to portray the Master. I must decrease, He must increase (John 3:30). This one may be hardest of all. We take care to discover and display a certain identity. Yet Jesus calls us to lay down this idol and worship at His feet. Freedom. Freedom comes when I cease to care what others think of me, and only what He knows of me.
3. It is liberating.
Once the heart of someone is set on sacrifice, God’s provision is revealed in greater measure. I was floored to realize that once Abraham lay Isaac on the altar and “picked up his knife,” the Bible says, it was then – only then – that the Lord stayed his hand and revealed the ram in the bush. After sacrificing the ram, Abraham called the place Jehovah-Jireh (which means the Lord will provide) (Gen 22:14).
We often think of material things when we consider God our Provider. However, He really provides all things. Whatever could be needed – inside or out – the Lord provides. And isn’t this the greatest liberty of all? To realize that when we have Jesus, we truly have need of nothing?
When I am full of myself, I am consumed with my needs, my desires, my troubles. But when I empty myself, I become full of Him. We become freed from being weighted down with the cares of life. The things of earth grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.
I believe that this concept – truly becoming a living sacrifice – is one of the most misunderstood among Christians and non-Christians alike. How could giving up my rights, my desires, and all that I care about be good? And, yet, it’s more than good. When the Lord know that we are truly His, sold out in every way, He truly becomes our Jehovah-Jireh. And friends, this is really the only way to truly live.