Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God's compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you (Romans 12:1 GW).
What does it mean to be a living sacrifice?
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Whoever doesn't take up his cross and follow me doesn't deserve to be my disciple (Matthew 10:38 GW).
It seems that the life of a follower of Jesus is one of sacrifice. Jesus tells us to pick up the very thing that will kill us and follow Him. Just how does this look in our lives today?
1) For some this literally means persecution and possible death just for following Jesus. Many in the Burmese community are afraid to follow Jesus because of this reality. When a Burmese converts to Christianity, he or she may be shunned by family and friends. Some face persecution. Burmese believers are accused of abandoning their people. They are declared no longer Burmese. But the good news is that Jesus brings them into new families. He places these new believers into loving churches who stand with them. If they are able to remain in their families, Jesus uses them to demonstrate His love. They become living sacrifices of love to their households. Through these living sacrifices, family and friends are drawn to Christ.
2) Others discover that they must give up something, something they love, in order to follow Jesus. As we read God’s word we discover God's word is living and active. It is sharper than any two-edged sword and cuts as deep as the place where soul and spirit meet, the place where joints and marrow meet. God's word judges a person's thoughts and intentions (Hebrews 4:12 GW). How painful it is to discover that one of the things we love to do is really sin in the eyes of God! We are then faced with a choice. We can either try to ignore the passage of Scripture and keep right on living the sin. Or we can ask God to help us to give up enjoying and doing this sin. The first choice leads to sacrificing our faith. The second choice leads to making a painful sacrifice for Christ. Unfortunately, many in the church today have chosen the first choice. This is why so many churches are powerless to be instruments of God’s life changing love in the communities where they live. Those who have made the second choice find that whatever they have given up for Christ, Christ has replaced with something better. They feel free. They live free. And they lead others to the same freedom.
3) Sometimes Christ asks us to give up something we love only in order to give it back to us. He did that with Abraham. God called Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. When Abraham obeyed, he got his son back (Genesis 22:1-14)! Sometimes God asks us to sacrifice something important to us so that we will learn how to use that for God’s glory. What brings God more glory than bringing others into His kingdom? What is God calling you to sacrifice? What is He asking you to use for bringing others to Christ?
4) Sometimes we are called to give up something for a short time so that we can focus more on God and His kingdom. We might call that fasting. Fasting often is thought of as not eating. Certainly, that is one type of fast. But God can call us to fast from certain types of activities as well. During these times of fasting we should focus on God and His word. We should spend the time we would have been eating (or playing video games) reading the Bible, praying and listening for the voice of God. This is a time to draw closer to God. The church year has some times set aside for fasting. During the 40 days of Lent (the time leading up to Easter) is often a time of fasting. The Advent season (the weeks leading up to Christmas) is also a time of fasting. But you can fast other times as well. I am not an expert in fasting. But I am trying to learn more about this spiritual discipline. It is one that often is forgotten.
5) Finally, God often asks us to make a long-term sacrifice in order to follow Him. This can mean a change in plans. It can mean giving up what seems like a great opportunity for us personally in order to follow where Jesus is leading. It can mean not living out our dreams in order to live for Christ.
Whatever kind of sacrifice we are called to make (short-term or long-term), we should never draw attention to ourselves for making this sacrifice. This is a lot harder than it would seem. Our sinful nature wants others to know what we are “giving up for Jesus.” We want recognition. We want people to look at us and say, “Wow, what a super spiritual person!”
“When you fast, stop looking sad like hypocrites. They put on sad faces to make it obvious that they're fasting. I can guarantee this truth: That will be their only reward. 17 When you fast, wash your face and comb your hair. 18 Then your fasting won't be obvious. Instead, it will be obvious to your Father who is with you in private. Your Father sees what you do in private. He will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18 GW).
It seems that there is a last way that we are to be living sacrifices. We are not to draw attention to ourselves. Instead, we should be about pointing others to Jesus. We should sacrifice our egos, our wants, our desires. I don’t remember who said it, but it is true, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.”
Don’t give up! Crawl back on the altar!
P.S. Have you thought of another way to be a living sacrifice? Let me know by commenting on this post.