Followers of Christ are instructed in Romans 12:1,
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
This is the only time in the Bible that the words living and sacrifice are used together. I’ve been a church-going, Bible-reading Christian for over 30 years now but only recently did these two words jump off the page at me in a way that awakened me to a fresh view of God’s grace and mercy.
What comes to mind when you hear or read the word sacrifice? For me, it’s death. Something must die, usually a pretty gruesome death, for a sacrifice to be complete and effective. When I study the Old Testament and all the sacrificial practices, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that we no longer have to go through the rituals they had to before Jesus. The smells, the sights, the sounds, all of it. I’m sure at a point the Israelites had grown almost numb to the process involved, but I can’t believe for one second that there wasn’t some level of emotional pain felt by those performing and watching the sacrifices take place. If for no other reason than they were keenly aware that this animal was brutally stripped of its life for their sake. That has to leave a mark.
The man who left glory to come put up with humanity for a time – to walk in our shoes, breathe our air, break our bread, experience our joy, and endure our pain, only to be scorned, beaten, and killed. But His death and glorious resurrection turned the tables completely, didn’t it? It didn’t necessarily eradicate the need for sacrifices completely, but it did redefine what sacrifice would look like for the rest of time. Hear me out.
Now under the New Covenant, the process and end result of sacrifice has been flipped on its head. For the first time in history, the object of sacrifice gets to live on and reap the benefits of the offering made. It’s no longer a barbaric and bloody ceremony, ending in DEATH, for the sole purpose of atonement and right relationship with God. Instead, it’s a relinquishing of, or dying to our own rights, desires, and agendas in exchange for His plans and His leadership, for the sole purpose of abundant LIFE in Him.
Those innocent animals didn’t get to stand up after the sacrifice, wipe their hands off and say, “Alrighty folks! Now that that’s done, let’s go grab some dinner.” No, for them, sacrifice equaled death. But for believers today, sacrifice equals life. We get to choose daily to lay ourselves down before a holy God, and unlike those sheep, bulls, or whatever animal the ritual called for back then, we have the opportunity to get up off that altar and run free in the life afforded us through the sacrifice of Jesus.
What privilege! What grace! What mercy!
Lord God, may we not take lightly the life extended to us because of Jesus. May we not forget what could be. Thank you that we are no longer bound to die on that altar of sacrifice, but that we get to enjoy the reward of being a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to You.