What do you think of when you hear the word “sacrifice”? I suspect many of us think in terms of doing without something. It may be a sacrifice to make do with one car instead of two. To some sacrifice is scrimping by because of a hard financial situation. “Sacrifice” to most of us means doing without some things that we would really like to have but we can do without. What do you think when you hear the phrase “ultimate sacrifice?” Likely we think of when you give it all up for something or someone else. Soldiers killed in war are often described as giving the ultimate sacrifice. Missionaries as well who die while engaged in their work in some part of the world sometimes are said to have given the ultimate sacrifice. To give the ultimate sacrifice is to give up your life.
The last line of Heidelberg Catechism’s Question and Answer One reads, “Because I belong to him, Christ by his Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.” What kind of sacrifice does this describe? As we read Romans 12, is Paul saying that Christians should do with a little less than others? Or is he saying that Christians should give up their lives? Romans 12:1-8 talks about such a wholehearted sacrifice. We will focus on verses 1 and 2.
I. The Christian’s motto is simply this: “My life is a living sacrifice for Jesus.”
The idea of sacrifice has its roots in the Old Testament sacrificial system. From the very beginning of human history, God expected his people to sacrifice things to Him. These sacrifices were required so that the people would see the seriousness of sin; sin demands death. They were also required of the people so that they could show their gratitude to God for His loving action in their lives. As such the sacrifices were to be holy and also to be pleasing to God. They were to be pure and perfect, but also reserved exclusively for God. These sacrifices had to represent the best the people had to offer to God alone. However, the things sacrificed were things other than the people themselves. For example, things like sheep and goats were sacrificed. These things certainly were valuable to the person who sacrificed them. But while they were valuable, it was clearly understood that the sheep or goat was a substitute for the person who offered it as a sacrifice.
But now, in the New Testament era, Paul urges his readers to offer themselves as living sacrifices. The idea of sacrifice remains the same, but now there are no more substitute sacrifices. Why? Because Jesus became the once-for-all substitute sacrifice. Jesus’ death on the cross has brought forgiveness by paying the penalty for sin. That is why Paul begins with “in view of God’s mercy.” God has graciously forgiven our sins in Jesus. Now we are to offer sacrifices to Him not as an attempt to pay for our sins but to show our gratitude to God. This leads to a whole new way of life which Paul calls “spiritual worship” for the Christian. Worship now is not limited to a certain place, time or ceremony. Worship doesn’t just happen on Sunday morning in a church building. Now in the age of Jesus, all of a person’s life is worship as we give ourselves to Him whole-heartedly. Every aspect of one’s life - his job, home life, recreation - is dedicated to the worship of God. And we must give ourselves in life and death to the one who owns us body and soul.
Does that mean that we must go to such extremes and perhaps even die for the Lord? Does that mean that we all must sell all we have and become missionaries in some remote part of the world? That is certainly being a sacrifice for the Lord but not all are called to such drastic service. However, offering ourselves as a living sacrifice does mean more than just making a few concessions to God or doing without a few luxuries. What does it mean specifically for us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices?
II. Stop conforming! is one way to live as a living sacrifice.
Paul says that we must not be conformed to this world. What is the “world” that Paul is talking about here? The world Paul has in mind is simply all people and powers who do not recognize or acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. This world wants nothing to do with the kingdom of God. If we want to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, one thing we can do is to stop living our lives in the way in which the world pressures us.
The problem is that the pressure of the world is very great. We struggle with wanting to live under two mottos. There is tremendous pressure to live according to the world’s motto of “You only live once, grab for all that you can; you deserve it.” This, however, flatly contradicts the Christian motto of giving yourself as a living sacrifice. Some of the ways the world seeks to force us into its mold are obvious. For example, look at the world’s view of sexuality. Today the message is that sexual freedom and promiscuity outside marriage is not only not wrong, it is good, normal, humorous, enjoyable and even healthy. The blatant misuse of God’s gift of sexuality is clearly wrong. The world says that people should live for themselves and not care about others. We rightly and relatively easily say “no” to such things.
What we must be even more on guard against are the many very subtle attempts of the world to make us conform to it. Look at the peer pressure our children today are being confronted with. Teenagers know the pressure of getting involved in pre-marital sex, alcohol and drugs just so that they can feel a part of their friends or peer group. There is also pressure on teens today to have all the material stuff that everyone else has.
However, these subtle pressures are not just found among young people; the world beckons all of us to join with them and be like them. We are urged to buy into the philosophy that the more stuff we have, the happier we will be. We can so easily get caught up in the drive to have nicer cars, bigger houses, better jobs, more money and more luxuries. After all everybody else has these things, so why shouldn’t we have them as well? The world teaches us that the prettier or more handsome you are, the more worth you have by the world’s standards. You must wear the right clothes and use the right toothpaste. Many people have trouble accepting themselves because the world tells them that they are not good enough or they need to be more attractive. The world says live for yourself, please yourself because that is all there is to life.
III. How do we do this positively? Be transformed!
Now take note of the source of power in this transformation process. Paul doesn’t say, “Keep transforming yourself.” We may try very hard to live a good Christian life of self sacrifice. But if that is our only source of power, then we will become frustrated and we will fail. We need rather to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” That means allowing someone else to do the actual transformation. God is transforming us but we must keep submitting to that care. It is like someone telling a person who is being treated for a disease by a doctor to keep being treated; keep submitting to the doctor’s care. Paul is saying, in effect: “Keep submitting to God and to the Holy Spirit who is renewing you.” The point is that we are not alone in this ongoing struggle of the Christian life in this world. Not only are we not our own, as Question and Answer 1 says; we are not on our own either. Moreover, as Question and Answer One says, it is “by his Holy Spirit” that God makes us “wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
But now how can we keep submitting to God as we are transformed? We can do this through prayer when we humbly submit ourselves to God. We must say daily to God in one way or another, “Not my will but yours be done.” Every day we should ask God to keep transforming us through the Holy Spirit so that His will may be done. Every day I pray, “Father, keep changing me” and I pray the same for you as well. Moreover, we can also submit ourselves to God by listening to God’s Word in the Bible. God’s word makes us sensitive to His leading. Through God’s word, He tells us how to live for Him. Without these things, it will not be possible to live as a living sacrifice for the Lord.
But so what? Why is it so important to live a life of sacrifice? Living a life of sacrifice is a way to find meaning and direction in our lives. And that is what so many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, need today. So many are asking: “Where do we go, what do I do with my life?” Often the answer they hear is, “Live for yourself and forget the rest of the world!” But that doesn’t work for long; it does not give any real meaning to our lives. Living a life of sacrifice for the Lord gives us what we want and need most of all. Being a living sacrifice gives us a reason and a purpose for our lives. And that can radically change those around us.
That is the life of a person who is in Jesus Christ. The world will always try to shape us, make us conform to its own image. The question is whose motto will we follow: the world’s or the Christian’s? At times, the world’s may be appealing but it ends up at nothing. Being a living sacrifice will enable you to live with joy and purpose as you serve the one who gave Himself up for you. Whose motto will you follow? Let’s read Question and Answer One together.