The Wonder of the Church: Part 3 – Making of Believers
19. The Reality of Sacrifice
Rom 12:2 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.
Mt 10:37-39 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Mt 16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Sacrifice? It is an interesting thing but in the New Testament there is virtually nothing about you and me being sacrifices for God. Now why would that be? Perhaps it is to make sure we don’t try and take on any ‘noble’ thoughts about us contributing to our salvation. There is much about Christ being sacrificed for us, for example, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; (Heb 9:28) and when Jesus taught, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds,” (Jn 12:24), although he was clearly referring to himself, he was also laying down a principle that applies. But there was also the teaching brought from the Old Testament, “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (Mt 9:13) In other words God is not impressed by self-serving sacrifice. Isa 58 is the classic chapter that hammers in nails in the coffin of self-serving sacrifice, seen in that instance in fasting and appearing religious while in other ways not bothering about righteousness.
Right Perspective: As we’ll see there is an element of sacrifice that is essential in being a Christian but it is NOT in any way for winning approval or achieving self-righteousness. In earlier studies we majored on conviction and repentance as two key elements that are necessary to come to Christ and we’ve also talked about giving up the old life of Sin and, indeed, the language of having died to sin (see Rom 6) should be familiar to us. But consider that life that you ‘gave up’. There was nothing heroic or noble about giving up that life because it was a life dominated by self and sin and prompted along by Satan, a life where we were enslaved to living by the senses and by human effort and striving. When we came to Christ, yes, there was a surrender, but that involved a recognition that that old life was one to be delivered from and you need God’s help even to come to that point.
Right Values: When we came to Christ we were, by the help of the Spirit, re-evaluating our lives and recognizing that Christ was to be valued over and above all else. He alone could be the source of our salvation, which is why Jesus taught, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”. (Mt 10:37) In other words if you value people, even your closest loved ones, more than Jesus, you will always be putting them first and that will hinder you following the guidance that Jesus will bring you. If we listen to people who don’t love Jesus (implied) we will never fully receive his salvation. When Jesus went on, “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it,” he was referring to this letting go the old life so that he could bring us into a new life. Indeed to counter-balance that teaching of letting go close relationships, Jesus taught, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Lk 18:29,30) It is a promise of blessing that make up many times over for anything you think you might have lost.
Right Sacrifice: Yet there is that one powerful word from the apostle Paul: “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” The Message version is particularly good at this point as it expands verses 1-3 of Romans 12: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.” Isn’t that good? The “place it before God as an offering” is almost swallowed up in the goodness of God that follows because it focuses the life God has for us as THE best thing possible for us. It’s like we hand our life to Him each day and say, “Here it is Lord, just as you said, all yours for you to bless!”
Isn’t that exactly what He has promised? “the riches of his glorious inheritance.” (Eph 1:18) “the incomparable riches of his grace.” (Eph 2:7) “the boundless riches of Christ.” (Eph 3:8) “his glorious riches.” (Eph 3:16) “the riches of his glory.” (Phil 4:19) “the glorious riches of this mystery.” (Col 1:27) “the full riches of complete understanding.” (Col 2:2) If you want fuel for worship then just look up each of these verses in context. It’s like the Lord says, “Hey, let’s do a swap. You give me your old life and I’ll give you all these things.” Nothing to complain about there!
Taking up your cross? But then there is this unpleasant picture (as we see it) of having to carry our cross that Jesus refers to: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mt 16:24) Well, again the Message version puts verses 24 to 26 very well: “Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?” Look, everyone living in this Fallen World ‘suffers’ at some time or other, but Jesus promises to help us through it. But it’s more than that (and the Message misses this bit) because ‘taking up your cross’ is simply shorthand for saying, ‘keep with yourself a constant reminder that you have died to your old life and you are now walking in a resurrection life.’
Reminder of the Past: We said above that it is all about getting a new perspective. So how do you “deny yourself”? Well you remember that HAS happened to you: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) It is a teaching that is repeated again and again (see Rom 6:6, Gal 6:14). Again the Message version puts it, “I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God.” i.e. I ditched the old life when I came to Christ, it’s like I killed it off (with God’s help), crucified it, if you like. This ‘cross’ I’m carrying now is not what I’m walking towards, it’s a reminder of what has happened, what I’m walking away from, resurrected if you like, now living with the power of the resurrected Christ within me. That’s how we now ‘deny ourselves’, not by lots of self-effort, but by remembering that the old life has gone and the life I now have is his life, his power, his energy, his purposes, his plans, his goals.
In Practice? well, yes, there is a dimension of this where we make choices, acts of will, because we still have free will and so we have to employ it and ensure we live in line with what Christ is purposing for us. Hence the apostle John taught, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 Jn 3:16) There it is, the use of our conscious will to conform to or comply with the will of God that Jesus is working in us. That is the life we now live, resurrected with his power in us, dead to the old ways, alive to God, raised by Him. (See Rom 6:11, Eph 2:4-6, Col 2:13, 3:1) This is the truth of your life and mine as those who have been born again. That resurrected life means being open to and receiving his life, his power, his guidance, his wisdom and his grace. “if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17 RSV) Hallelujah!