For the last few weeks we have not had church services on Sunday night. In its place we have been encouraged to gather in small groups, or as families, and go through the “Starting Point” material created by the North American Mission Board. As part of this study we recently looked at Romans 12:1, “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”
This is an odd verse because, in the Old Testament, sacrifices do not survive. The nature of a sacrifice is that its life is given to cover someone else’s debt. We know that Christ was the ultimate sacrifice. That His blood covered our sins fully and that no other sacrifice is needed.
So, what does it mean to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice?
I would like to start by offering a counter verse. In Malachi 1:10 God tells the Israelites, “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”
In Romans we are told to be “living sacrifices”. In Malachi God basically says He wishes the Israelites would just stop coming to the temple (to offer sacrifices) because they, “kindle a useless fire” (to burn the sacrifices). Malachi explains that the Israelites see the call to offer sacrifices as a “nuisance”. In addition, they were offering, “stolen, lame, or sick animals” (Malachi 1:13). They bring offerings that cost them little or nothing. It is not a sacrifice unless its cost is felt by the giver.
The Israelites in Malachi were simply going through the motions. They went to the temple. They were bringing something to offer to the Lord. And God was angry with them. God was ready for them to just stop because what they were doing was useless.
The Israelites in Malachi were missing the truth found in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” They believed simply going through the routine was enough. God demands more.
Giving a sacrifice is painful. It has a cost. It calls us to lose something we would rather hold onto. The Israelites in Malachi had abandoned heart-felt worship for comfortable routine. If this had occurred today they may say things like, “we go to church service every week, we read our Bible, we even give some money. What more do you want?”
The answer quite simply is that God wants all of us. Our hearts, our desires, our 5-year plan, our hopes, our dreams, and our goals. All laid out at his feet. As a sacrifice, we are never asked for the terms of our surrender. He wants to be the end of all our effort. Our lives, poured out to Him to do with as He pleases. That is what we are called to.
And Romans 12:1 calls us to do this every day of our lives. An on-going living effort to give all that we have to the God who saves us. We do this because we love Him with all our heart. We do this because He has redeemed us and we are His. We do this because He is worthy of our continual sacrifice.
May we willingly sacrifice all that we have to Him and hold nothing back for ourselves.