What do you think when you read the word “sacrifice”? Where do we sacrifice, or for what do we sacrifice? I think of parents who sacrifice for their children. They delay or do away with completely something good for themselves toward the service of a greater good, their child’s good. It might be sacrificing time to make it to the kid’s ball game, sacrificing money so their kid can get braces, or a computer for school. Parents are constantly sacrificing for children, and they are happy to do so, because of love. Then there’s sports. Athletes sacrifice time, energy, hard work, certain foods, and many other things to work hard so that they will be in top condition and compete to the best of their abilities. People sacrifice all the time. We sacrifice for our education, for the greater good of pursuing our dreams. We sacrifice time at work, to further our career. We sacrifice energy, effort, and good food to lose weight in order to live healthier lives. Sacrifice is all around us.
To sacrifice is to offer something valuable to us on the altar of some greater good. Once we lay something on the altar of sacrifice, we are giving it up, we are releasing it so that it might serve a higher purpose, so that it will ultimately be used to bring something else that is better for us in our lives and the lives of others.
Paul writes in Romans 12:1-2 that there is a specific sacrifice we are called to make as followers of Christ:
“Therefore, I appeal to you, brothers [and sisters], by the compassions of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy and acceptable to God, your reasonable worship. And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may test what the will of God is, the good, acceptable, and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2 (CMH)
He is appealing to our better nature, that we are to sacrifice our bodies to God. Now, in the space of this devotional, I don’t have time to go into all that it means to sacrifice one’s “body” to God, but let’s just say that Paul is talking about a whole-hearted sacrifice of all that I know about myself. This sacrifice is on a specific altar, God’s.
Usually, in the ancient world, when you heard sacrificial language, it implied a death, the shedding of blood. But Paul calls for something different. This is a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice. It is living because we are still breathing. It is holy because we are setting ourselves apart for God. It is acceptable because we are going to make this sacrifice according to God’s design, not our own.
There is much more here that I will unpack next week. For now, think of how my life really is not my own, but is a living, breathing, expression of my love for and devotion to God. We are called to lay down something valuable to us, precious even, our very selves, on the altar of the greater good, really the absolutely highest good, service to, love for, and devotion to God and his purpose. There can be no recipe for a better life than this sacrifice.
[We are in week 2 of the Beeson Pastor Program this fall and I am taking a preaching class. This devotional was born out of work I am doing for a sermon for class. Last week was crazy! Worked on my dissertation and assignments for the Anthropology class that we will have the last week of August. This week we're in class every day until about five, and we have two sermons to write and deliver.]