Living Sacrifice: Its NatureRomans 12:1-2Theme: Holiness.This week’s lessons teach us the extent to which we must offer ourselves to God. LessonWhat exactly is meant by “sacrifice”? How are we to do it? The first point is the obvious one. The sacrifice is to be a living sacrifice rather than a dead one. This was quite a novel idea in Paul’s day, of course, though we have lost this by becoming overly familiar with it.
In Paul’s day sacrifices were always killed. The animal was brought to the priest. The sins of the person bringing the sacrifice were confessed over the animal, thereby transferring them to it symbolically. Then the animal was put to death. It was a vivid way of reminding everyone that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) and that the salvation of sinners is by substitution. In these sacrifices the animal died in place of the worshiper. It died so that he or she might not have to die. But now, with a burst of divinely inspired creativity, Paul reveals that the sacrifices we are to offer are not to be dead but rather living sacrifices. We are to offer our lives to God so that, as a result, we might “no longer live for [ourselves] but for him who died for [us] and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:15).
Living sacrifices, yes. But with what life? Certainly not our old sinful lives in which, when we lived in them, we were dead already. Rather, our new spiritual lives that have been given to us by Christ.
Robert Smith Candlish was a Scottish pastor who lived about a hundred years ago (1806-1873) and who left us some marvelous studies of the Bible. One set of these studies is of Romans 12, and in it there is a paragraph in which he reflects on the nature of the life we are to offer God. “What life?” he asks. “Not merely animal life, the life that is common to all sentient and moving creatures; not merely, in addition to that, intelligent life, the life that characterizes all beings capable of thought and voluntary choice; but spiritual life: life in the highest sense; the very life which those on whose behalf the sacrifice of atonement is presented lost, when they fell into that state which makes a sacrifice of atonement necessary.”1
What this means, among other things, is that we must be Christians if we are to give ourselves to God as he requires. Other people may give God their money or time or even take up a religious vocation, but only a Christian can give back to God that new spiritual life in Christ that he or she has first been given. Indeed, it is only because we have been made alive in Christ that we are able to do this or even want to.
1 Robert S. Candlish, Studies in Romans 12: The Christian’s Sacrifice and Service of Praise (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1989), pp. 33-34. Study Questions
What kind of sacrifice are we called to make?
How does this contrast with the cultural expectations of Paul’s day?
What kind of life are we called to live?
Describe the relationship between sacrifice and holiness.
ReflectionBefore we were brought to spiritual life through Christ, we were spiritually dead. When we were dead, it was impossible for us to respond to God or to seek holiness. But now, because he has given us life from death, he calls us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. And we are able to obey him! How does this gift compel you to offer yourself in gratefulness and joy? Use this time of reflection to meditate on and memorize Romans 12:1-2.