Dying We Live

Monday: The Principle of Self-Sacrifice

Romans 12:1 In this week’s study we consider the truth that it is only by dying that we truly live.
The Principle of Self-Sacrifice

I do not like the word “paradox” used in reference to Christian teachings, because to most people the word refers to something that is self-contradictory or false. Christianity is not false. But the dictionary also defines “paradox” as any statement that seems to be contradictory, yet may be true in fact, and in that sense there are paradoxes in Christianity. The most obvious is the doctrine of the Trinity. We speak of one God, but we also say that God exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We know the doctrine of the Trinity is true because God has revealed it to be true, but we are foolish if we pretend we understand it or can explain it adequately. 

One of the great paradoxes of Christianity concerns the Christian life: the teaching that we must die in order to live. We find this in a lot of places in the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, but the foundational statement is by Jesus who said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). 

It was these words that inspired the well-known prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: 

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much 

Seek to be consoled as to console, 

To be understood as to understand, 

To be loved as to love. 

For it is by giving that we receive. 

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 

And it is by dying that we are born to eternal life. 

I would not vouch for the theology implied in each of those stirring sentences, but as a statement of principles governing the Christian life they are helpful. 

More importantly, they are an expression of what the apostle Paul sets down at the start of Romans 12 as a first principle for learning to live the Christian life. It is the principle of self-sacrifice. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship.” In the cultural climate of Paul’s day a sacrifice was always an animal that was presented to a priest to be killed. So Paul is saying by this striking metaphor that the Christian life begins by offering ourselves to God for death, but that in a paradoxical fashion it is in such an offering of ourselves to God that we are enabled to live for Him. 

Or even stronger: It is by dying that we are enabled to live, period. For as Jesus said, trying to live, if it is living for ourselves, is actually death; while dying to self is actually the way to full living. What should we call this paradox? I call it “life-by-dying” or, as I have titled this study, “Dying, We Live.”

Study Questions
  1. What does the word “paradox” mean?
  2. How do you understand the paradox of living by dying?

Reflection: Read the following Scriptures. What do these passages teach regarding sacrifice?

Romans 6:1-14

Galatians 2:20; 5:24

Philippians 3:10

Colossians 3:3-5

2 Timothy 2:11

For Further Study: Read John 12:23-26. How is the principle of death through life seen in nature? What spiritual truth was Jesus teaching? How did He demonstrate this principle?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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