The principle of sacrifice is so foundational to the doctrine of the Christian life that we must be very careful to lay it out correctly, and in order to do that we need to review the foundations for this foundation.
The first foundation of this foundational teaching is that we are not our own but rather belong to Jesus, if we are truly Christians. Here is the way Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Again, just a chapter later: “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). Then, if we ask what that “price” is, the apostle Peter tells us in the clearest possible language in his first letter: “You know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
In that passage Peter used the important word “redemption,” which means to buy back or to be bought again. It is one of the key words for describing what the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished for us by His death on the cross.
What did Jesus do on the cross? The biblical answer is that He paid the price of our redemption. Since this word refers to buying something or someone, as I said, the image is of a slave market in which we who are sinners are being offered to whomever will bid the highest price for us. The world is ready to bid, of course, particularly if we are attractive or in some other way valuable to itself. The world bids the world’s currency.
It bids fame. People sell their souls for fame; they will do anything at all to be well-known. It bids wealth. Millions think that making money is the most important thing any person can do. They think that money will buy anything. It bids power. Masses of people are on a power trip. It bids sex. Many have lost nearly everything of value in life for just a moment’s indulgence.
But into the midst of this vast “vanity fair” of a marketplace, Jesus comes. And the price He bids to rescue enslaved sinners is His blood. He offers to die for them. God, who controls this “auction,” as He controls everything else, says, “Sold to the Lord Jesus Christ for the price of His blood.” As a result we become Jesus’ purchased possession and must live for Him rather than ourselves, as Paul and Peter indicate.
The great preacher and biblical theologian John Calvin said rightly and precisely, “We are redeemed by the Lord for the purpose of consecrating ourselves and all our members to him.”1
We need to notice one more thing. We are in the application section of Romans. Redemption was introduced earlier in the book, in chapter 3 (v. 24). So what we are finding here is an example of what I wrote in last week’s study, namely, that doctrine is practical, and that practical material must be doctrinal if it is to be of any help at all. We are dealing with a practical matter here, namely, “How should we then live?” But the very first thing to be said to explain how we should live is the meaning and implication of redemption. In other words, we cannot have true Christian living without the Gospel.
1John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, trans. Ross MacKenzie (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973), 262.