A Living Sacrifice
Scores of men and women have given themselves to build God's kingdom. Join us for a walk through history, and learn what it means to be a living sacrifice.
During the season of Lent—the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday—many Christians decide to “give up” or fast from something. For some it may be a vice or bad habit. Others forego dessert in the evenings or coffee in the mornings. These Lenten traditions are meant to do more than just change lifestyles. They serve as daily reminders to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices and to live for Christ instead of ourselves.
The idea of a living sacrifice is something of a contradiction in terms. Sacrifices offered under the old covenant traditionally were killed and burned in worship to God. The ancient Jews who laid their livestock on the altar of God were essentially giving the Lord a portion of their livelihood. Rather than eating, selling or breeding more sheep with his best lamb, the devout Israelite gave it to God as an act of faith. Sacrificing such an excellent animal showed devotion to the Lord. It reminded him that God was his provider. Offering ourselves as living sacrifices shows a similar reverence and dependence. It goes along with Scripture’s teachings about taking up our crosses daily or dying to self. Instead of focusing on our own desires, we give ourselves to God and His purposes.
Church history is filled with examples of men and women who sacrificed reputation, comfort, fame or fortune to serve the Lord. The disciple Matthew left his steady, presumably lucrative job as a tax collector to follow Christ. Barnabas sold his personal property to benefit the early Church. Paul traded the prestige of a Pharisee for the chains of an Apostle.
Before becoming a prominent evangelist, Dwight L. Moody was a salesman. Moody’s conversion came at a point in his life when he was beginning to find success in business. Instead of following the route of the industrial tycoons of his day, Moody devoted his life to spreading the gospel, and he leveraged his business savvy and success to help further that mission. He gave the skills and resources he could have used for himself to God instead.
Nearly a century later, a farm boy from North Carolina with a penchant for making friends and a knack for public speaking rose to prominence as arguably the most-heard evangelist in human history. Rev. Billy Graham’s humble upbringing, common touch, striking charisma and brilliant command of the English language were such a powerful combination that, had he so desired, might have outdone a Roosevelt or a Kennedy in American politics. Instead, he offered those talents in service to God. On one occasion, he mentioned some of the proposals he had received from people looking to capitalize on his abilities. “The offers I’ve had from Hollywood studios are amazing,” he said. “But I just laughed. I told them I was staying with God.”
The list of believers who sacrificed to follow Christ and serve others is long, running the gamut from the apostle Peter to Mother Teresa, but Christians do not have to be prominent missionaries to offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. Dying to self arguably is a daily task that can be carried out in ordinary ways.
Scripture repeatedly highlights believers like Lazarus, who opened his home to others. John 9:22 says the Jewish leaders had announced anyone believing Jesus to be the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. Nevertheless, Lazarus was willing to associate openly with Jesus and His followers, and Lazarus and his sisters served them gladly in their own home.
In the Book of Acts, the presumably wealthy cloth merchant Lydia of Thyatira showed similar favor to believers who had been persecuted for their faith. Lydia’s hospitality toward people like Paul and Silas may have come at the expense of her popularity or her standing in the community. At the very least, it cost her time and money as she fed and housed them.
The Christian who tithes faithfully to his or her church trusts God to help make ends meet each month. The businessman who uses his leadership prowess to build the Kingdom of God instead of amassing more wealth for himself shows his heart is set of something besides money. The young person who voluntarily ministers at a shelter or nursing home is sacrificing valuable time for the things of God. The woman who delivers a casserole to someone just home from the hospital when she could be with her friends, and the father who spends a Saturday with his children when he could be playing golf both lay their own wishes aside so they can serve God by investing in others. These are simple ways a believer can offer him or herself to God as a living sacrifice.
Ultimately, the act of being a living sacrifice is a powerful testimony to the gospel. The British evangelist Rodney “Gipsy” Smith is said to have quipped, “There are five Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Christian. Most people will never read the first four.” By offering themselves as living sacrifices, Christians can demonstrate the good news of Jesus Christ by their actions.
As the apostle Paul pointed out in his famous sermon on Mars Hill, God does not need human service or sacrifice. Human beings cannot add to or subtract from God’s glory or power. But Christians can worship and honor God a little at a time each day by offering themselves as living sacrifices—and they can point others to Him as well.
David Cox is a writer from Parsons, KS