Under the old sacrificial system, lambs were slain then presented on an altar with fire as an offering for sin. This happened with great frequency. Under the new covenant, Jesus came to do the will of God and “did away with the first in order to establish the second.”
Further, the Bible says that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” This is contrasted with the old where “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:9–14)
Perhaps the saints of old felt compassion for the lambs and great dismay at their daily need for atonement, but it did not change their lives. They still sinned and the sacrifices continually needed to be repeated.
Under the new covenant, one sacrifice covered all sin for all time. I’ve been a Christian for more than forty years and still find this both amazing and difficult to grasp, even fully accept. When I sin, I feel badly and want to make up for it, to do something. Jesus says no, He has it covered.
What then do I do? How am I supposed to respond to this incredible reality? For those of us who need a Bible answer, this is it . . .
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
I’ve read that verse many times, but never heard a plain explanation of what this actually looks like. Offering myself to God to serve Him seems straightforward, yet there is a unique praise that changes the simplicity of serving God into a deeper challenge. It calls for a “living sacrifice.”
What the Jews presented was a dead lamb, an unclean thing (for anything dead was said to be unclean) and it needed a fire in the presentation and for burning the body of the entire lamb. For the Christian, the sacrifice is alive and it is ourselves, our bodies. This sacrifice needs no wood, no fire because our fire “lives of itself” and makes us alive. It is the fire of the Holy Spirit.
But then what is sacrificed? It is the life that God has given me in this body. I sacrifice all of it. Sin must go, that is, when I refuse to let my eyes look on evil, then they become a sacrifice. When I stop my tongue from speaking unwholesome words, gossip, or that which does not build up others, then it has become an offering. When I forbid my hands from lawless deeds or idle time wasting, it becomes a burnt offering.
But saying no to sin is not all of it. I’m to do good also. My hands give gifts for the poor, my mouth blesses them that curse me, my hearing listens to the Spirit, my time is spent seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. My life, decisions, time and energy no longer belong to me.
That is, a living sacrifice yields all to God in absolute surrender. It does not crawl off the altar but lets the fire of God do its work to purify it, but also to present the life of Christ that is in me to the work of Christ that has no focus on me at all. To offer my life is far more demanding than anything I could ever do. It cannot happen apart from being on that altar.
Is this delightful? Irrelevant question. This living sacrifice thing isn’t about me or how I feel. While serving the Lord promises great blessing, it first asks for great sacrifice, whether I am blessed or not.