It’s day three, and we’re still in Romans 12:1. There’s always a wealth of knowledge to unpack from the language of Scripture. If you’re hanging with me, it is my prayer that you’re seeing this verse come into focus in a new way. We ended the previous post with the understanding that the life (“zaó”) we bring to the altar of God, the life that God is desiring of this willing sacrifice, is a life that is much more than physiologically processing blood and air, but a life that is alive in, not only the recognition of, but the practice of the goodness, mercies, grace, and increasing knowledge of God. It is a life with a vibrant and growing relationship with our Creator. God desires that life to be brought to the altar and willingly laid down as a “living sacrifice.” But, what does the sacrificial surrender of our life mean? To really understand this current sacrificial concept, we must first look back at the Biblical significance of sacrifice.
The Biblical idea of sacrifice deals with our way of approach to Almighty God and finding approval before Him by means of sacrificing an acceptable substitute offering given in place of the sinner. This “substitute” bears the curse of sin and appeases the righteous nature of God, a nature which demands justice be enacted upon our sin.
Sacrifice holds a prominent place in the entire cannon of Scripture, but specifically in the Old Testament, extending all the way to the root of human kind being planted in the Garden of Eden. Starting in Genesis, we must only read through 3 chapters before God must enable a sacrifice to cover the sins of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). Cain and Able followed with their own sacrifices in Genesis 4:2-5. Noah sacrificed in Genesis 8:20, and Abraham sacrificed in Genesis 12, 13, 18 and 22. And so it continued with Isaac and Jacob, etc….
As early as Exodus, we see God laying out to Moses a very detailed set of instructions, including instructions for sacrifice, that would form the foundation for Israel’s very specific system of worship before God under the old covenant. There were burnt offerings, guilt offerings, sin offerings and peace offerings. All of these were to be used at various times for specific purposes. Sacrificial offerings take a less prominent role in the New Testament, but sacrifice still dominates the narrative because of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It’s safe to say that God has always covered our sin and shame in a way that demanded the death of something.
An important aspect of sacrificial offerings before God is the fact that they must be acceptable before Him.
12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…
Holy is “hagios” (Gk), and it has a multitude of different meanings. Primarily, it means “sacred or set apart by (or for) God.” This word also implies the idea of “being different,” as in “different from the world because it is like God.” Where sacrifices are concerned, for an offering to be “hagios,” it would need to be “solemnly and explicitly prepared for God with the purest of intentions and cleanliness.”
Acceptable is “euarestos” (Gk), and it means “well-pleasing or grateful.”
Where animals were concerned, God demanded the very best. How often do we give God our worst, because we believe it’s all we can afford, or possibly it’s all we’re really willing to give? Do we think God will understand and smile down upon it, simply because we showed up with something? Did we prepare it for Him, or was it just something easy or convenient to offer? Possibly it’s something that we didn’t even want? It’s easy to sacrifice the pitifully deformed calf born with two heads and three legs (one of which is growing out of it’s ear) – yeah, it’s easy to load that ugly little beast up on the trailer and bring it to the altar. We should, however, be very careful to examine the amount of certainty with which we throw it on the fire. The fact that we’ve arrived with a sacrifice doesn’t necessarily qualify it as being “euarestos,” or pleasing to the Lord.
Sacrifices are important in God’s eyes, and they should be important in our eyes. There’s so much more that I want to say on this, but there’s just not the time, and I don’t want to distract from the main point which is God desiring our very life as a living sacrifice, willingly made, as a result of our recognition of His glorious mercies already poured out into our life (as well as those we know are coming).
In 12:1, the word sacrifice is “thusia,” (Gk) and it means “sacrifice, offering, or a victim.”
We know that the sacrifice of our own living flesh could not possibly be meant to cover any sins, because our sins have already been atoned for by the blood of Jesus. The evidence of this can be found in Scripture. Among those verses are Hebrews 9:12, II Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 3:24-25. So, it’s not a sacrifice for sin. It’s also not an offering of symbolic nature, performed as a remembrance or recognition of the atonement that Christ’s blood has already paid for on the cross. It’s not an offering to keep our salvation intact and in good standing, because our salvation is not works-based (Galatians 3:10-11; Ephesians 2:9-10).
If we’re going to understand the meaning of “living sacrifice” in Romans 12:1, we may want to exegete the rest of the verse.
The whole of 12:1 says, “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.” The last phrase is important.
The word translation of spiritual here very interesting. It is “logikos” (Gk), and it literally means “reasonable or rational.” The root word is “lógos” (Gk), meaning “a word (as embodying and idea) or the expression of a thought.” The word “lógos” is preeminently used of Christ expressing the “thoughts” of the Father through the Spirit. It’s Christ sharing God the Father’s “reasoning” through the Holy Spirit, expressed by words. More properly, it means “logical” because of something being “divinely reasonable.” So here, concerning worship, the implication is this worship, in the logical thoughts and reasoning of God the Father, expressed through the Spirit (spiritual) is to be found “euarestos,” or pleasing to God.
And finally, the word worship is “latreía” (Gk), and it means “sacred service, divine service, service rendered unto God or worship.”
So worship here means service, specifically “service rendered unto God.” Now we can begin to understand the sacrifice. Breathe easy, you probably won’t have to die.
As I mentioned earlier, “killing” sacrifices in the New Testament are less prominent than in the Old Testament. We see a N.T. example of sacrifice as being something more of service than slaying. Look at what Paul says in Philippians 4:18 as he describes a gift he received from a Philippian church. This verse says, “…I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”
Here, Paul is saying that the church, in meeting his needs and serving him, was giving an offering and sacrifice that was pleasing to God, because it helped to serve the causes of God being performed by the ministry of Paul. And, God was pleased.
With that being said, I believe that the “living sacrifices” Paul is referring to absolutely means our lives, fervently committed to God, but, the sacrifice itself is a sacrifice of service to the things that build up the kingdom of God, make His name known, and bring blessings to God and to His children. Among those, and probably the very first sacrifice that should be made daily, is the sacrifice of our old self.
As I’ve written previously, the word sacrifice is “thusia,” (Gk) and it means “sacrifice, offering, or a victim.” When our lives are committed to the things of God, and we are consistently growing in intimacy with Him, there are victims found in the wake of those circumstances. Those “victims” are the desires, habits, language, opinions and rebellion of the old self. The diminishing of these “old ways” pave a clear path forward to relationship and service to God in a “new way.” When we are in Christ, we have a new self. We are a new creation.
Look quickly to Colossians 3:1-17. I believe this passage of Scripture is a great roadmap to the type of sacrificing of the old self that we must choose to perform on that altar of God.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
I believe the primary sacrifice God is looking for us to make daily is the continual killing of the old self, enabling in us the opportunity to serve God far less hindered by our flesh nature. This doesn’t happen by accident; It happens by choice, in a headlong pursuit of a holy and righteous God. Sacrificing the sinful natures of who we were before Christ is pleasing to God, as He sees us journey forward in our relationship with Him. Note that it doesn’t make Him love us more. I John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” We can’t buy God’s love for us by performing Godly actions, because His love for us was perfect from the beginning. So, it won’t make God love us more, but it will make us love God more, and, in turn, other beautiful acts of service and worship will flow, and God will be pleased.
Paul is urging us to make the choice to offer ourselves up to God, sacrificing the old and sinful self, and become a new creation daily, which is pleasing to God. This is our reasonable, and even logical, service/worship to Him for the wonderful mercies that He has bestowed upon our lives.
In the following verse, Paul addresses some of the qualities of a “living sacrifice.” We’ll discuss those in the next post. Until then, stand in awe of the opportunity that God has given to each of us to live our lives in a sacrificial mindset. Daily, we can seek Him. Daily, we can absorb more of His Word. Daily, we can eliminate a little more of the old self and find even more beauty in the new creation that God is enabling in us through our choice to become a living sacrifice.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!