By Pastor Glenn Pease
Sacrifice has played, and continues to play, a major role in history. Volumes are filled with stories of heroic sacrifices in battle from the beginning of society up to this very day. Arnold Winkelried, the Swiss soldier, opened up the way through a solid wall of a Austrian spears by rushing into the line with outstretched arms sacrificing himself to enable his countrymen to break through and gain a victory.
Make way for liberty! He cried.
Make way for liberty, and died.
Sacrifices, like his, have determined the course of history time and time again. Sacrifice is not limited to war heroes, for there are firemen who give their lives every day to save the lives and property of others. Every day there are those who sacrifice their lives, money, health, or comfort for the sake of others. Jesus said there is no greater sacrifice than that of laying down your life for a friend. It is the greatest demonstration of love.
In Ragenback, Germany many years ago, a number of village people were assembled in a room talking when a large dog entered and stood in the doorway. The dog was fierce looking with bloodshot eyes, and was foaming at the mouth. The women began to scream, and panic broke out. The village blacksmith shouted that it was better for one to perish than for all. “I will seize the dog and hold him while you all escape.” He grabbed the dog and rolled to the floor as he was being bitten by the furious dog. He held him down until all were gone. Nine days later he died, having laid down his life for his friends.
Such a sacrifice is noble and worthy of praise for the end gained is of such value that it was worth the price. The sacrifice of Christ was the greatest and most noble of all because the benefit it gained for mankind. The cause for which he died was man’s redemption, and this was such a worthy cause that no sacrifice was too great to attain that goal. Had he died merely as an example of courage it would not have been worth that price.
The value of a sacrifice depends upon the cause for which it is made. If one makes a sacrifice of his life for a poor cause, it is not considered an act to be praised. If, for example, you lay down your life in proving your car can go faster than the next man’s, your sacrifice will not be held in high honor. Every year thousands of people offer up their lives to the god of speed and recklessness, but their sacrifices are not praised. There is no holiday set aside to memorialize their sacrifice, for the goals were unworthy of the price paid. A foolish sacrifice produces foolish poetry like this:
Two fools had cars they thought perfection.
They met one day at an intersection.
Tooted their horns and made a connection.
A police car came and made an inspection;
An ambulance came and made a collection.
All that is left is a recollection,
And two less votes in the next election.
This kind of sacrifice can be made an object of humor even though it is tragic just because the cause for it is foolish and unworthy of sacrifice. But when a man dies by going into a burning building to rescue a child, there is a memorial service to honor him, for his sacrifice was noble and worthy. He will get a plaque to decorate his grave in honor of his sacrifice.
The point of all this is to establish the principle in or minds that the end determines the value of the means used to attain it. A poor end causes the greatest sacrifice to be without value. If a man dies in an attempt to prove he can hold more alcohol that his friend, we say he threw his life away. If he dies by surrendering his body to be used in a medical experiment which will save thousands of lives , we say he was a hero worthy of praise and admiration. The end determines the value of the means. Sacrifice is not of value in itself. It gains its value according to the cause for which it is made.
This brings us to our text in Rom. 12:1. The Apostle Paul is urging Christians to make their bodies a living sacrifice as the first step along the path leading to the knowledge of the perfect will of God. In other words, God has a best for us which can only be gained by sacrifice. Here is a goal that is worth sacrifice, and a goal that gives value to all the means used to attain it. Any sacrifice is honorable which is made to attain such a worthy goal.
Since everyone uses their time, body, and mind for some goal, why not give them for the greatest goal and increase their value? Everyday we all sacrifice our time, body, and mind for something. We push our bodies and deny them rest in order to accomplish something all the time. How much more ought we to do so in order to gain a knowledge of God's perfect will? Paul makes this the first point in his practical teaching to the Romans. It is obviously a foundational truth for the Christian life, and so we want to study it phrase by phrase to make sure we see its implications. Let us keep in mind, however, that understanding it is not our goal, but only a means to the goal of obeying it in presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice. Human sacrifice is usually associated with horrible pagan rites of cruel ignorance, but here is a concept of human sacrifice on the highest level, which leads to a knowledge of God’s perfect will.
Paul begins with, “I urge you brothers..” He does not command, but he urges. It is a matter of freedom that he is dealing with here. It is not a matter of law, and that you must sacrifice or else. It is an area of choice, and Paul is urging them to make the best choice. In the New Testament only a free choice is a true choice. If you are forced to do a right thing it is not a virtue that you did it, but if you freely choose to do the right and wise thing, then it is truly a virtue. This is why the Christian is to use the power of persuasiveness, sound doctrine, and beautiful living to convince the unbeliever, and not force. This was the method Paul used for believers as well.
Paul wrote to Philemon, “Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.” The wise Christian always prefers the way of love and appeal rather that that of law and force. Paul was a good student of human nature, and he knew that even Christian people are more apt to follow a wise path if they are persuaded rather than commanded. It is seldom, if ever, effective to demand sacrifice. We are more likely to choose the path of sacrifice when we are persuaded as to its value. Love and logic do what the law never can.
“I urge you brothers..” He is appealing to brothers. There is no advice here for the unbeliever, for God will not accept their sacrifice until they receive His. Only those who have received Christ, and who have been forgiven and reconciled to God, are worthy to be a living sacrifice to God. The fact that he is urging them to do this means that it does not happen automatically. A Christian does not just naturally present his body as a living sacrifice. It is a distinct act of the will separate from receiving Christ as Savior. In other words, a Christian can listen to Paul’s appeal here and do it, or he can refuse. His salvation does not depend upon it, but his Christian maturity does. One has to be a Christian already to even make the decision, but he can choose to live with less that God’s perfect will. No Christian is compelled to be all that God wants him to be. It is a matter of freedom, but how one uses his freedom will determine his reward for both time and eternity.
“I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy..” The mercies of God are the foundation for Paul’s appeal. In the first 11 chapters Paul has spelled out in detail all the marvels of God’s great grace in saving us while we were yet sinners. Now, he says on the basis of all this, I appeal to you to present your bodies as living sacrifices. The motive Paul appeals to is gratitude. God has been so marvelously merciful, and how can we, in the light of his mercies, do less than give ourselves as living sacrifices to him? Our sacrifice is not to gain God’s favor, but rather, to express our gratitude for favor already gained. We can never know God’s best for the future if we are not grateful for his best in the past. This is a loving appeal to the will of Christians to respond to the mercy of God as they ought. He urges them-
“..to offer your bodies as living sacrifices..” In Luke 2:22 Jesus is brought to Jerusalem, as a child, to be presented to the Lord. The body of Christ was presented a living sacrifice before it was presented as a dying sacrifice. The life of Christ was a sacrifice to God, just as was his death. Dedication is an act by which a believer offers his body to the Lord. I was saved for 8 years before I offered my body to Christ and to his service. I loved Jesus for those 8 years, but I used my body 99% of the time in the service of self. Once a week I would surrender it to come under the influence of Christian teaching, but then I would use it the rest of the week to do as I pleased. I was unconscious even of the inconsistency of it.
When I heard a sermon on being a dedicated Christian, I recognized I was not, and so I went forward and dedicated my life to Christ. What was the result? I began to read the Bible with a hunger to know the will of God. I subscribed to a Christian periodical. I bought a Christian book. My spiritual life began to play the dominant role in my life. I began to put my body in places where I could be of service to the kingdom of God. I began to go out with others to share the Gospel. I began to use my tongue to witness for Christ. My whole life was changed when I dedicated my life to Christ. It was the most significant step I ever took in my Christian experience.
Many present their bodies to Jesus at the same time that they receive him as their Savior, but for the majority this will be a distinct act of the will at some point of enlightenment after their acceptance of Jesus. It is a free will offering that people make when they realize it is the least they can do to thank God for their salvation.
It is significant that Paul begins with the body. Many people have the idea that Christians are spiritual people who are concerned about he soul, and not much interested in flesh and blood. The sad fact is that people have not just invented this idea, but have gotten it from Christians who are themselves misinformed. Christianity begins with the Incarnation. God came in the flesh, and was born in a body in Jesus Christ. He thereby exalted the body and sanctified it. The body will be a part of our eternal being, because Christ will redeem it and transform it to be like his own resurrected body.
Some Christians have misunderstood the value of the body, and have considered it as an enemy of the soul. They have buried it in sand up to their neck; slept on thorns; worn hair shirts, and whipped it as a part of their worship. Luther in his desperate attempt to find peace with God almost tortured his body to death. The mistake was not in the thinking that the body was evil, but in thinking that by abusing it they could make it less evil. God’s solution is to save the body and make it an instrument for righteousness. The body is just as essential to do good as it is to do evil. To injure it or weaken it is to destroy the only instrument you have to do the will of God. True spirituality is dependant upon the body.
We need to get the idea out of our heads that we can be spiritual apart from the body. Why do we believe a person cannot be saved after he dies? Is it not because his body is dead? His soul is not dead. Yet, because his body is, we say it is too late for his soul to be redeemed. This means no soul can ever be saved without the body. No soul can ever respond to the Gospel without the ears of the body to hear it. No soul can ever confess Christ as Lord without the tongue of the body. No service can ever be done for Christ without he limbs of the body to perform it. The body is the very channel of salvation. Jesus did not sacrifice his soul for us, but his body was laid down in death on the cross. It was the shedding of the blood of his body that atoned for our sin.
Nothing is further from the very center of Christian truth than an impractical spirituality that does not make the body of basic importance. There is no greater gift that you can give God than your body. This is why Paul puts it first in the requirements to attain the goal of knowing God’s perfect will. A body not surrendered to God can do more to hinder the soul and cause it to starve for lack of food than any other factor. Someone said, “It doesn’t take much of a man to be a Christian, but it takes all of him there is.” Without the body being presented to God as a living sacrifice, no Christian can be all he ought to be. God’s perfect will is available, but only to those who will surrender their bodies to God’s service.
God’s kingdom and the church cannot function with spirits. It takes dedicated bodies to get the job done. Let us avoid all spirituality that does not include the body being dedicated. This poem illustrates spirituality without the body.
I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord;
Real service is what I desire.
I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord;
But don’t ask me to sing in the choir.
I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord;
I’d like to see things come to pass.
But don’t ask me to teach girls and boys, dear Lord-
I’d rather just stay in my class.
Without the body being presented as a living sacrifice, the Christian is of little value to God or the body of Christ, for everything that needs to be done takes a body. God made the body essential. He had all kinds of beings before he made man. They were spirit beings, but God wanted a being with spirit and body. This is what he made man to be, and that physical part of him was to become the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are not to show contempt for the body as if it was not a special part of God’s plan. God said it was very good when he made the body of man. The beginning of knowing the perfect will of God starts with your dedication of your body in doing those things that you are capable of doing for the kingdom of God. The more you pursue doing things for Christ with your body, the more you will come to understand what God's perfect will is for your life.