A “Living Sacrifice”  

By Royce Frederick

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

To understand Romans 12:1, we need to consider some of the sacrifices under the Law of Moses. That was God’s law for the nation of Israel, the Jews. When Jesus died on the cross, God cancelled the Law of Moses (Gal. 3:23-25; Eph. 2:14-16; Col. 2:14; Rom. 7:4). The gospel of Christ is God’s law for all people of all nations today (Jn. 12:48; Mk. 16:15-16; Rom. 1:16; 2:16). But there are still many lessons for us to learn from the Law of Moses and all the books in the Old Testament (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11).

Our “Living Sacrifice” is NOT a sacrifice FOR SINS

Before their sins were forgiven, the Jews were instructed to sacrifice sin offerings and trespass offerings. These sacrifices could be called “action prophecies” — events similar to later events of greater spiritual importance. Each sin offering was: (1) a moment of obedient faith, and (2) a “shadow” of the true sacrifice for sin, Jesus (see Heb. 8:5; 10:1).

When Jews obeyed in faith by offering the proper sacrifices, God forgave their sins (Lev. 4:20, 26; Num. 14:19). However, the blood of bulls and goats cannot actually take away sins (Heb. 10:4). Forgiveness occurs in the mind of God. He forgave their sins because of the coming sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The actual payment of the death penalty for all sins, including sins during the Law of Moses, was paid by Jesus on the cross. He suffered “...death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant” (Heb. 9:15; see Rom. 3:21-26).

Sin offerings had to be “without blemish” (Lev. 1:1-4; 5:15-18; 9:3). We are sinful, blemished spiritually by our sins (Rom. 3:23). But Jesus was sinless (1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15). He is, “...The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). His life is the only sacrifice which is acceptable as payment for our sins. His sacrifice for sins was “...once for all when He offered up Himself” (Heb. 7:27); “...with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).

A sinner receives the benefit of the sacrifice of Jesus at baptism. Immersion in water is the moment of obedient faith when God gives us the benefit of His Son’s death, forgiving our sins. Paul reminded the Christians in Rome, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4; see 6:17-18; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Gal. 3:26-27).

The Bible does not tell Christians to give ourselves as a living sacrifice for sin. A person cannot remove even one sin by his or her own deeds (Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-9). We cannot remove any sin by “doing penance” or punishing ourselves, as some teach (see Col. 2:20-23). And we cannot remove our sin, or anyone else’s sin, by giving money to the poor or to the church. Jesus is our only sacrifice for sin.

Our “Living Sacrifice” is a Sacrifice of THANKSGIVING!

After their sins were forgiven, the Jews offered sacrifices of worship, and sometimes sacrifices of thanksgiving (Num. 28:1-8; Lev. 7:12-15; 2 Chron. 29:31-32). Some sacrifices were free-will offerings — by free choice of the person who offered them (Lev. 1:3; 19:5; 22:19). But they did not offer these in their own way. God gave them instructions for these sacrifices, too, so they would be acceptable to Him.

Today, by God’s instructions, we approach Him in worship through singing (Eph. 5:19; see Heb. 13:15), praying (Heb. 4:16; Acts 12:12; see Heb. 13:15), and giving (1 Cor. 16:1-2; see Phil. 4:18). On the first day of each week, we approach Him in worship in a very special way by partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26-28; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). But what kind of DAILY LIFE do we bring with us?

Romans 12:1 does not teach that everything we do in life is an act of worship. Sleeping is not an act of worship. Brushing our teeth is not an act of worship. But everything we do should be in harmony with His will. Everything we do is wrapped up in the package of our life as an offering to God. When we approach Him in worship, He does not merely see our actions of that moment. He sees our entire life. It is like approaching God with our life in our hands as an offering to God, for His glory.

If Jews offered the right sacrifices, but their lives were not right, God did not accept their worship (Isa. 1:11-18). Likewise, today —

If a man worships God, but does not care for his parents, his worship is worthless (Matt. 15:3-9; Eph. 6:1-3). He is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

If a man prays loving prayers, but is unkind to his wife, his prayers are “hindered” (1 Pet. 3:7).

If a man’s tongue blesses God, but curses men (Jas. 3:9), and if he says in song and prayer that he loves God, but hates his brother, he is lying to God (1 Jn. 4:20). He is “nothing” and his deeds profit nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Also see Matt. 5:23-24; 1 Tim. 2:8.

We give our bodies as a living sacrifice —

When we study, teach, and live God’s word (1 Tim. 4:12-16; Phil. 2:17).

When we serve diligently and humbly in the work of the church (1 Cor. 15:58; Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:16).

When we help our family and others in need (Jas. 1:27; Matt. 25:31-46; 1 Tim. 5:4; Gal. 6:6-10).

When we labor on our jobs with honesty, diligence, and kindness (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-25).

When we avoid works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21; Jas. 1:27) and bear the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

Some of the Jewish sacrifices were burnt offerings, in which the sacrifice died and was entirely consumed. In contrast, our sacrifice must be a continuing, living sacrifice of ourselves in service to God. Yet, we must be “consumed” by our love for God and zeal for His kingdom (see Matt. 6:33; Jn. 2:17; Rev. 3:15-19; 1 Cor. 9:27; Phil. 3:12-14; Lk. 13:24; 14:26-27). We should be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works...” (Eph. 2:10; see Heb. 13:16).

We are motivated by mercy: “by the mercies of God” (Rom. 12:1). This refers to the most tender compassions of God. In Romans 1-11, Paul had shown how sinful we are, yet how God extends His mercy to save us. If our heart is properly touched by His mercies, we will gladly serve Him with our whole heart and life. It is our “reasonable service” (12:1) — service which we logically (with good reason) owe to God because of what He has already done for us.

Is your life a “living sacrifice” to God?