Living Sacrifices

Living Sacrifice

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

Someone said that, “The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.” The image of a sacrifice recurs numerous times throughout the pages of the Bible, and in every instance, save for maybe one, the victim dies. The first sacrifice was offered by our Lord to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). The pre-incarnate Christ[1] had to slay innocent animals (most likely sheep) in order to atone (cover) for the sin of the first couple. After this, the practice was repeated as is seen by the examples of Abel’s sacrifice (Genesis 4:4) and Noah’s sacrifice following the Flood (Genesis 8:20-21). More than a thousand years later God codified the practice through the Mosaic Law. Jesus offered the ultimate sacrifice with His death on the cross. That event ended the death requirement for the sacrifice.

The one instance where the victim was spared was in the case of Abraham sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22). In his heart, Abraham sacrificed Isaac in obedience to God. “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac … Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure” (Hebrews 11:17, 19). Even though Isaac was spared, a substitute took his place (Genesis 22:11-13); someone or thing had to die. However, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). At last, the blood of Jesus offered the final solution to sin so that neither death, nor the shedding of blood remains as the debt requirement for sin. As the old hymn says, “Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.” Even so, sacrifice, for the believer, still remains.

The English word “sacrifice” translates various Hebrew and Greek words each with differing shades of meaning. The first occurrence of the English word “sacrifice” is found in Genesis 31:54 where it translates the Hebrew word zebach meaning slaughter. In Exodus 23:18 it translates the Hebrew word chag meaning festival or victim. In 1 Kings 18:29 it translates the Hebrew word minchah meaning offering or present. As used in our beginning verse, the Greek word is thusia which is the same as the Hebrew zebach meaning slaughter.

Paul calls us (brethren) to present our physical bodies as “living sacrifices” – slaughtered lives. That seems oxymoronic. How can a slaughtered person live? To the Galatians Paul writes, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live” (Galatians 2:20). Again, how can one crucified live? Obviously Paul cannot be referring to physical death. Elsewhere he explains: “that he [Jesus] died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Hence we die to “self.” “For if ye live after the flesh [i.e. “self”], ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Romans 8:13). The Greek word translated “mortify” is thanatoō meaning “to kill,” or, in keeping with our theme, “sacrifice.” Note also that the means by which this is accomplished is “through the Spirit.” That source of power comes about by only one way. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This newness is that of which Jesus spoke when He said, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).

Through the rebirth and by the power of the Spirit, the Christian can put to death the old self and present his body as a living sacrifice that is “holy.” That does not mean sinless or perfect. “Holy” means to be set apart, consecrated, or dedicated to God. Holiness is an attribute of God that sets Him apart and above all of His creation. This is why God cannot abide sin and why He must judge and ultimately punish sin. Although we cannot obtain holiness that approaches the holiness of God, yet God demands holiness from His children. “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Lamentably, Christians these days fail to understand the meaning of holiness. Many think that just because God’s invitation is “Just As I Am” that nothing needs to change. Perhaps they “walked the aisle” to the words of that old hymn, shook the pastor’s hand, and got dunked in the baptistery at some point in their life, and they presume they are okay. They continue living “just as I am.” But God demands holiness.

How does one achieve holiness? In the following verse Paul says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). In other words, do not allow the world to shape you into its mold. Someone once asked, “If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Sadly when one looks at Christians they are indistinguishable from non-Christians. They dress the same as non-Christians. They talk the same as non-Christians. They indulge themselves as non-Christians. There are absolutely no distinguishing characteristics. God says, “do not be conformed to this world.” Rather we should be “transformed.” Here again is the idea of being “born again.” The Greek word translated “transformed” is metamorphoō from which we get our English word metamorphosis. “Metamorphosis to the adult stage is nothing less than a biological miracle. Complex molecules called enzymes are released, that literally digest the caterpillar while it is ensconced in the chrysalis, converting it into a rich soup of disjointed tissues and cells—which after four days becomes an adult butterfly.”[2] In a manner of speaking, the caterpillar dies, and its liquefied self is “transformed” into a beautiful butterfly. In similar manner, when the person is born again, there is a spiritual transformation that takes place so that the old self is sacrificed and the “new creation” is set apart, dedicated as an acceptable offering to God. That acceptable offering is “your reasonable [logical] service” to God. The Greek word translated “service” is latreia meaning ministration or worship of God. This suggests that all of your life should be conducted as an act of worship to God. It has nothing to do with going to church on Sunday and lifting your hands while you sway to the “worship music.” Your acceptable worship to God is your life – all of it.

Here is where the “living sacrifices” crawl off of the altar. Too many Christians think of worship as what they do on Sunday mornings. Then on Monday, it’s back to conforming to the world. In order for the metamorphosis to become at least semi-permanent, there must be a “renewing of the mind.” That can only take place when the Christian spends time in daily prayer and Bible reading. Instead of reading worldly books, read books by excellent Bible teachers that will build you up. Instead of wasting a lot of time watching worthless, or, worse, harmful television programs, watch and listen to great Bible teachers on TV, DVD or the internet. In other words, fill your mind with the things of God. That will give you a godly perspective on life and the world, and it will change the way that you think. When your thinking changes, the way that you conduct your life will change also. When that happens, you will be set apart – holy – a living sacrifice, acceptable to God.


[1] See:

[2] Frank Sherwin, “Butterflies vs. Macroevolution”


Filed under Christianity, Religion, Theology, Worship

2 responses to “Living Sacrifices

  1. Lee

    Very well written. Thanks.

  2. Phil Slate

    Thanks from an old butterfly

    Phil Slate