Be a Living Sacrifice- the way of transformation- Rom 12:1-8

We know what a dead sacrifice is. In the Old Testament an animal is killed and dedicated to God as a part of a religious ritual. There are a number of kinds of sacrifices- sometimes the sacrifice is to deal with sin, or perhaps it is to offer thanks to God. So we understand a dead sacrifice. … Paul uses a fascinating image. He speaks about a living sacrifice. 

It means handing your life over and it is no longer yours. It has been sacrificed. It means handing over all that is yours- all your wealth, all your talent, all your strength, all your time. This is a shocking idea in a world where we often treat Christianity like a hobby- Some people build model boats, other people go to church. Are we willing to be living sacrifices? - every day offering ourselves, our talents, our time, our treasure, and our will to God?

We should remember that a sacrifice isn’t a waste. There is a kind of return. For ancient Israel, sacrifice had to do with their relationship with God. Often sacrifice had to do with dealing with sin, which stood in the way of that relationship. A sacrifice was for something. You gave your animal as an offering to be healed from your sin. To be a living sacrifice means that there is something to receive as well as give.

Maybe this is an overly simple example, but I sacrifice a bit of money to get an ice cream cone. I offer something and in return I get something I want more. I want the ice cream more than I want the couple dollars in my pocket. That is what sacrifice is about. We don’t focus on what we give up as much as we focus on what we receive. That all sounds very economic, but at its most elementary level that is kind of what we are dealing with. The ancient Israelites didn’t think as much about the sacrifice they offered as they did about the relationship with God they wanted. That has to be true, or they wouldn’t have done it.

If we are going to truly sacrifice, we have to believe that what is received is better than what we offer. We offer up our sin-sick lives in exchange for eternal life. That doesn’t just mean heaven when we die. It does mean that, but it means eternal life right now that won’t end. It means a life energized by God’s Spirit- A life transformed into the image of Christ. It means giving up the life that is ruled by the power of sin and receiving instead a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit. … Really think about what that life looks like- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).

Regardless of what you think you would be giving up, wouldn’t you ultimately want a life like that? A life filled with love… joy… peace… patience… kindness…goodness… faithfulness… gentleness… and self-control… Isn’t that the kind of life we try to use our money to buy? Isn’t that really the kind of life we are always trying to get- A life that is happy and joyful? A life that is under the rule of peace and patience rather being ruled by our anger and constantly feeling like there is someone we are in a scuffle with? A life filled with kindness and goodness without worrying about being taken advantage of, or of our fragile egos being wounded? A life where we give up our anxiety and instead are filled with faithfulness, trusting that God has things under control no matter what the circumstances look like, and that He loves us and only wants good for us? A life of gentleness where don’t feel the need to push and shove to get our way? A life that isn’t ruled by our addictions to pleasures, but is filled with self-control? …

Isn’t that the kind of life we ultimately are trying to have? … What if we can only truly get at that life by giving up our life to God? Jesus said, 
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matt 16:25).
 The way we usually try to get at that life doesn’t really work that well. We can’t really buy happiness. We can buy things, and trips, but they are fleeting and (given enough time) you can be bored on a yacht just as you can be bored in a shack. You can give into your urges for pleasure and allow drugs and alcohol or other addictions to rule your life, but that ultimately leads to a destroyed and hollow life. You can try to use anger to control others and get your way, but that leads to a life of pain and alienation- people don’t really want to be around you, you are always in a fight with someone, and people are afraid to be honest with you. … The life we really want is the life God is offering us. The trick is that we try to get at that life by saving our life and not losing it. … Wouldn’t you rather be happy in a shack than sad on a yacht? What if the way we try to get at that life is all wrong? What if we have to sacrifice our life to get that life?

If that is the life we want then we should present our 
“bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”.
 This means 
“not [being] conformed to this world”.
 When the Bible speaks about “the world” it doesn’t mean the rocks, trees, birds, lakes, and sky. When the Bible talks about “the world” it means human society organizing itself while trying to ignore God and God’s ways. … It means profit obtained by crushing human lives. It means pleasure at the expense of morality. It means exploitation, abuse, apathy, and corruption. It means short term gain, in exchange for long term pain. It means life polluted and ruled by Sin.

To be a living sacrifice requires being “transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God”. To be a living sacrifice means being in a continuous state of giving yourself over to God. To be constantly saying with Jesus 
“not my will but your will be done” (Lk 22:42),
 as we learn to have our will transformed. It is to live moment by moment, trusting God- Trusting that God ultimately wants the good of our souls.

The Christian life is a life of transformation. A life of trusting in God’s will for us. A life where we sacrifice our own ideas and plans when God has other plans. That is why humility is the basic virtue of the Christian life. If we aren’t willing to submit our will to God, then we have chosen to remain in “the world”. We have chosen to believe that we know better than God. We have chosen to believe that if we don’t look out for ourselves no one else will, and God certainly won’t.

This sacrifice doesn’t mean we walk away from our jobs and families and friends to live like hermits in the hills (even though a few might be called to that). It means the way we do our jobs and the way we interact with our families and friends takes on a new meaning. We sacrifice our egos and we see can love our families and friends in a new way. We sacrifice our old self and work at our jobs as if we are working for God- like the old stone carvers who carved the backs of the statues in the ceilings of the cathedrals, that no one would see, except God. Our working is guided by the letter to the Colossians, 
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Col 3:23).

Sacrificing ourselves doesn’t mean walking away from community, it actually requires community. We can’t life this life on our own. We are built for community. St. Cyrpian said, 
“He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother”.
 We might want to challenge Cyprian on how strongly he says that, but we shouldn’t miss the point that community is required to live the Christian life. We need the witness of the community through history- the Bible was gathered and preserved by that historic community. The saints and martyrs have given us examples and inspiration as they passionately served God.

And we need community now too. We need each other as messy as that can be. … Paul says, (and this is not the only place) that to be one with Christ is to be one with his body. It means to be intimately interrelated with other followers of Christ, all of whom are ideally trying to be living sacrifices and serving Christ in those around them.

The life we are asked to live as Christians is a life of extreme dedication- so extreme that it looks like a living sacrifice. … There was a little boy who fell out of bed one night and his father asked him, “How did you fall out of the bed?” The boy answered, “I guess I slept too close to where I got in”. We are called to a deeper walk with God. We are called to be continuously transformed into a greater likeness to Jesus. If we stay too close to where we got in, like the boy, we will fall out of bed. We will fall back to the old ways of the world- Instead of the ways of the Kingdom. To be a Christian is to live a life of constant transformation- Our minds become united with his mind, our bodies become his Body, and our way becomes his Way. And in that we will find the true satisfaction of our deepest yearning. As Augustine said to God, “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you”.


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