Living Sacrifice

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.”
Romans 12:1 NLT

Paul starts this chapter with an “And so”. Other translations use the word “Therefore”. He is referring to all that he has written in the previous verses and chapters, and because of all this, Romans 12:1 is the proper response. Paul “pleads” with his readers to do something, something that perhaps they would find hard or difficult. How can we give our bodies to God? He is Spirit. Our bodies are physical. Flesh and blood. But the Jewish Christians would have known what Paul was getting at. Animal sacrifice was very much a part of the Jewish religion, at least while they had a temple. But is Paul here saying that they, his readers, should be the sacrifices instead?

First of all we should remember that Jesus put an end to the practice of animal sacrifice, by becoming an eternal offering for sin. In Hebrews 10:5 we read, “That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer””. Why did Jesus do that? Hebrews 10:10, “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time”. And then Hebrews 10:18, “And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices”. 

But Paul “pleads” with his readers to “be a living and holy sacrifice”. It can’t be anything to do with forgiveness for sins, because Jesus was the ultimate and eternal sacrifice. There is, perhaps, a clue when Paul adds the reason for giving our bodies – “because of all he has done for [us]”. How can we properly respond to God for what Jesus did for us at Calvary? It is no good offering Him our money, or anything else that we own. And neither will working for God in some religious role, such as a missionary or minister, be good enough. No, God wants us, body, soul and spirit, our entirety. 

It is easier in many ways to go through the religious motions of being a Christian. Going to church. Attending the prayer meetings. Putting a tithe in the offering. Standing on a street corner with a collecting box for the poor. But none of this costs us what God is really looking for – our selves. We must bring our wills to God, and lay them on His altar. 

Paul said that our sacrifice, our bodies, must be “living and holy”. Nothing else is acceptable to God. Our bodily sacrifice has to be alive, because then our wills, our selves, are active and making decisions God’s way. If we were dead there would be no benefit, either to us or to God. And we mustn’t forget that God will only accept what is holy into His presence. Hebrews 12:14, “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord“. We are sanctified – made holy – through Jesus. Colossians 1:22, “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault“. 

Through our willingness to present every facet of our lives to God, for His service and worship, and because of the blood of Jesus, we are an acceptable sacrifice to God. Of course, we become stained and soiled by our sin and the sins of others, but by confessing our sins to God we are forgiven, becoming a living and holy sacrifice.

Dear Father God. We respond to Your servant Paul’s pleadings today. We reach out to You in praise and worship. Amen.

Holy Dough

“And since Abraham and the other patriarchs were holy, their descendants will also be holy—just as the entire batch of dough is holy because the portion given as an offering is holy. For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.”
Romans 11:16 NLT

We are having a second look at this verse in Romans 11. Paul reminds his readers that the early Jews were obliged to provide an offering to God made up of dough. This was a type of bread made from finely ground wheat or barley with oil and salt, but without any yeast. It could be cooked or uncooked and it was brought to the priests with some of it offered to God. We read all about the grain offering, which was presented in the form of dough, in Leviticus 2, and we read that it was considered a special offering. Leviticus 2:10, “The rest of the grain offering will then be given to Aaron and his sons as their food. This offering will be considered a most holy part of the special gifts presented to the Lord”. 

But we pilgrims ask if the dough offering has any relevance today. I think it does, as a principle to be followed. As we look at the offerings set out in Leviticus and the other parts of the Torah, they all relate to something significant for the person presenting the offering. A grain offering when the Israelites were wandering for 40 years in the desert would have been difficult to find, so would have been considered something precious. And that is the key – an offering to God of any kind is worthless if it is submitted from a position of plenty. In modern terms, an offering of £10 to God is worth little to someone with £1000, but a lot to someone with £15 in their wallet. Jesus was in the Temple one day with His disciples, and the offering from an old lady caught His attention. We read the story in Mark 12:41-44, “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on’”.

Tithes and offerings were a significant part of the Jewish faith, and the same principle applies to Christians today. Of course, our Western societies have a system of taxes to support local and national governmental responsibilities, but our religious leaders, our pastors and teachers, need support through our tithes and offerings. And there seems to be a connection between our generosity and our personal well-being. Proverbs 11:24-25, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed”. 

But Paul, in the next chapter in Romans, exhorts us to bring a personal offering to God, in the shape of our bodies. We read in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship”. But however we view the “dough” in our lives, and whatever form it takes, there is a principle here of holiness in our attitude towards God. 

In a sense we pilgrims are resident in a society, a “dough”, consisting of many people. but perhaps through our presence within it we are introducing a glimmer of holiness because of our connection to God. A bit like the salt and light in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We must never underestimate the importance of being God’s ambassadors in our communities. Sodom and Gomorrah might still be with us if righteous people could have been found there. A contentious thought? Perhaps, but God is looking for holiness amongst His people. We read in 1 Peter 1:15-16, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy””. Perhaps we feel the bar for achieving holiness is too high, and, of course, it is through our own efforts. Thankfully, through Jesus, we are considered righteous in God’s sight.

Dear Father God. Thank You for Jesus and Your plan for our salvation. Please refresh us today by the power of Your Spirit, so that we can shine brighter and brighter in our families and communities. Amen.