By Benjamin C. Maxson, Director, General Conference Stewardship
Summary: The greatest act of worship is to live out a living sacrifice --presenting each moment and each act of the day as an offering to God.
Sacrifice! The very word triggers varied memories and emotions. Sacrifice means giving up something we want or need. It usually means pain and loss. Parents sacrifice for their children. Athletes sacrifice to excel. Business people sacrifice to succeed. Charities challenge us to sacrifice to help others. And Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf calls us to sacrifice for Him.
Worship is another word that triggers a variety of reactions. We can all remember a boring church service, and we are moved by a stimulating worship. Congregations are divided over styles of worship, and members complain about changes in the order of worship.
A powerful call
What happens when we combine the two concepts of worship and sacrifice? Normally we think of tithes and offerings. But Paul presents a powerful call, as well as practical guidelines for daily life--Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1). Paul clearly calls for sacrifice, but not in giving up. Instead he challenges us to offer ourselves to God in worship. Could it be that we have focused too much on what we give up in place of what we offer to God?
The concept of sacrifice first appears in Genesis. These sacrifices indicate an offering to God and a foretelling of Christ’s sacrifice. From that point on, worship is always integrated with biblical sacrifice. So let’s explore a little more of what worship really means.
Accept the sacrifice
Sacrificial worship begins with accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Only when you experience God’s love can you worship God. Sacrificial worship means reconciling with God--restoring the relationship with God that has been broken by sin. Because of Adam’s sin, we are born into a broken relationship between man and God. Our own sinful acts perpetuate that brokenness. God initiated reconciliation through Jesus’ life and death. However, reconciliation between two estranged parties can never be forced. Each must desire restoration. What God accomplished on Calvary becomes real to us only when we accept it. To respond to His divine initiative, we need to face and confess our sin; accept His forgiveness; and rejoice in the reality of a restored relationship between Creator and creature. Thus the offering of ourselves to God in worship begins with bringing our sinful self to God in confession and repentance.
Our forgiveness is assured in Christ. Once we confess, we can move on to thanksgiving and adoration, for our relationship is restored, and by faith we acknowledge it with worship. This worship may be the coming together with others in a corporate act. It may be a quiet moment of prayer. Or it may be a joyous celebration of God’s goodness as we share our testimony of what God has done. But the greatest act of worship is to live out a living sacrifice --presenting each moment and each act of the day as an offering to God. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
A life filled with grace
Worship is also recognizing who God is and who we are in relationship to Him. He is Creator, Redeemer, and Owner. We are redeemed sinners, saved by grace. Our identity and status comes from Him. We recognize that we belong to Him. Everything we have is first His. We face life with a different perspective. Since everything belongs to Him, we only have things and talents in sacred trust. How we use and manage possessions--how we live each day, becomes an exciting adventure. There is an awesome sense of expectancy as we wait for God to break into our lives in new and powerful ways.
Worship is also a life lived in grace--experiencing God’s grace and extending it to those around us. The experience of salvation changes the way we see and treat each other. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:14-17).
Thus worship helps us integrate our walk with God into our relationship with others. How we treat others becomes a reflection of our own experience of grace. Home and workplace become worship sites as we bring God from the intimacy of our devotional lives into the activity and business of daily life.
Still further, our bodies become living temples for the presence of God (1 Cor. 6:19). Paul even challenges us to honor God with your body (v 20). There is no part of life that can be excluded from this lifestyle of worship. Each part is offered to God as a living sacrifice.
Set apart for divine use
What happens then when we offer ourselves in worship to God? First of all, Paul tells us that it is pleasing to God (Rom 12:1). What is dedicated or offered to God is also holy--set apart for divine use. He has the prerogative to choose to use what is His as He wills. Enoch walked right into heaven; Noah spent 120 years building an ark and preaching the gospel; Abraham becomes the father of God’s people; Jonah went from the belly of a fish to preach to a pagan nation; Jesus walked on earth as a man and offered His life on a cross--These, and many more, are lives of worship that inspire us today.
We offer what we have to Him in worship, and suddenly we discover that He places even more in our lives that our joy might grow in our relationship with Him. That more may be material blessings held in trust. It may be new challenges and opportunities. It may be a greater intimacy with Him. Or it may be the strange joy of sharing in His sufferings (Rom 5:3; 1 Peter 4:13). Worship is each moment of life lived in a vibrant awareness of God’s presence and partnership.
Now we have choices to make. Will we worship God? Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name (Heb 13:15). Will we live with Him, or will we fragment our lives into pieces--some offered to God, and some lived on our own? Will we worship only with our lips, or will we offer Him everything we do, everything we have, and everything we are?