By Benjamin C. Maxson, Director, General Conference Stewardship
Summary:Sacrifice for God meant the Innocent One dying so that the guilty one could live. For us, sacrifice must mean surrender, death in Him, and rebirth to a life of praise and worship. For God it meant loss and pain to restore His creation. For us it means resolution of our pain—death to sin and birth to His life and power.
Sacrifice and attitude
Sacrifice to repay what God has done for you. . . Give until it hurts. . . In the average church, phrases like these are common stewardship arsenal. Though frequently used, these statements often reflect a non-biblical approach and attitude. But Scripture can help us gain a wider and better understanding of what sacrifice really means.
Sacrifice is not so much what we give up, but rather what we offer to God in recognition of who He is and who we are in relationship to Him. Worship was the context for the first biblical sacrifice. Abel and Cain brought their offerings to God. One was accepted; the other rejected. The difference lay in their attitudes of giving. Abel willingly followed God’s instructions; Cain, full of pride, chose another way. By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead (Heb 11:4).
In this first sacrifice lies the foundation for the entire concept: What we give to God, and how we give, reflects an internal attitude towards God. We find the same true meaning of sacrifice in God’s rejection of King Saul. His offering of animals was unacceptable because of His attitude of rebellion against God’s direct instructions. Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you as king (1 Sam 15:22, 23).
Sacrifice and worship
In exploring sacrifice as worship, we discover powerful principles that can help us transform our lives into anthems of praise to our creator God.
The first sacrifice was offered in the Garden of Eden. Sin had destroyed the relationship between man and God. Shame had darkened the human heart for the first time. And in the shadows of eternity, God met the nakedness of guilt and shame with the symbolic covering of animal skins. For the first time, an innocent life was sacrificed because of a sinner’s guilt. Humanity was banned from Eden. Yet the restoration of Eden was assured in the promise of another sacrifice. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel (Gen 3:15). Calvary made that promise a historical reality. God’s heel was bruised and the bonds of sin were broken.
Sacrifice for God meant the Innocent One dying so that the guilty one could live. For us, sacrifice must mean surrender, death in Him, and rebirth to a life of praise and worship. For God it meant loss and pain to restore His creation. For us it means resolution of our pain—death to sin and birth to His life and power.
The implications shatter the powerless stereotypes of cultural Christianity. In Christ, life becomes worship (Rom 12:1). As Creator and Redeemer, God owns all, and we acknowledge that relationship when we offer ourselves to Him. When we sacrifice anything, we are merely returning something to the original owner—recognizing what He has done in lifting us from sin to His very throne (Eph 2:7). Thus we really give up nothing but our sinful selves when we offer something to God in worship.
For the Christian, there can be no pain in giving (or in any other activity) that is traditionally termed sacrifice. We lose nothing and gain everything. For when we sacrifice, in an offering of praise, what is already God’s, we reinforce our relationship with Him and strengthen His role in our lives. Pain in our giving only indicates our continued claim to ownership where the sense of sacrifice as loss prostitutes worship.
Sacrifice and death
The Christian’s pain is in the surrender and dying of self. Through that surrender we conquer, and in giving we receive. Our worship in sacrifice becomes an ongoing celebration of a new life that refutes the materialistic hedonism of contemporary culture. This does not mean there is no suffering in the Christian’s life. It means that our suffering is experienced in the context of God’s grace—our pain and loss become opportunities to further integrate His strength into our lives.
So how do we attain this attitude of sacrifice? How do we grow into a lifestyle of praise that properly enthrones God in our lives? Only when we experience the wonder of God’s sacrifice on Calvary can we enter the sacrificial life. At the foot of the cross, the greatness of His gift overwhelms us. The depth of His passion breaks through the shallowness of our lives. The wonder of the perfect God dying our death convicts us of the immensity of our sin. Love awakens, trust builds, and we finally yield in confession. The offer of new birth invites us to risk our own crucifixion. The miracle happens. We are crucified with Christ, and His life becomes ours (Gal 2:20).
Yet self must be daily subdued. Dying in Christ is not a one-time event. The highest worship God seeks is the yielding of our lives to Him as He recreates His life in us. To do this we must daily surrender our lives to Him. Is there giving up? Is there loss? Of course! But what do we give up? What do we lose? Only what was never ours to start with. Thus the simplicity of the Christian lifestyle frees us to better manage His resources to His honor and glory.
The initial worship of accepting Jesus as Savior grows as we daily accept Him as Lord. We choose to submit to His control as the owner of our lives as we consciously relinquish our own false claim to lordship and control. This is neither easy nor painless. Paul calls it dying daily (1 Cor 15:31). But the death is not of our identity and our hopes. It is the death to sin’s lie and the discovery of our true identity as men and women created in the image of God.
Our identity in God is fully realized when we accept the indwelling presence of Christ through His Spirit (Eph 3:14-21). Filled with His fullness, our lives are transformed into offerings of praise in the daily details and activities of 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).