WHAT IS SACRIFICE?

The devil wants everyone who has anything more than what meets his basic needs to feel guilty. This presents a very puzzling problem to Christians as they attempt to understand the relationship between sacrifice and prosperity. Prosperity must have a high priority among divine gifts.

Solomon: “Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee; and I will give thee riches and wealth” (2 Chron. 1:12).

John: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2).

A person exercises his God-given talents; God blesses him and he prospers. Then he is subjected to articles and sermons on sacrifice—all implying the giving of material things. There are some interesting, sometimes tragic, reactions:

  • He gives liberally, but still feels guilty for he has so much left.
  • He rejects all suggestions to giving, for he dreads poverty.
  • He may resent it. One woman, who was approached for financial assistance for church support, said, “If giving to the church means sacrificing all the things I have worked and saved for all my life or being shaken out, then I'll be shaken out.”
  • He may regard the giving of money as a substitute for personal involvement.

Psalm 50:5: “Gather my saints together unto me, those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

The popular thought is that this text refers to material things, and those who sacrifice money, or its equivalent, for God’s cause, will be among the throng who await their Lord’s return. In other words, their giving of material things will make them eligible. But does the giving of material things constitute sacrifice?

If this were correct, then a total sacrifice would be the giving of everything a person had, and he would be left destitute. In this condition he would not be able to support himself, his family, or his church. In fact, he would be totally helpless for he would have nothing with which to do anything productive at all.

Likewise, his testing period would come to an end, for each person has been entrusted with material things, to determine their ability to manage eternal responsibilities.

If sacrifice means the giving of things, then Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Daniel, and many others did not make a covenant with God by sacrifice because they died very wealthy men. And still, they were accounted worthy of eternal life.

Another concept of sacrifice is “trading.” This means that a person could trade earthly things for heavenly. Many false religions are based on this trading or buying, theory. However, this concept has major problems. Consider these texts in relation to this topic:

  • “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1).
  • “Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10).
  • “The silver and the gold is mine” (Hag. 2:8).

If, then, everything on the earth belongs to God, what could a person possibly use for trading material? The first thing a person needs to know, when trading, is if the person with whom he is dealing owns what is being traded. If he doesn’t, then there is a real possibility he will lose everything in the transaction: what he traded, as well as what he received in return.

God certainly isn’t going to accept things in a trade that He owns in the first place. Hence, the premise is wrong.

It should be carefully noted in the text that the keyword is not “sacrifice,” but “covenant.” Those will be gathered in that great day who have made a covenant with God—in this instance, by sacrifice. But by sacrificing what?

“For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:16, 17).

What Is a Covenant?

A covenant is an agreement to do, or not to do, a certain thing. It is a contract between two individuals, two groups, or an individual with a group, etc. God made such an agreement with Noah:

“I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a token of a covenant between me and the earth . . . and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Gen. 9:13-15).

With Abraham:
“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2).

Now consider Abraham’s predicament:
If God had given Abraham a choice—to give God all his possessions and keep his son; or give God his son and keep his possessions—there is no question what he would have done. That boy was his greatest possession. Nothing else was of so great value. But God didn’t give him a choice; He asked for the boy.

After that agonizing trip to Mount Moriah, when Abraham was about to kill his son, God said, “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Gen. 22:12).

If sacrifice means the giving of things, Abraham would have had to kill the boy; but God accepted the fact that he was willing—that he obeyed God’s instructions rather than his own desires. This test proved more to Abraham than it did to God. God already knew Abraham could pass the test; now Abraham knew it. This only proved that Abraham’s covenant with God was genuine.

Although God owns the world and everything in it, there is one thing over which He chooses not to exercise control: our hearts, our wills. The power of choice given in the Garden of Eden, and restored by Jesus on the Cross of Calvary, belongs to the individual. A classic example of this occurred during the reign of King David.

David had stained his illustrious career with the foul blot of adultery and murder. The enormity of his crime was pointed out to him by the prophet Nathan. In Psalm 51, David is pouring out his heart to God in confession, seeking relief from his guilt. He pleads with God, “Have mercy on me, O God; Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin; I acknowledge my transgression; Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” All these statements show the intensity of his feelings and his desire for forgiveness. Then he recognizes what sacrifice really is.

Psalm 51:16, 17 says: “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

What is a broken spirit? It is the positive response of the human heart to God’s instruction and direction.

Wild animals have uncontrolled spirits. Only when this spirit is “broken,” can they be made to do the will of people, to be obedient to their direction and commands. But God doesn’t “break” our spirits; He pleads, “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26).

The human heart is like that of the untamed beasts; it is selfish and self-willed. If left to itself, it will grow only more determined to have its own way.

What is Sacrifice?

From that illustration, a definition of sacrifice can be made. It is the willingness to relinquish the entire life to God, without any reservations. This means that a covenant relationship is entered into by a person with God, in which all of his or her time, talents, influence, and material goods are under divine direction and control at all times, under all circumstances.

How is this accomplished? In the common walks of life; in everyday transactions; in the little acts of life—it is dying daily to self. Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). “I have fought a good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7). Who was Paul fighting? Enemies? False brethren? All of these, but his greatest battle was with himself. “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7:19). This was Paul’s constant battle. It is the battle of every human being, for as the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).

Consider sacrifice, not as giving, nor trading, but rather as using. This would harmonize with God’s plan in the beginning. As agents of heaven, we would be continually receiving God’s blessings and distributing these to others. We would be in constant communication with the Owner. Our instructions would come from:

  • His Word.
  • A knowledge of need.
  • Divine impressions: “And thine ears shall hear a voice” (Isa. 30:21).

This knowledge and awareness of our relationship to God would prevent us from having pride of ownership. It would also be a great wall against selfishness. We would never substitute giving for personal service. We would never feel guilty about our possessions, for we would be earning, saving, using, and giving under God’s direction.

This is true stewardship. The wrongness is not in possessing things, but in claiming ownership and using our resources according to our own selfish interests.

While some might think that money can buy anything, there is something it cannot buy, nor can it be a substitute for personal services. God isn’t interested in our money (He could speak and create mountains of gold); He is interested in us, our hearts, our choice to obey Him.

And this willingness to place our hearts on the altar is the supreme sacrifice that He desires. Once we do this, we will have made a covenant with Him by sacrifice (the only thing over which we have control); then we can hear the “well done” given to those who recognize their stewardship relation to Him and be a part of that vast throng who await His return.

A Closing Thought

If Jesus could have given things for our salvation, He could have given a universe—but it cost Him His life. And that’s what it will cost us—our lives; that is all we have to give.


Source: Sermon by Mel Rees was published in the January-March 2011 issue of the Dynamic Steward magazine, pp. 8, 9, https://stewardship.adventist.org/2011-15-3-what-is-sacrifice.

This sermon is reprinted with permission from “Biblical Principles for Giving and Living,” published in 1995 by the Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland, 20904; 301-680-6502; www.ministerialassociation.com.