Living Sacrifices

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” —Romans 12:1

IN THIS text, the Apostle Paul says it is a very reasonable thing to present ourself as a living sacrifice. As we shall see, doing so means dying for a cause.

Sacrifice in the Old Testament

Sacrifice is a very prominent topic in the Bible. Early in its Genesis record we read about Abel’s acceptable sacrifice; Noah’s sacrifice when he left the ark; and Abraham, who sacrificed a ram in place of his son. There is also the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, and all of the animal sacrifices connected with the Tabernacle arrangements of Israel. As the apostle says, “Almost all things are by the Law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.”—Heb. 9:22

The sacrifices in the Old Testament are types, or pictures. The antitype, or greater reality, of these sacrifices began with Jesus. This is made very clear in Hebrews. “Then said he [Jesus], Lo I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”—Heb. 9:9,10

The expression: “he taketh away the first” means, from God’s perspective, the typical sacrifices passed away because the antitype, the living sacrifice of Jesus, was the fulfillment. The suggestion of an animal in the type picturing a person in the antitype occurred when Abraham tried to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. As he was about to slay his son, God stayed his hand and had him kill a ram instead.

The Sacrifice of Jesus

The disciples did not understand that Jesus would have to die as a sacrifice for sin. They certainly were discouraged and bewildered when Jesus was taken from them and put to death. But afterward on the road to Emmaus, Jesus pointed out to two of them that Christ had to suffer and die before he could enter into his glory.—Luke 24:26

This conversation helped them realize that the death of Jesus was not a miscarriage of the divine plan, but rather one of its very important features. Reflecting on it afterward, they said, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures.”—vs. 32

Although they now may have better understood why Christ had to suffer and die, it is unlikely that at this point they understood that they were to participate in those sufferings as well. But after the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, the minds of the apostles were illuminated. They began to reveal through their sermons and writings the real significance of sacrifice as shown in the Law: it typified the sacrifice of Jesus and his church.

Peter, for example, in his first letter, calls attention to the testimony of the prophets, and he is probably thinking of the same testimony Jesus had explained on that walk to Emmaus. He notes that the prophets “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”—I Pet. 1:11

The Sacrifice of the Church

Peter later makes the point that we are privileged to share in these sufferings. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you, but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”—I Pet. 4:12,13

In the second chapter of this same epistle, Peter notes that there is no particular benefit if we suffer for our faults. “If, when ye do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” (I Pet. 2:20,21) When we suffer for well-doing, we are offering up the kind of sacrifice that is good and acceptable with God.

Paul confirms this view. While in a prison in Rome, he wrote to Timothy and said, “If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” (II Tim. 2:11,12) At another time, in a letter to the Romans: “If children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”—Rom. 8:17,18

Jesus is pictured in the New Testament as the lamb of God “which taketh away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) He is the lamb that “was slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8) This lamb eventually stands on Mount Zion with the one hundred and forty-four thousand, a group who “follow the lamb.” (Rev. 14:4) The one hundred and forty-four thousand, the church, share his glory because they have followed him to the slaughter, an expression Paul uses in Romans 8:36.

Peter says we “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood.” (I Pet. 2:9) In Old Testament times, the work of a priest was to offer sacrifice. We, as antitypical priests, must also offer sacrifice. There is no other way to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me [meaning, become my disciple], let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) In Jesus’ day, the expression “taking up one’s cross” meant one was going to their death, in this case going to their death with him.

But why should the followers of Jesus have to die with him? Did not Jesus die so that we might live? If we accept Jesus, why do we not have life?

It is God’s plan that the followers of Jesus die with him so they might become a part of the “better sacrifices.” (Heb. 9:23) Note that it is “sacrifices,” plural, showing that it is more than just the sacrifice of Jesus that the apostle has in mind.

The Object of these Sacrifices

Jesus died as a ransom for all mankind. “Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all.” (I Tim. 2:6) Perfect man Adam forfeited his life because of sin. Perfect man Jesus gave his life as a substitute, a ransom, to redeem Adam and his race from death.

But it takes more than just his death. John 3:16 reminds us, “Whosoever believeth in him should not perish.” Yet, as Paul asks, “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard; and how shall they hear without a preacher; and how shall they preach except they be sent?” (Rom. 10:14,15) Just as Jesus was sent into the world, his followers are being sent forth as representatives of the Father.—John 17:18

The concept of being the Father’s representative is emphasized by Paul. He writes, “God has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”—II Cor. 5:19,20, New International Version

We are ambassadors so we can carry the message of reconciliation to others. First that message goes to those who become members of the church; later it will go to the whole world. If we are willing to participate in God’s plan for reconciling the world, we must be willing to die for it, to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

Jesus was not the only one who had the opportunity to lay down his life for others. Notice these words: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”—I John 3:16, New International Version

Of course the laying down of our lives does not accomplish the same objective as when Jesus laid down his life. He paid man’s ransom with his death. We do no such thing. Our sacrifice will benefit mankind only when we participate with Jesus to bring the benefits of the ransom to the world in the kingdom.

The Sin-Offerings

Isaiah fifty-three is a prophecy concerning our Lord. Notice these words: “Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.” (Isa. 53:10) Because he laid down his life as a sacrificial offering, this scripture says we can term it a “sin-offering.” In the Tabernacle services, God accepted various animals as sin-offerings: bullocks, goats, lambs, oxen. These sacrifices cleansed from sin the one who made the offering. On the annual Day of Atonement, the sin-offerings cleansed the nation so they could retain their special relationship with God.

Of course these animal sacrifices did not release anyone from death. Far from it. The opportunity to actually receive life was yet in the future. It depended upon Jesus paying man’s ransom price with his own perfect life. And, by God’s grace, it depended upon others laying down their lives sacrificially as a fulfillment of the church’s part of the sin-offering picture.

Notice these words of Paul: “Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”—Rom. 6:9-11

There is only one sense that Jesus “died unto sin,” and that is as a sin-offering. Paul tells us that we should also, in like manner, die unto sin, or as a sin-offering. Another key word is “reckon,” which means we should regard, or think of ourselves, in these terms.

We know in our sin-stained condition we cannot actually offer an acceptable sacrifice to God. But Paul, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that we can reckon it as acceptable. More than that, we can consider it as part of the offering for sin begun by Jesus and continued by those who similarly sacrifice their lives. Our bodies become holy and acceptable to God because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us.

On Israel’s annual Day of Atonement, a bullock was offered, and then a goat. Both were called sin-offerings. The rules in Leviticus 16 specify that the blood from these sacrificed sin-offerings was to be sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat, and their bodies burned without the camp. Now note what Paul says in Hebrews: “The bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.”—Heb. 13:11-13

Clearly, our bodies that we present as living sacrifices are being burned with Jesus’ body outside the camp as part of this sin-offering picture. Our sacrifice is not to be literally burned. Our offering is “the sacrifice of praise” and “to do good and to communicate [because] with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”—vss. 15,16


We are indeed dying for a cause. We are laying down our lives in the greatest cause mankind has ever known! It is the cause of reconciling the sin-sick and dying race to God. Jesus made it possible by paying the ransom. We have the privilege of dying in the same cause, sacrificing our time, our strength, and our means, in publishing the word of reconciliation.

Thus by divine mercy we are given the opportunity to die in the cause of destroying sin while simultaneously proving our loyalty to God and our love for him. May we be faithful in this cause even unto death, that by God’s grace we may share in the glory that is to follow.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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