By the title alone, I understand it sounds like an oxymoron, and no an oxymoron is not somebody who should have used Oxy Clean to remove a laundry stain but didn’t. I know – I know it’s my poor attempt at humor. Let’s just move on shall we.
What truly then is an oxymoron? It’s an expression with contradictory words used together for special effect. Typically the words used have opposite meanings and that is what we find with the phrase “living sacrifice”. Therefore, to understand the effect of putting these two words together, let’s first understand them separately.
The word “living” obviously means something having life, not dead or nonexistent, while the word “sacrifice” means to give up something valuable or important for somebody or something else considered to be of more value or importance than the thing given up. Hence, when you put these particular two words together, the conclusion we derive is that a living sacrifice entails giving up one’s life for something more important, but what?
I don’t know about you, but I certainly value my life and I would think most of us do. Sure, we all get down at times and have low points wondering if life is really all that it’s cracked up to be. However, for the majority of us we press on knowing that there is an intrinsic value to this thing called life. There is something about the human spirit that makes us fight on no matter how low we may get. Just observe any action flick at your local theater and you can see example after example of story lines that show how low someone can go and yet they have a moment that tends to rally them back to the fray and keeps them moving forward, perhaps even triumphantly. This universal theme is so prevalent that nearly everyone on earth can relate to it and it is also what keeps us coming back for more because we want to be encouraged by another rise up from the ashes motivational story in the hopes that we can gain strength for ourselves to keep pressing on.
Even the Bible has this to say about how we typically view our lives:
“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:” (Ephesians 5:29 KJV)
Although this proclamation of truth is found in scripture so is this one:
“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 KJV)
When taken side by side, it can seem somewhat confusing as to what scripture is trying to convey. After all, at face value, it would seem that we are to offer a sacrifice to God of our bodies or in other words, our life. To comprehend the literal consequences of that thought we need to examine what a usual sacrifice in the Biblical era meant to the believer.
After close examination of the Old Testament, you can begin to fully appreciate that a sacrifice for a believer in God was not something taken lightly. It required the taking of an innocent life. This was exemplified through animal sacrifice. Not just any animal but specifically a lamb. There were even more requirements regarding this lamb. It was to be about a year old, unblemished and in good health. In other words, the one who was to sacrifice was also the one responsible to take good care of this lamb prior to sacrificing it to God. That meant they had to name it, feed and water it, clean it and nurse it if it got sick. So after a year of this intimate caring for the lamb, a bond had developed between it and its caregiver. Therefore, when it came the actual time to sacrifice the lamb it wasn’t something so easily done.
However, it had to be done. I am sure that there were some in the Old Testament era that when it came time to take their lamb (and for some of the poorer folk, it may have been their only lamb) to the temple to sacrifice it, they faced a personal struggle as thoughts of life and death rolled over in their minds. Some thought their bond between themselves and the lamb was too precious that to slit it’s throat was too much to bear and the turned around with a heavy heart and went back home. On the other hand, even though some felt the powerful bond, they knew that without sacrifice, their sins could not nor would not be forgiven and the thought of meaningless relationship between themselves and their God was not acceptable so they grit their teeth and spilled the blood of the helpless innocent lamb.
Obviously in this tradition, the lamb represents our earthly life and the caretaker our spiritual life. If we do not surrender completely to the Spirit, then our flesh as weak and frail as it is will rule over us, but if we are able to muster the courage and decide vehemently that the Spirit will be our guide then a greater reward and future awaits for us, one free from failure, disappointment and regret. So that we would get this understanding and example God (the Holy Spirit) came to earth wrapped in flesh so us humans could see and handle Him. This flesh called Jesus became the “Lamb of God” and innocent though He was, died for our sins and as a result not only freed us from them but also loosed upon us the Spirit of God Himself.
There is only one catch to us being able to receive God’s Spirit for ourselves, we must follow His example. But, luckily for us, once innocent perfect blood was spilled to remove sin, it never needed to be spilled again. All we have to do is associate ourselves with it! You see in the Old Testament era, once the lamb’s blood was shed it was then applied to the high priest and all the articles within the temple as a sign that the blood covered the temple (which was the place where God dwelt with His people). It’s interesting to note that scripture proclaims:
“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1-Corinthians 6:19 KJV)
When we willingly tell God that we are sorry for our sins and desire that He rule in our lives, it is as though we are symbolically making the sacrifice of our lamb so that God’s Spirit can fill our temple, our being. However, as anyone who has made this statement knows that within the next minute or less temptation begins to beat against your will attempting to cause us to fail once more. That is the very reason this statement must be more that a statement, it must be an anthem for life, our motivation for all we do and our rally post we come back to again and again. Hence, now we can understand that although we don’t die physically when we make this sacrifice our way of life does die out and now we live perpetually in a state of sacrifice.
We now understand what it means to be a living sacrifice. Simply put, it means that we live our lives not to please ourselves but rather we sacrifice our will to God so that His will can be carried out through us. I would encourage you today to reexamine your own “lamb” and realize that while you may be quite attached to your own wants and desires to truly evaluate what you will be left with in the end. You may have heard the saying that “he who has the most toys in the end – wins”, but let me assure you that saying is a lie because the truth is that in the end those with or without the toys still die and naked we came into this world and naked we will go out of it. The one fact that we all will face in the end is what did the death of our “lamb” (our flesh) accomplish? It will either be simply spilt blood because our sinful tainted blood can not remove our own failures or it will be the key to an everlasting life with God Almighty because we’ve accepted the sacrifice of His lamb in our place.
Please don’t confuse a living sacrifice with a sacrifice of living. In fact only those who truly understand the meaning of a living sacrifice will also understand what it truly means to live! Try it and find out for yourself!