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In the typical American family, the parents have no idea what their teenagers do in their spare time. Communication has taken a back seat to personal happiness. Everything is treated as disposable by this instant gratification society. The most common reason given for divorce is unhappiness. Debt has risen to dangerous levels in almost every household as the race for self-gratification increases. Houses, cars, even human lives are treated as resources in this pleasure pursuit. Abortion raises no moral eyebrows, as the unborn baby is simply a stumbling block to the mother’s happiness. Once the problem is removed, the search for happiness can continue. It is if we exist as a bunch of happiness addicts, each living for the next happiness high. Others are seen as either positive or negative in relation to the individual’s happiness formula. If another human contributes to my happiness, they are beneficial and therefore needed. If another human detracts or requires time away from my happiness pursuit, then that person is a liability. Notice the indifference toward the elderly and the young by the majority of the ruling middle aged.
Examine, if you will, the twisting of the word “sacrifice” and how that definition fits with the individual’s pursuit of happiness. Sacrifice has no place in anyone’s pursuit of happiness. If I have to sacrifice something in order to get something better, then that something better must not be worth the effort. This point is especially evident in our “hit the lottery” mentality. The American Dream has changed from one of opportunity for betterment through responsibility, hard work and perseverance to a get-rich-without- regard-to-cost-on-another’s-part mentality. If any should have been able to resist this destructive transition, it should have been the church. However, the church as a whole has done little to reverse this transition. In fact, it has donated its members for the cause of consumption and consumerism as well as the “get rich quick” mentality.
These days, the only members required to sacrifice their time, money, and effort are the paid staff and the ten percent that comprise the active membership. The remaining ninety percent of the laity treat the church as a resource. The church is a place that will allow you to have an extravagant wedding, keeps you entertained on Sunday with application-free seminars, and will provide a beautiful eulogy for your funeral. Laymen are not required to sacrifice anything for the kingdom of God as the act of sacrifice may scare off the few unbelievers that may have wandered in.
However, Christianity has always been and always will be centered on sacrifice. As Christians, we are called to sacrifice our will for the will of God. As we grow in the image of Christ, we sacrifice our leisure time for our families, the poor, and those in need. If we are blessed with riches of any kind, we are commanded to sacrifice and assist the poor, the widows, the fatherless, and the alien. In fact, our entire religion would not be in existence if it were not for the ultimate sacrifice of our Lord upon the cross.
Sacrifice is what makes the Christian salt and light. Because we sacrifice ourselves with Jesus Christ, because we take the time to help those in need, because we lift up our cross daily we stand out from every other drone that is caught up in the rat race of this materialistic society. Sacrifice keeps us pure, separated, and not conformed to the world. Our unselfish sacrifice, in addition to joy, peace and the other fruits of the Spirit, is what attracts unbelievers to God. Men and women who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the Cause of Christ are what have kept the church alive for the last 2000 years.
Now, the concept of sacrifice is mysteriously absent from the pulpits of the modern church. Sacrifice is extended to cover church maintenance activities, such as nursery duty, and rarely touches the lives outside of the church. And we wonder why only ten percent of the believers are active in church. We wonder why our churches continue to stagnate regardless of the newest fad, program or approach. We wonder why our church is rotting from the inside out and all we can do is watch. For a clue as to the origin of this predicament, we need look no further than the beginning of the modern Christian’s life in Christ.
When a person comes to Christ for salvation, where do we place the emphasis? We start a Christian’s life not with a slant toward repentance, or submission to Christ, but with an offer of a free gift. We tend to stress the love and neglect the Lordship. But this runs contrary to scripture. Examine Luke 14:25-35. Here Jesus lays out the cost of being a disciple. Jesus never sugarcoated Christianity. In fact, as in the case of the rich, young ruler, He sometimes sought to dissuade some from following Him. Why?
The life of a disciple of Christ requires absolute submission on the part of the disciple for God’s will to be worked through him or her. Even after we have received salvation, we retain free will. We can choose not to obey the commands of God. Obviously, this is a testament to our faith if we choose to ignore the teachings of Christ or consider them optional. But, this also speaks to where our loyalties lie. We cannot serve both God and the world. So, if we are serving our own-sorted self-interests, we cannot also be serving God.
America is a nation of rich, young rulers. We’re afraid to give up our own material possessions if required to follow Jesus. The major roadblock for the majority of modern American Christians is not adultery, homosexuality, abortion, pride, or even divorce. The main stumbling block for Christians in America is covetousness. We want what we do not have and we want it now. Comfort is the goal, but absolute comfort is never achieved.
Examine the messages from the pulpits of the modern church. The fire and brimstone sermons of yesteryear that stressed repentance and turning from sin are replaced with self-help seminars and a reduced morality that gives and gives without requiring anything from the recipient. However, every relationship worth keeping involves sacrifice on the part of both of the participants. And the greatest relationship of all, between God and man, should require the greatest sacrifice as well. God’s sacrifice has already been completed. It’s past time for us to sacrifice back for Him.
So, when, and in what manner, is a Christian called to sacrifice? Obviously, the chief and over-arcing sacrifice comes at the time of conversion. Romans 10:9 states that if we confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in His resurrection we’ll reach eternal life. Believing that Jesus died for our sins, rose again to defeat death, and is waiting for us is the easy part. But, what about confessing that Jesus is Lord of our lives?
If Jesus is Lord of our lives, we will obey His commands and follow His teachings in every area of our lives. We will sacrifice our comfort and our wills for the will of God. We would sacrifice our dreams for the reality of God. We would sacrifice our entertainment time for God’s time. But, too often, we win out over God. Unconsciously or consciously, we have become influenced by this influenced by this ego-driven society. God has become the great Santa Claus from heaven, waiting to shower us with gifts. Our materialism is okay as long as we remember to give ten percent to the church. Giving two hours to God on Sunday morning has fulfilled our spiritual responsibilities. The pastor gives more time and energy to God and the church because that’s his job. If having Jesus as Lord of our life is a prerequisite to salvation, then the will of God is the job of everyone who calls himself a Christian. Otherwise, our salvation is forfeit.
It’s little wonder that most unbelievers think that the churches are filled with hypocrites. How can we call Jesus “Lord”, and not do what He asks of us? The simple truth is that many will say, “Lord, Lord“, that can tell the difference between Jesus and a hole in the ground. Oswald Chambers had a good handle on the concept of Christianity. Being a Christian means having an active relationship with Christ. Evangelism and service are natural overflows from a healthy relationship with a loving Lord.
The main fact is that salvation is not free. Salvation certainly cost Jesus on the cross. Salvation requires us to sacrifice our old selves and our wills on the cross as well. Salvation requires us to give up our sinful existence. Salvation also requires us to crucify our very lives so that we no longer live, but Christ lives through us. Without submission to Jesus as Lord, salvation is rendered little less than receiving a college diploma from a man handing them out for free on a street corner. The diploma, without the classes, the work, and backing by an accredited college, is worth little more than the paper it’s printed on. Likewise, salvation without Christ’s lordship is worth little.
So, must we give up all of our possessions, sever all of our family ties, and become a full-time man or woman of God to gain salvation? No, but we must be willing to. Nothing should stand between our willingness to be utilized for the Cause of Christ. Whatever interrupts our walk with Christ is an idol, or we have simply not given that other thing a proper perspective within the will of God. It is certainly not God’s will that we abandon our family to follow Him. However, if we find ourselves using our family as an excuse not to follow God, then our family is not occupying their proper place with the framework of our lives. All other pursuits should follow the will of God.
The entire realm of the will of God in our lives will suffer if we neglect sacrifice. Without sacrifice, we would television over a quiet time with God. Without sacrifice, we would choose a bigger house over giving to God. Without sacrifice, we would choose sleep over Sunday morning worship. For the majority, life consists of avoiding sacrifice. But for the minority, the ones who choose the narrow path, sacrifice is not only desired, but required.
Examine the spiritual disciplines of fasting, studying the Bible, meditation and prayer. All of these disciplines are beneficial to the Christian life, yet none can be accomplished without sacrifice. How much of our relationship with the Father is sacrificed on the altar of comfort?
What believers need in this day and age is proper time management and perspective. If we analyzed our daily pursuits, we would see that the majority of our daily attention is focused on activities whose goals wont survive the current century. We can see that even the most persistent of saints spend the majority of their day focused on selfish comfort and meaningless entertainment.
The only solution is for pulpits to place sacrifice once more into perspective. Certainly, sacrifice will frighten those with shallow roots, but Jesus already foresaw this happening. Any church can afford to lose a few unwanted pounds to gain a muscular, faith-driven body. Sacrifice must be preached as a responsibility. And responsibility is what sacrifice is. Lordship of Christ in my life means that I will submit to the rulership of God. Lordship is definitely not an option; it is a priority.
Sacrifice also needs to demonstrate additionally by the leadership of every church. In the modern church, we have too many oversees and not enough servant-leaders. This is a result, not only of the clergy, but also perpetuated by the laity. The pastor doesn’t have enough time to do the small things; he has to prepare for the sermon. Granted, the pastor does have different duties and can appoint men to oversee certain areas, but the pastor should still remain humble enough to be an example of sacrificial living to the entire congregation.
Sacrifice should invade every aspect of our Christian life. The majority of problems concerning lazy Christians, empty ministry positions, and an ineffectual witness are a direct result of an inability to sacrifice. The rampant un-sacrificial attitudes of the laity are a direct result of the inability to convey the laity’s inherent ministry responsibilities and the sacrifice involved with discipleship. The importance of sacrifice in a disciple’s life should never be secondary. Imagine if Jesus had placed His sacrificial duties as only a secondary importance.
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Wow, Derek, what a hard-hitting article!! The concept of sacrifice in our society (and church) is as misunderstand as the concepts of suffering and submission. Excellent piece--fired me up!!