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. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The 21st century seems a long way from the world of sacrifice. For example, I don’t hesitate to spend two dollars on a cup of coffee that I could make myself with a few affordable tools. I rarely fast, but when I do, I’m usually thinking about my health rather than my devotion to God. I certainly don’t have any experience sacrificing animals. My bacon has as much in common with a pig as it does with a Pop-Tart.
Much of what I know about sacrifice I learned in a dark theater watching movies like The Avengers.
That mega-blockbuster of 2012 ends with sacrifice. Iron Man flies a nuclear bomb into another dimension, sacrificing himself to save the world. Except he quickly falls back to earth and miraculously revives before the credits. As sacrifices go, it is standard action movie fare, and its cheapness doesn’t teach us much about real sacrifice. Sure, Ironman risked himself, but Jesus did more than that. The Son of God suffered. The Son of God died.
Sacrifice means death. But Paul calls us to be living sacrifices.
How is this possible? Jesus himself became the perfect sacrifice, so the world does not need deaths on any more altars. Instead, we bring sacrifices of praise (Heb. 13:15-16). Our sacrifices will be the opposite of the Old Testament legal sacrifices. Legal sacrifices can be performed with impure motives, but a living sacrifice depends upon the right motives. This is why Jesus reminds the people that God requires mercy, not sacrifice (Matt. 9:13).
What does a living sacrifice look like: Mercy.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Where do you need to show mercy and kindness and compassion to others this week—in your work or your family or your community? Is there any place where you desire others to show you mercy? Are you offering God cheap sacrifices or sacrifices that are deep and meaningful?
PRAYER: Lord, it can be hard to think about sacrifice in a culture where we have so much material comfort. Sometimes, God, I try so hard to do all the right things in just the right ways, and I miss the main point of your desire for me. Like the church leaders in the first century, I sometimes offer sacrifices to justify myself rather than glorify you. Help me today to be a living sacrifice to you. Help me be kind and compassionate to the people I encounter. Help me be merciful to others, but help me also to be merciful to myself. Amen.