What is a living sacrifice?

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Question: What does it mean, in the Bible, to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God?

Answer: The book of Romans, chapter 12, states what it means to be a true servant of the Eternal. The apostle Paul admonishes us to present our bodies to God as a holy, acceptable, living sacrifice to him. Doing this, Paul goes on to state, is our reasonable response to all that our Father has done for us.

I exhort you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and well pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service (Romans 12:1, HBFV).

How can we become more mature?
Did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter?
Must we engage in spiritual warfare?

There are a number of ways this question could be answered. To be brief, we will briefly contrast the idea of being a living sacrifice to the Eternal with two other kinds. One kind is to a pagan false god and the other to God based on his Old Testament law.

The Sacrifice of Abraham
The Sacrifice of Abraham
Joseph the Elder Bergler, 1753

In the non-Christian religion of the Roman Empire, some of the temples to pagan deities included such worship practices as temple prostitution. Paul makes a number of references to this in his epistles, mentioning how the Christian converts came out of such worthless practices. With this in mind, we can see that being a sacrifice to God would mean not taking part in the evil practices of pagan worship, which God hates, but rather doing those things which he wants us to do.

In the Old Testament, the priests would offer living animals for sacrifice as part of the worship of God, cutting them up and offering them on the altar. Paul does tells us, however, that God would prefer that we become a living sacrifice, which is far greater. In fact, even under the Old Covenant, God considered obedience to be far better and of greater value to him than any offering of animals (1Samuel 15:22 - 23, Psalm 40:6 - 8, Amos 5:21 - 24).

Our Father wants us to lay ourselves aside daily, dedicating ourselves to him and living His way of life. The rest of Romans 12 gives us some examples of how we can sacrifice ourselves on a daily basis. Below are just a few of them.

We can sacrifice ourselves by not living to conform to this evil world (Romans 12:2), by being transformed by a renewing of our minds, and by proving what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. We can also strive not to be vain and self-centered but in humility serve others with whatever gifts we possess (verses 3 - 8).

We also should not pretend to love but sincerely do so as Jesus loved us (Romans 12:9). To be a sacrifice pleasing to God, will also need to reject evil and hold fast to what is right and good, and finally to serve others based on their needs not ours.

Rather than giving our physical life as a one-time offering (like an animal at Jerusalem's temple), a Christian is to offer themselves daily to serve God and love his fellow man. We should not be doing things based on our own self-centered will or strictly to please ourselves.

We are to be focused on benefitting and blessing others by living the way of God as defined in the Bible (Hebrews 10:20). As a believer sacrifices themselves in this way, each day, they become more and more like God (Matthew 5:48).

Additional Study Materials
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Who were Paul's Roman relatives?
Why does temple need a red heifer sacrifice?
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