Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry

         Every professing Christian has undoubtedly heard and read “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1, 2). The problem is that all too often people are left to define for themselves just what it means to be a “living sacrifice.” Although this verse specifies the need for holiness that is acceptable to God, the necessity of not being conformed to this world and the injunction to have a renewed mind, people usually have their own take on it. And, as with so many other doctrinal admonitions, after a while if we do not believe and obey by walking them out, we become so accustomed to them that they are subsequently ignored altogether.  

          One of the pitfalls undiscerning Christians face, especially in America (and other places as well) is the postmodern, seeker-friendly, liberal emergent movement. Churches who have subscribed to this deviant theology lean towards experience as being far more valuable than truth, and the Holy Scriptures fall into the dark vat of dissolution of "cold, hard fact" in favor of "warm, fuzzy subjectivity." Thus, over the past few decades, the door has been thrown wide open for the father of lies to enter center stage, erect a “golden calf” of subtle idolatry (and occultism) while perverting the “biblical” world view of the unsuspecting and undiscerning multitudes of “churched” people into a tolerant, “feel good,” man-centered pseudo “Christianity.” It’s all about little ole me, love, love, love, and my pal Jesus. Thus, Scriptures such as Romans 12:1, 2 quoted above about presenting your body as a living sacrifice are often passed over, ignored or viewed as archaic and irrelevant to the contemporary church.

          The enemy knows that all you have to do to change the intent (spirit), principle and truth of God’s Word is to water down, alter, redefine, eliminate, over-emphasize, or manipulate isolated words, or entire portions of Scripture out of their contextual setting. What remains is a lifeless, perverted, string of words that are “up for grabs” as to their original meaning, intent, and application. Our experience through the years has also taught us that people who feed on watered down versions of God’s Word are “watered down,” shallow Christians who possess no authority or power, let alone an unbending understanding of who God is, what His Word and Christian living is about, or how to compare Scripture with Scripture, resist the devil, be overcomers, or rightly divide the Word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:13). 

          By contrast, the pilgrim church (early church and her “offspring” through the centuries) was a God-fearing, truth-loving, rugged triumphant Church of faith—a remnant Church of Spirit-filled believers who were soul winners, bravely standing as pillars of fiery light and salt in the face of torture and death. They were dead to the world, and the world to them. Sometimes Rayola and I stop and wonder what these selfless Christians, many of whom shed their blood for Christ, would think of the compromising, pleasure-seeking, money-loving, liberal, worldly churches of today that merely tack the name of Jesus onto their institutions, and meaningless, little man-centered social programs.

          Nevertheless, God still has His people. They may be scattered among the nations like the stars are scattered throughout space, but He knows those who are His. He knows those who have not “bowed the knee to Baal,” or polluted themselves with the rise in cultural paganism, or compromised with the world, the flesh and the devil. God’s eye is upon His own who have counted the price and are paying it through daily surrender to His will. With the Apostle Paul, they declare, “I die daily” 1 Corinthians 15:31b. They know that it is their “reasonable service” to be a living sacrifice.

          When you observe many professing Christians, however, you often wonder if they have ever read and understood Romans 12:1, 2. How many people assume that to be a living sacrifice, all they have to do is show up at church once or twice a week because that is the Christian thing to do that makes God happy isn’t it? No, it isn’t. People go to a meeting place on Sunday for themselves. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell people that they have to “go to church on Sunday.” Why? Because if you are a born-again Christian you are the Church. You are part of the Body of Christ no matter where you are. We are so used to calling a certain building “the church” that we forget who we are. Jesus is not returning for certain select denominations, or a bunch of buildings where Christians meet, but for the redeemed who make up His Body. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” Matthew 18:19.

          Some Christians credit themselves with being a living sacrifice because they pay “tithes.” Before they pat themselves on the back, however, the truth is that the tithe is strictly an Old Testament practice in accordance with the Levitical Law given to Moses. It was directed to Israel, not Gentile nations, nor to the New Testament Church. Ever since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. there has been no Levitical priesthood to tithe (the fruit of the land) to. Quoted fact: “Jews do not tithe today. They are all well aware that only Levites have the right to receive tithes from the people. There is no temple in operation, furthermore, no Levites or priests to serve. If they were to tithe today, Jews would consider it a sin against God, because the tithe belonged to the Levitical priesthood. To pay a biblical tithe at this time, without Levites and priests in their regular ordained offices and doing service in the temple, would be a "sin" both to the giver and the receiver. As one rabbi stated, ‘If we are to obey the law, we cannot pay tithes unless we pay it to the ones ordained by God to accept that tithe. Neither Christ nor any of the apostles were Levites so they were all disqualified from receiving any part of the biblical tithe.”

          “The synagogues of today receive financial funding with which to operate their religious organizations through the adoption of the ‘patron system’ by its members. Families buy seats in the synagogue for various prices each year. To get a better seat, they often pay more money.” –  From The Online Bible School

          Before jump up and down shouting “Goodie, goodie gumdrops,” you need to remember that everything a believer owns, including his or herself, belongs to God, and should be offered back to God as the Holy Spirit directs. The heart of God is giving. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3:16. (Emphasis added.) Nothing in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth can out give God. If you are indeed a living sacrifice, then you will be faithful in giving and in practical service to God. Go ahead and give ten percent if that is what you believe God is requiring of you, but never call it a “tithe” in the Levitical sense of the word. We who are born again (whether Jews or Gentiles) make up the Body of Christ. None of us are Jews living in the days before Christ where the Levitical Law commanded tithing of firstfruits to the Levites. “The first tithe (Hebrew ma'aser rishon מעשר ראשון)is a positive commandment in the Torah requiring the giving of one tenth of agricultural produce, after the giving of the standard terumah, to the Kohen (Jewish priest) (or Levite). This giving is required to be free of both monetary and servicial compensation.

          “Historically, during the First Temple period, the first tithe was given to the Levite. Approximately at the beginning of the Second Temple construction, Ezra and his Beth din implemented its giving to the kohanim” (direct descendants of Aaron.)” – Wikipedia

          Today we are living under a New Covenant with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. “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? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20. Did you get that? Both our body and our spirit belong to God. Concerning sacrificial giving, one of the strongest examples of sacrificial giving is found in Mark 12:41-44, “And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.”

          If we take a closer look at this story, we see that we can gain a great deal of insight into being a living sacrifice. What this poor widow gave was greater in the eyes of God than the sum total of all that the wealthy donated because it signified her heart of love for God to the exclusion of all else (the First Commandment), including her own well-being. What she did was not just her “reasonable service” but, because it went far beyond what she could afford, it became a true sacrifice. She also knew that God loved the poor, the widows, and the fatherless, and being a poor widow herself, she could relate to the struggles that others suffered. Secondly, her act demonstrated great faith. Jesus always took note of those with great faith. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” Hebrews 11:6. This woman trusted God with her life, knowing that He would somehow provide for her and meet her needs.

          If we meditate for a moment on her example we begin to understand that to truly be a living sacrifice a person must love God more than self, possess unfeigned love for others, have genuine faith, and be genuinely humble. This also reveals how sinister and subtle idolatry can be in our hearts. Any hesitation on the part of a Christian to offer his or her body as a living sacrifice should cause one to ask— why? This is where idolatry comes in, for if God is indeed first in a person’s life—loved with all the heart, soul, mind and strength—why the hesitation to surrender everything to Him and become a living sacrifice? Who is loved the most, God or self? The idol of self must be brought down if God is to have His rightful place in our lives as King of kings, and Lord of lords. With some Christians this can be dramatic and happens instantly, (as with the Apostle Paul) while with others it is a process that takes place through various trials and tribulations (such as the Apostle Peter and John Mark.)

          Next on the list is love for others. How willing are we to sacrifice for the well-being of others in practical service? Doing right by others, taking care of widows, orphans, and strangers, going the “extra mile,” returning good for evil, obeying Jesus’ commandments and so forth is our “reasonable service.” In other words, there are no “Brownie points” handed out as none of these things are a sacrifice. It only becomes a sacrifice when we give out of our personal need, and pour out above and beyond what we can afford to give whether financially, physically, or personally for different reasons.

          King David understood sacrifice that is acceptable to God. When the king offered to buy Araunah the Jebusite’s threshing floor upon which to build an altar unto the LORD so that a plague would be stayed from the people, and Araunah offered it to David free, David said, “I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing” 2 Samuel 24:24. The lesson is if we offer up to God that which costs us nothing, God does not consider it to be a sacrifice and neither should we. A study of the required sacrifices in the Books of the Law (first five books of the Bible) clearly reveals that every offering and sacrifice that God required had to be the very best.

          Concerning the idolatry of self, fear is a big factor in a person who balks at surrendering everything to Jesus. Fear can be an idol itself when it comes between a person and God causing the person to bow down and give way to it. We all battle with fear at one time or another. Many years ago during one of my own struggles with fear the Lord spoke to me and said, “Fear is worship.” Those three words stunned me until He began to show me that Satan was behind the fear, and if I gave into it, it would be a form of worship to the devil instead of the Lord. This brings us back to love. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” 1 John 4:18. We have this promise in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

          Obviously, if the poor widow who gave her mites joyfully (I believe she was joyful or it would not have been acceptable to God) gave all her living, it meant that she had overcome any fear that she may have had with both love and faith. “Hebrews 10:38 says this about faith, “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” With many people, the problem is they do draw back from God out of fear because they do not trust Him, and they do not trust Him because they do not know Him. Thus, their unbelief condenses into the belief that the only person they can trust is themselves. This is a subtle form of idolatry, and places dependency upon the god of self. A. W. Tozer gives us this invaluable insight:  “Idolatry is the supreme sin and unbelief is the child of idolatry. Both are libels on the character of the Most High and the Most Holy. He that believeth not God hath made him a liar, wrote the apostle John. A God who lies is a God without character, and where there is no character there can be no confidence. This is the moral logic of unbelief. The unbeliever refuses to trust God because his conception of God is base and ignoble. That he does not burn incense to a graven image does not make him less an idolater, unless we want to make a distinction and say that the idolater worships his false god while the unbeliever refuses to do even that. The joyous message of Christianity is that there is a way back from this place of unbelief and alienation. He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. The gospel message declares that the wronged God took the wrong upon Himself in order that the one who committed the wrong might be saved. Repentance is among other things a sincere apology to God for distrusting Him so long, and faith is throwing oneself upon Christ in complete confidence. Thus by faith reconciliation is achieved between God and man.” If you want to know God, ask Him to reveal Himself to you, draw near to Him in prayer, and seek to know Him through His Word.

          Another beautiful example of going beyond “reasonable service” to offer a sacrifice to the Lord can be found in Matthew 26:6-13. Verse 2 says, “There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.” Unlike the poor widow, this woman was a woman of means; however, her costly sacrifice that she poured out on the Lord would have been used for her own burial. She knew that Jesus was the Son of God and oh-so-worthy of the very best. She anointed Him with this precious ointment for His burial, exhibiting great love and faith, and in spite of the protests of Judas Iscariot and the men surrounding Jesus He received her sacrificial offering, and commended her for it. (Take note that after this act of extreme devotion and worship on the part of Mary, and Jesus’ rebuke to His disciples, Judas Iscariot went out in anger and betrayed the Lord—see also Mark 14; John 12.)

          This brings us to the big stumbling block of pride. When pride defiantly declares, “I want to be the one who calls the shots in my own life” it points not only to rebellion, but also to the fear of absolute surrender to God. Such love for the god of self trumps love for the Lord God. After all, no man “can serve two masters.” A person is either going to serve self, sin, and Satan, or Jesus Christ. Pride is deceptive, and while we can usually detect it in others, it is almost impossible to see in ourselves. Thank God for the Holy Spirit who is faithful to reveal just how deep and insidious pride is if we ask Him to show us. The problem is those who maintain the right to keep their pride intact are often unpredictable and treacherous. Take note that the pride of such people can manifest itself outwardly in a religious cloak of self-righteousness, such as the Pharisees whom Jesus continually rebuked for their hypocrisy. Whether a person’s pride is conceit, selfishness, arrogance or pride, in whom a person thinks he or she is, it will always be resisted by both God and others.

          We can learn much in Jesus’ parable as recorded in Luke 18:10-14, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Which do you suppose would choose to obey Paul’s strong mandate to be a living sacrifice?

          Being outwardly self-righteous, and religious does not make a man (or woman) a living sacrifice and right with God. A person must first consecrate him or herself. That is, set him or herself apart for God. Consecration involves the whole person—body, soul and spirit. The Apostle Paul declared, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” Galatians 2:20. Concerning offering our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, Rayola said, “Righteousness is not a convenience based on comfort. It is a choice when you don’t feel like it. Character is the enduring quality of righteousness.”

          Is it easy to be a living sacrifice? Not hardly! But where in the Bible does it say that believers are going to be delivered out of every conflict and tribulation that surrounds us? We are not here to float through life on a bed of ease, with no hardships or problems, no hurts, no pain and suffering, no loss or sorrow. Who has not wanted to “crawl off the altar” from time to time after full surrender to God as a living sacrifice? This is what King David meant when he prayed, “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar” Psalm 118:27.

          The question is have you offered your life as a living sacrifice to God? Perhaps you have presented your body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, knowing it is your reasonable service, but somewhere along the line you “crawled off the altar.” Now is the time to rededicate your life to God as a living sacrifice. Won’t you reach out now and take Jesus’ hand, praying as He prayed, “Not my will, but Thine be done”?