At first glance it may seem that it's unfair for God to ask us to live our entire lives as sacrifices to him. But that's because we're not seeing things in view of his mercy. The unfairness isn't that we have to serve God - that's an honour and a rich blessing, and we should get more joy from serving God then from our sin. The unfair exchange is that Jesus, who is God, all powerful and eternally perfect, holy, pure, just, loving and merciful, the creator and sustainer of everything in existence, came and died for us. Jesus, who had been in fellowship with God the father and the Holy Spirit eternally, came to earth, took our sin and God's wrath (that we rightfully should suffer for eternity) so that we could be forgiven. Then he rose again from the dead to prove it.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
We cannot fathom what it was that Jesus gave up for us. We don't deserve it. We don't deserve any part of it - we are wretched sinners who hated and rejected God by living in sin. Yet he sent Jesus to save us.
Paul is telling us that we should live as sacrifices to God In view of that mercy. In view of the infinite sacrifice God made for us. When we see how much Jesus did for us, anything we can offer can never compete. That's why we could never save ourselves. If Jesus hadn't died for us, we would still be spiritually dead, living in sin. Because he saved our lives, bringing us to life, it makes sense that we should use that life to glorify and honour him alone.
Living as a sacrifice
In the Old Testament most of the sacrifices had one of two jobs. Some were given to pay for sin - those were fulfilled by jesus on the cross since he is the ultimate sacrifice for sin. The others were given in praise of God. Without doing any extra research on it, I thin that's what Paul is getting at - we need to live our lives as sacrifices in thankfulness of what he has done and in praise of who he is.
But what does this look like?
- Putting God first. That's the first commandment, and it's the one we struggle with most. It's so easy to slip into idolatry, to put other things before God without even realising. For me it's usually fear of man or love of friends that gets in the way. The desire for approval. For others it can be money or health or a wide range of other things
- Obeying God and giving up sin. We are sinful and we desire to sin. Instead of living that way, when we are saved we need to repent and give up sin. Jesus died to rescue us from slavery in sin, it is stupid to go back to it if you've turned to him. Obeying God glorifies him because it is us being in line with his character. He is the definition of perfection, and when we obey his laws we are acting in line with who he is. Paul says we are to be "holy and pleasing to God" - that means not sinful, since sin can never please God. Holiness means separate, and if we are to be separate from sin we need to give it up completely.
- Spending time praising God. It's easy to focus all our energy on doing the right things, but what God actually cares about is our hearts. He doesn't want us to be legalistic, he wants us to genuinely love him and submit to him out of that love. So, we need to spend time just in praise of God, rejoicing in who he is and what he has done - for us, for his people throughout history, and for his general mercies. That's what true worship is - not just lip service or obeying rules. Genuine praise form the heart, and the result of that is obedience.
I don't know about what this verse sounds like in the Greek, but in English the translators have said: "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice". Notice that it goes from plural (your bodies) to singular (a living sacrifice). We need to collectively as God's church throughout the world and as his people in a certain place work together to live as sacrifices for him. We need to spend time with friends and family who love God, being honest with each other, loving and helping each other, encouraging and rebuking each other, praying and looking at God's word together. If we are "brothers and sisters", adopted as God's children then we need to act like a family - we need to be deeply concerned for each other and to look after the needs of those around us. We need to deeply love each other, even loving those who we don't get on with easily (thats hard to do!)
I came to God's word this morning feeling tired and quite unmotivated to read it. Nevertheless God is faithful and he reminded me that I need to give it all to him. Are we willing to live our entire lives as sacrifices for God? Even when we don't feel like it?
God deserves and demands our everything - are we willing to give it?