God needs living sacrifices. God needs us. But here is the problem with a living sacrifice: I can easily crawl back off the altar again.
~Shiny Gods, Mike Slaughter
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice — the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2, New Living Translation)
The ancient Israelite sacrificial system played a major role throughout the Bible. Sacrifices were not uncommon in the ancient world. I don’t know this directly, but I’m fairly confident most ancient religious practices included some sort of sacrifice. The Israelites probably have one of the most extensive systems that we still know about to this day in large part because of its preservation in what Christians call the Old Testament.
It’s the foundation for a Christian understanding of the cross. If we don’t understand the sacrificial system, then the cross makes even less sense than it already does.
Jesus is often described in terms of his role in replacing this system. John the Baptist calls him the Lamb of God. Jesus himself speaks of giving his life as a ransom. The author of Hebrews also points to Jesus as a better (and final) sacrifice than what has been offered before.
We could look at this and talk about how barbaric the practice is when compared to our modern sensibilities. Certainly, the idea of animal sacrifice seems like an awful one in today’s society. (Although, let’s be honest, we still kill all the animals; we just don’t claim it’s for religious reasons… usually. Just imagine the number of grills that were fired up for this weekend in the United States alone.)
But here’s the thing that we need to not miss: Scripture still calls us to sacrifice. But, as Paul says in Romans 12, God is looking for a living sacrifice. What does that mean?
Being a living sacrifice is about giving our all. It’s about total commitment. It’s about living for something bigger than ourselves. That’s something we can understand. That’s something we can get behind. Isn’t it?
So, when we are called to be living sacrifices, it’s a call to stay up on the altar. There may be times when it’s a challenge. There may be times when it is too difficult. But we need to stay up there. A sacrifice should cost us something. Otherwise, it’s not much of a sacrifice.
When things get hard in your life of faith, what are you going to do? Are you going to work through the difficulty? Are you going to stay on the altar? In doing so, we find and fulfill our purpose, and do our part to make the world a better place.