|Vol. 13 No. 3 March 2011||
Adam B. Cozort
One of the central principles of the entire Bible is sacrifice. It is the foundation upon which all service and godliness is built and fastened. Nevertheless, many people have many different ideas about what sacrifice is and what role it plays in the lives of the servants of God. Some define sacrifice as being forced to do something you do not want or prefer to do. Others will define sacrifice, as it is seen in the Scriptures, as nothing more than a biblical description of ancient cruelty to animals. The true significance and purpose to be found in sacrifice is utterly lost in such concepts. Therefore, it is worth our time and effort to understand what it means to sacrifice, and how the Bible uses this particular concept.
The term “sacrifice” is used over two hundred times in the Bible. Though the majority of the passages are found in the Old Testament, there are twenty-four uses of the term in the New Testament as well. Webster defines this word as:
the offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage; the person, animal, or thing so offered; the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim; to surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.
It is obvious that there are a number of different ways this word can be used. By the same token, the Bible uses the principle of sacrifice in multiple ways as well. As one considers the term in question, the definitions given fit perfectly with the use of biblical sacrifice.
“The offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage.” This is a summation of the sacrifices offered under the Old Testament laws. The offerings of the blood of animals on altars, though they could not remit sins, did have the power to roll the sins of man forward to the time when the ultimate sacrifice could be made for man in the person of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:1-13; 10:2-4). These things were commanded by God in preparation for the coming of Christ and as a method of bringing man to obedience to the will of God.
“To surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.” This is precisely the sort of sacrifice Christ made for mankind. Jesus Christ, the Word, the Son of God, permitted His life to be surrendered and sacrificed for us. It was not because of any wrong that He had done, or any desire He had to know what death was like, but in order to save His own creation (Colossians 1:13-18). The sacrifice of Jesus was an act of selflessness unlike any that ever has, or ever will be, seen on the face of this earth. The Hebrews writer explains to us that this was the only way by which man could receive redemption (Hebrews 9:23-28). Therefore, Christ permitted His body to be crucified to the cross of Calvary for our sins.
“The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” This is the type of sacrifice God requires of us today. If we are to be acceptable in the sight of God, we must be willing to surrender and destroy the things that hold us within the grasp of worldly devices, and look toward that greater goal of Heaven (Romans 12:1-2; Titus 2:11-12; Hebrews 12:1-2). Only by doing so can we take advantage of the blood of Christ, which was offered on our behalf.
Our understanding of the principles of sacrifice as laid forth both in definition and practice can only serve to strengthen our ability to serve our Lord. However, we must be willing to put into practice the principles of sacrifice in our lives, lest we make the sacrifice of God of no effect in our regard.
I was reading an article this past week that offered these statistics. “83% of Americans say the Bible is important for their lives, and for those inside the church only 16% say they read the Bible every day. 32% say they read it at least once a week, and only 37% say that Bible reading and study have made a difference in the way they live their lives.”
Each year this congregation emphasizes spending time in the Bible each day. There is a reason for this. We need its guidance and instruction and direction to be faithful in every day Christian living. Whether we realize it or not, we’re receiving input from all kinds of sources, which shapes our consciences and directs the motives of our hearts. It may be from family or friend’s advice. It may be from reading newspapers or magazines. It may be from watching television or spending time on the Internet. It may be from our coworkers. It can come from all kinds of sources, but we are being influenced as to what to think and how to live. Shouldn’t we let our Creator help guide us in His way for life, the way that leads to eternal life?
I believe one reason there are so many problems in people’s lives anymore is that we no longer know how God wants us to live – we no longer understand right from wrong. We choose a course of life based on worldly examples and our own desires, and conclude if we want it, so does God. Such is not true, of course. The Psalmist reminds us, “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105). It alone is God breathed, and able to make us “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It can penetrate deep into our hearts and being (Hebrews 4:12), revealing like looking into a mirror our needs and how to put our lives in the will of God (James 1:23-25). We must, as the Psalmist states, store up the Word of God in our hearts so we might not sin (119:11).
We can’t do this, however, if we don’t spend any time in it. While the beginning of a new year is always a good time to commit ourselves to daily Bible reading, any time is the right time to start. In the book Read the Bible for Life, J.C. Ryle writes:
Begin reading your Bible this very day. The way to do a thing is to do it, and the way to read the Bible is actually to read it. It is not meaning to, or wishing, or resolving, or intending, or thinking about it; that will not advance you one step. You must positively read. If you can’t read yourself, you must persuade somebody else to read to you. But one way or another, through eyes or ears, the words of Scripture must actually pass before your mind.
Most Christians revere Scripture, but for it to accomplish God’s purposes in us, it must be read, meditated on and applied to one’s lifestyle. Turn off the television, the video game, the phone, whatever is a distraction and start spending time with God, speaking to you through Scripture. Your life will be blessed! “The instruction of his God is in his heart; his steps do not falter” (Psalm 37:31).