Crawling Off the Altar

Present Your Body as a Living Sacrifice | Listen to the Audio Version

"Therefore, I urge you, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship" Romans 12:1.

What images come to mind when you read this verse? The Apostle Paul, who wrote the book of Romans, understood the cost of sacrifice—to him it meant the death of sheep, bulls and goats, and then ultimately of Jesus. But in this verse, God calls his children to present their bodies, their lives, as living sacrifices. Paul compares "dead temple sacrifices" to the "living sacrifices" made by believers who are willing to deny self (our own wants, needs, and desires), instead choosing, "Thy will be done on earth," and really meaning it. The problem with a living sacrifice as opposed to a dead one, however, is that it can crawl off the altar!

What do I mean? Well, when troubles arise, and worry and fear consume us, we may forget to trust God, and crawl off. When our plans don't succeed, and we question God's faithfulness, we might crawl off. When the disappointments of life cause us to doubt God's love, we may crawl off! There are myriad examples of unbelief that result in our crawling off the altar!

So how do we do it? How do we present our lives as living sacrifices, and stay put?

Romans 12:1 begins with the word, therefore, which refers to all that Paul wrote about in the first eleven chapters of Romans. In them we learn the reason as to why we should present our lives on God's altar: in view of God's mercy, considering all that God has done for us, having once been objects of his wrath, God in this present evil age, shows his mercy to humankind—Jews and Gentiles. Paul ends chapter 11 with a prayer of praise that expresses his uncontained gratitude for God's mercy, 

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
'Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?'
'Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?'
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Having sent up his praise offering, Paul begins chapter 12 saying, therefore, because of all that I've stated regarding God's mercy, we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, it's our spiritual act of worship, it's the least we can do in light of what Christ has done for us!

Paul then cautions the believer saying, do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be able to test and approve what God's will ishis good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2.

The Greek word for "conform" has its root in the word "scheme," as in a plan, method, or system. So this verse means we are not to allow this world to force us to think and behave according to its plans and methods.

But how do we do this? There are no shortcuts; it requires self-denial—in other words, not doing what comes naturally, but intentionally doing what will help us overcome our natural, sinful tendencies. By making time in our lives for disciplined prayer and reading and meditating on God's word, we are transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit into God's heavenly pattern. 

Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done" Matthew 16:24-27.

Jesus didn't receive his crown of glory without first going to the cross. In the same way, we cannot receive our crowns without taking up our cross and following our Master. Jesus presented his body as the final sacrifice—he laid down his life by dying on the cross. He took the punishment we deserve for sinning against God. He was then raised from the dead, overcoming death, so we could live with him in eternity!

Since God has done this for us, how can we ever doubt his love? How can we doubt his perfect plan? If we truly believe what God has done, then we need not fear, worry, or doubt his care over our lives. His plan is perfect. What a privilege it is to present our bodies as living sacrifices; it truly is our reasonable service! 

As we present our bodies, we can also remember Jesus' promise in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest . . . For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." 

Friends, our burdens only become unbearably heavy when we crawl off the altar and try to carry them alone. 

"Dear Lord, I pray that you would grant me a faith that cannot be shaken. Help me to lay my life willingly on the altar of God, and stay put! Amen."

Copyright 2012 Sarah Keith -
Photo credit: Zac Durant

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