We may, at times, be called upon to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to defend the innocent from such threats. But even in this case, as Christians, we are not to do so out of hate or revenge.
To be a Christian in the world is not easy. To merely say that we are Christian is not enough. That is what Paul is telling the Romans here. Since the Incarnation of Christ marks the end of the Mosaic law as the primary source of guidance for the People of God, Paul, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is giving the Roman converts instructions here in Romans chapter 12 (we should read the entire chapter) on how they must conduct themselves toward one another in light of the Incarnational gift of Christ.
Under the Mosaic laws very specific instructions were given on the question of sacrifices and other religious observances. But Paul gives us an entirely new sense of the kind of sacrifices God wants of us. And our model of this new kind of sacrifice is Jesus Christ. Paul tells us, “…in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this [now] is your spiritual worship.” This, clearly, is a new way of thinking. The key phrase in this verse is “living sacrifices.” This statement has powerful implications on many levels for us today. Though most of us will not be required to die for our faith today, there are many of our fellow Christians from Christian communities as old as the early Church in the Middle East and as young as those in Africa who are dying today for their Christian beliefs. We pray earnestly for our suffering, fellow Christian brothers and sisters at this time. We may, at times, be called upon to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to defend the innocent from such threats. But even in this case, as Christians, we are not to do so out of hate or revenge. As a combat veteran I know how difficult this is. In imitation of Christ, though, we are challenged to do something even more difficult; that requires even more courage and faith. We are called by Jesus to pray for a conversion of heart in those who are currently persecuting Christians, with perverse irony, “in the name of God.” For, blinded by evil counselors, “they know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Woe! Talk about a “living sacrifice!” This is very difficult. But as Christians, this is the kind of living sacrifice we are called to by Jesus Christ. As hard as this is, we can do it, because it is what Jesus did for all of us as sinners. God is with us. Because Jesus made his body a living sacrifice for all of us, neither sin, nor death has power over us any longer. Talk about real power! To forgive in this way is truly a “living sacrifice” that is full of that divine power of love. We are not talking about love in the shallow sense of Hollywood, or Hallmark Cards here. We are talking about the radical love that is of God. “God IS love.” (1John 4:7-21) What power on earth could be greater than that?
As Christians in the world today, we are also to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God both in our personal conduct and in our communal conduct as the Church, the Body of Christ on earth. We are to do this by serving those who are needy, or abandoned, or lost, in our families, in our Church communities, in our neighborhoods, and in our society in general. We are to use our bodies in conjunction with our minds and our wills, as instruments for peace, justice, healing, nurture and care, rather than as instruments for abuse, or as a means to do harm in any way. We are to “sacrifice” our time, our energy, and our God-given talents in service of those who are hungry, thirsty, ill, or imprisoned. (Matthew 25:34-44) As Christians, we can never ignore, or forget that Jesus calls us to do as he did. (John 13:15) We know only too well that none of this is easy. Indeed, in its own ways, this kind of “living sacrifice” is harder than that of martyrdom, which for all of its obvious terror, is over shortly. The kind of sacrifice Paul is talking about here requires us to sacrifice our all, whenever called upon, over the length of our entire lives, however long they may be. You see, according to The Way instituted by Christ, our sacrifices are not to be done to satisfy some codified law on certain occasions during the year. Our “sacrifices” are to be a daily self-giving in light of our justification by faith.
As Christians we are called to sacrifice our egos on the altar of loving service. We can not fully understand ourselves as Christians until our justification by faith moves us to love all of God’s children in the manner that Jesus loved us. To live the Christian life is to live the life of Christ. To be Christian in the fullest sense of that word, we must let go of our false needs for immediate self-gratification, so that we can clearly “see” and respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters, indeed, even our enemies. This is the kind of living sacrifice that the Father calls us to in Jesus. How better to express our faith in, and our love for God than, when called upon, to sacrifice our all for Him.
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