A good worship pastor will be quick to tell you that worship is more than music. Music is the part we see on Sunday mornings, but there is a much deeper aspect to worship that runs throughout our lives every day of the week. In Romans 12:1-2, Paul addresses “true and proper worship,” and it has nothing to do with singing:
12 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. (NIV)
Paul’s oxymoron “living sacrifice” is a profound statement which initially appears to be contradictory and is incredibly profound. A sacrifice is something that is given up, or from the historical context in which Paul is writing, an animal that is killed as an act of temple worship. The word “sacrifice” carries a connotation of death and of blood atonement, so for Paul to tell us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice is an astonishing concept.
This is why Paul says that we do this “in view of God’s mercy.” It is because of God’s great mercy that we are free to accept the forgiveness of God and live a life in Christ. It is because of His mercy that we can trust Him and because of His mercy that we can be certain He is faithful as we follow Him. This represents a shift in thinking from an Old Covenant and it’s requirements of regular animal sacrifice that never completely cover our sin, to a New Covenant built on the all-encompassing-once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that completely and forever covers our sin, and His resurrection to new life that holds a promise of our own eternal life with Him.
Jesus references the idea of a living sacrifice on several occasions:
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:35
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10
The beautiful thing is that when we seek to become a living sacrifice, we not only engage in true worship, but we find a life deeper, richer, and more fulfilling than anything else we could imagine.
We become a living sacrifice by starting each day in the Word and in prayer.
We become a living sacrifice when we offer all that we are to God’s service, no matter the cost.
We become a living sacrifice when we base our decisions on Godly counsel and not worldy wisdom.
We become a living sacrifice when we approach encounters with all people in grace and truth, not in fear and doubt.
We become a living sacrifice when we strive to be the hands and feet of Christ in a lost and hurting world.
We become a living sacrifice when we make difficult decisions to do things the right way and not take shortcuts.
We become a living sacrifice when we place the needs of others above our own.
We become a living sacrifice when we smile at people we don’t know in a society where smiles are hard to find.
We become a living sacrifice when we love others in spite of their politics.
We become a living sacrifice when we suffer for doing good, but do it anyway, even if no one else knows why we do it.
We become a living sacrifice when, over time, our first response to situations is a Godly response.
Being a sacrifice is not easy, and it was never meant to be. In fact, it is likely to be uncomfortable.
When we strive to become a living sacrifice, we echo the words of Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”.
As we lead our teams and our congregations in worship, may we do so from a place of sacrifice and submission.