Living on the Altar
In Romans 12:1, Paul invites us to become living sacrifices. Let us
read the text,
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye
present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,
which is your reasonable service."
Most animal sacrifices take place on an altar, and are too dreadful to
consider even occasionally, let alone on a daily basis. However, as
gruesome as an animal sacrifice may seem, we modern readers need to
become familiar with the Old Testament sacrificial system, as it
accurately symbolizes various aspects of Christ's death on our behalf.
The Greek word for 'sacrifice' or 'victim' is thusia: which is the
noun form. The verb form is thuo, which means to kill by fire or
immolate, slay or slaughter. In addition, the word for 'living' in
Greek is zao, it is the root word for zoe, the word used for eternal
life. However, Paul uses another word for life in relation to Sin
which is bios. To become a living sacrifice as Paul suggests, these
opposing ideas must be reconciled in our minds. A cursory reading of
Romans 12:1, 2 can elicit the question, how can we live eternally
while at the same time die daily? God's principle of living as a
sacrifice, is stated in Galatians, and says, "I am crucified with
Christ nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the
life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of
God who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).
Let us consider what this would mean if someone were the literal
sacrifice. Once on the altar, we'd hope they would stay there until
self was consumed. But unfortunately, we have all seen self rise in
those who we thought were beyond that level of selfishness, such as
when Moses struck the rock twice, or when King David took Bathsheba or
how about when Martha had anxious care and reported her sister Mary to
Jesus. Since we are to die to self daily, when we resist, others are
negatively impacted, as is obvious from our previous examples. This
reminds me of the warning Jesus gave regarding the choice to be
sacrificed, "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and
cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or
maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the
everlasting fire" (Matt. 18:8, NKJV). In other words, if self rises
through the members of your body cut them off and discard them. Jesus
was not, of course, recommending amputation, but was using imagery to
emphasize the importance of separation from sin.
Instead of self-amputation, what the Lord requires of us is
willingness to allow Him to remove objectionable selfish traits of
character, much as a surgeon would -- with skill and precision, remove
a diseased organ. Paul calls this our reasonable service.
It is through this continual process of sacrifice that our minds are
renewed, our characters transformed and we have the mind of Christ
(Romans 12:2, Eph 4:23, Phil 2:5:1:6, 1 Cor. 2:16). This renewal gives
evidence of the goodness, perfection, and Love of God, revealing His
acceptable will. All those who have gone before us have endured this
process: the patriarchs, the prophets, Christ's true followers, and
even Christ Himself (Hebrews 11). All have been living sacrifices. Of
Christ it is said," For in that he himself hath suffered being
tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18).
In other words, the very process Christ allows us to be put through,
He endured and is, therefore, our empathetic helper and comforter,
empowering us to persevere as we die daily. Paul states in Hebrew
4:15, "For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the
feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we
are, yet without sin."
The suffering Christ, who prevailed by faith, trusting to His Father's
goodness-- gained the victory on our behalf. We who are actively
watching His experience through the scripture may receive the same
victories and may have heart transformation as did those who have gone
before us. Like Isaac, we too can be willing to be placed on the
altar. Ellen White sums this up well. Let us read,
"Greater is He that is in the heart of the faithful, than he that
controls the hearts of unbelievers. Complain not bitterly of the trial
which comes upon you, but let your eyes be directed to Christ, who has
clothed His divinity with humanity, in order that we may understand
how great His interest in us is, since He has identified Himself with
suffering humanity. He tasted the cup of human sorrow, He was
afflicted in all our afflictions, He was made perfect through
suffering, tempted in all points like as humanity is tempted, in order
that He might succor those who are in temptation" (YRP 131).
The Lord is wooing, and convincing us to allow Him to change us and
thus our ways from the inside out. Unfortunately, not all answer the
call. And out of those who do, many, once on the altar grow weary and
discouraged by the length of the process. Gradually they free
themselves from that which they consider as unnecessary suffering.
But, it is not really the suffering that makes them leave: it is
instead their distrust of Christ and unwillingness to be led by the
Holy Spirit; it is unbelief. They are convinced of their need, but are
unconverted. In the history of the Israelites, it can be seen that
those who left the altar, left because they did not believe (Hebrews
3:19). They did not receive the Truth in the love of it, by faith.
Instead they had a selfish kind of love -- pretending not to see the
truth. In contrast, the Gentiles, who heard the word in faith, were
gladly sacrificed on the altar and remained there until the work was
complete. Paul warns us to be careful less we remove ourselves from
the altar as did the Jews. Let us read the warning in Hebrews 3:12,
"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of
unbelief, in departing from the living God."
The question to us is, will we trust Jesus enough to remain on the
altar? When the sacrifice of an animal took place, it was bound so
that it would not flee. It had no choice in the matter. Contrast this
with the willingness of our forefather Isaac, who allowed himself to
be bound to the altar, and of Jesus Himself who was nailed to His
cross. In light of this, will we allow the Lord to will in us to will
and to do of His good pleasure?