“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational [logical, intelligent] act of worship. And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].” (Romans 12:1-2 AMP)
In Christendom, there are two ways to look at being a living sacrifice.
In one view, a person who seeks this kind of life must be a special (unusual) person, who is called to a monastic life. In that view, being a living sacrifice is something that only a select few people among the host of believers will be called to do. For example, the Roman Catholic Church makes this living sacrifice an official designation, and calls it the “Consecrated Life”. It is described as “a stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to his honour, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory.” (1) The idea given here is to leave the daily grind and live a cloistered life which is solely dedicated to focusing on worshiping and serving God, day in and day out.
Another view of this living sacrifice comes out of a less official vocational designation and more as the calling on all believers to live lives that are consecrated right where they live: ‘in the world but not of the world’. This concept is given by Jesus himself in a prayer to the Father just before His crucifixion:
“I have given them Your word [the message You gave Me]; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world and do not belong to the world, just as I am not of the world and do not belong to it.” (John 17:14-15 AMP)
In. Not Of. Living Sacrifices. So which is it? Is it truly a special job of only certain believers, or is it something every believer is supposed to be?
I think the answer is Yes.
Whether or not a person enters into a Monastary or lives on Main Street, there is a tug on the heart to go deeper in relationship with God. Sadly only few will recognize, and fewer still will respond positively to, this tug. That’s because this tug on the heart says, “Sacrifice yourself to Me”. It calls,
“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33 NIV)
“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV)
And most people who just read those verses will think to themselves, ‘Oh. I can’t do that. I have a job and kids and a mortgage. I can’t just leave all that and walk away to focus on God all day.’
Totally, I get you. Not everyone is called to be a pastor, reverend, nun or priest. But an official job description isn’t only what we’re talking about here.
Let’s take a fresh look at Romans 12:1. It says that this sacrificial living style is your rational [logical, intelligent] act of worship. So purifying your life is rational, logical, and intelligent. And verse 2 tells you specifically what to sacrifice, what to purify yourself from: the superficial values and customs of the culture around you.
Can you have a job and kids and a mortgage and live a purified life from superficial values and cultural customs? Of course you can. Is it easy? Of course not! That’s why it’s called sacrifice. No pain, no gain. There is a cost that must be accounted for.
That cost is the active pursuit of the renewing of your mind. A transformation. A spiritual metamorphosis. A process of rationally, intelligently, persistently, progressively being changed, in how you think and your attitudes and the deepest subconscious motivations of your heart and mind and will and emotions.
What it is not, is a solely outward religion, a conforming to a set of ‘rules to live by’. That’s putting the cart before the horse. Only an inner transformation – metamorphosis – will result in the ability to live that set of rules without hypocrisy. Eventually ‘fake it til you make it’ falls apart when it comes to spiritual disciplines. If you doubt me, the nightly news is frequently filled with top stories of how those who profess Christ as Lord have fallen far from the standard of ethical behavior He set for us.
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.” (Matthew 15:8 AMP)
So let’s get down to the How-To section.
if God wants our hearts to be consecrated, set apart, what does He want, exactly? The synonym for consecrate is sanctify. An old fashioned word, it means to make holy, to set apart for specific worship-related purpose. Like a school uniform for your kid is just for school; they don’t wear it as play clothes. A wedding dress is for a wedding, not a church picnic. Those garments are set apart for a specific purpose. This is like that.
The antonym for consecrate, by the way, is desecrate. Think about that in terms of your daily life. I hope that helps make you feel uncomfortable. You’re welcome.
But if you still aren’t uncomfortable: if you’re a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit living within you. You are His home. So if that’s the case, is He with you when you are watching pornography? When you are listening to that favorite song that talks so excitedly about illicit sex and drunken partying and recreational drug use? When you are yelling at your child to shut the f- up? When you are tailgating someone in the fast lane on the freeway and when they move over, you’re honking at them as you scream past, 15 miles per hour over the speed limit?
Now do you see why having a renewed mind is so crucial? The Holy Spirit isn’t pleased with these activities, which are just outward manifestations of a heart that is desecrated by the superficial values and customs of the culture around you.
If you think I’m standing behind a holier-than-thou pulpit wagging my finger, let me set that straight. I had a come-to-Jesus moment about my entertainment choices recently. I love whodunit shows. I love Netflix. I love binge watching Netflix. I also love binge watching shows on Amazon Prime Video. I love network TV. And I have a job where I am free to watch TV all day, every day. I also love most styles of music, but disco has been a favorite since I was a kid. My very first ever record album that I owned was Saturday Night Fever.
And the Holy Spirit wasn’t pleased with the things that occupied my thought life. The bits and pieces of songs that get stuck in my head and play in the background when I’m brushing my teeth; the thoughts and deeds and plots of characters in my crime dramas. The flotsam and jetsam that would float to the surface of my subconscious mind in moments of idle thought.
In studying Romans 12:1-2, the Holy Spirit convicted me about consecration and desecration and what these meant in terms of living sacrifice. It meant I would need to sacrifice things I loved in order to obtain something I needed to love more: His Presence.
Lord, this consecration and becoming a living sacrifice is hard. You know how hard it is (and how much harder it was for You). You knew we couldn’t do it without Your help, so you sent the Holy Spirit, to dwell in us. Holy Spirit, I apologize for disappointing You, all the times I’ve desecrated Your living space within me, with giving priority to my selfish desires. I don’t mean to show a low opinion of You by giving you cheap digs. Help me to surrender all that I am, to work toward that progressive transformation, both in soul first and body second. Help me to have the desire and the will to clean this place up so that my heart and mind are a beautiful living space, that is not only inviting for You to live in, but that others would also find it an inspiring and inviting place to visit. Jesus, in Your name I pray. Amen.