Spiritual Sacrifices

Sacrifice doesn’t seem like a beautiful word. It conjures up images of animals, blood, and altars, or it makes us think of something we should give up that we don’t want to.

Definition.org has this as one meaning of sacrifice: “Forfeiture of something highly valued for the sake of one considered to have a greater value or claim.”

On the one hand I think of the sacrifices God made for us. Think of the trouble humanity has cost Him on an everyday basis for millennia. Yet He created us and He desires our fellowship. Amazing! And because He does, He sent only begotten sinless Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to lay down His life and take on Himself our sin and the just punishment we deserved. Jesus, in full agreement and in full submission to His Father, willingly surrendered, sacrificed His life for us. If we repent of our sin and believe on Him, we can be saved, cleansed, forgiven, and made His own children. In addition, we have a home waiting for us in heaven and His grace, presence, and help here and now. We don’t merit that forgiveness and salvation by any kind of sacrifice we make: there’s nothing we could ever do that would be enough to earn it. It’s a free gift based on His sacrifice.

In His example, though, I think the definition doesn’t fit in the sense of surrendering something highly valuable for something of more value. We are certainly not of more value than God’s Son. But He did love us enough to give His greatest treasure for our redemption.

In light of that, any kind of sacrifice we might make for Him pales in comparison. I’ve known of dear folks who echo David Livingstone’s sentiments:

People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink, but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in, and for, us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which HE made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us. (Speech to students at Cambridge University, December 4, 1857)

I get what he’s saying. Jesus did so much for us, and we don’t appreciate it nearly enough. We should be so filled with love and gratitude that we can’t help giving back to Him.

And yet—the Bible calls us to sacrifice to God and acknowledges the high cost. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But God calls us to other kinds of sacrifice.

You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:5

What kind of spiritual sacrifices are we to make?

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17

Even in Old Testament times, the sacrifices which were a picture of the coming perfect Sacrifice could be an empty ritual if one’s heart was not broken and contrite before God. I think this is the first sacrifice: our pride, our stubborn clinging to our “own” way, our laying aside of anything in our lives that is not pleasing to God. It’s also a continual sacrifice as we walk daily with the Lord, read His Word, grow in Him, and become more aware of how much that desire for our “own” way is ingrained in our thinking.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

Not just our broken spirit and heart, but even our bodies are to be surrendered to Him. He reminds us that this is only our reasonable service in light of God’s mercies to us.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Hebrews 13:15

I’ve wondered why our praise to God would be called a sacrifice: perhaps because we have to get our attention off ourselves and our concerns.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:16

Some years back my husband commented on the honesty of this verse, acknowledging that it does cost us something to do good to others.

I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4:18

This and the previous verse indicate that sometimes those spiritual sacrifices manifest themselves in meeting physical needs. Paul’s response to the Philippians’ sacrifice shows forth some of the beauty of a sacrifice given and received.

Several years ago, my husband took our youngest son out to shop for my birthday. My son was excited about perhaps buying a little something for himself after getting Mom’s present. As my son chose the item he wanted to purchase for me, my husband told him that item would take all the money he had. It took my son a few moments to process the realization that if he bought that gift for me, he wouldn’t be able to buy anything for himself. Finally, though a little teary, he decided to go ahead with the purchase. I can’t tell you how that touched my heart to realize that he denied himself to do something special for me.

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Philippians 2:17

Paul was willing for his life to be poured out in ministry to others.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2

Even more than Paul, Christ is our example of walking in love and giving oneself.

It’s okay to call a sacrifice a sacrifice. The Bible does. It’s even okay to say it hurts. Jesus agonized in the garden of Gethsemane. Hebrews 12:1-2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We can look ahead, too, to the time when every sacrifice will fade away for joy.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Often, what makes a sacrifice seem hard is the struggle to give up what we think is ours: our time, our schedule, our goods, our lives. But as David prayed after the people of Israel offered the things needed for the building of the temple, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14). If we remember that anything we have is not our own but was given to us by God in the first place, and if we meditate on His mercies and all He has done for us, it doesn’t seem so hard then to surrender it back to Him. Back to our definition, whatever the value of what we sacrifice, it pales in comparison to the worth of the One to whom we are sacrificing.

The beauty of sacrifice is the humble surrender to God of what He freely gave us, in response to His great love and mercy, for use in His service in a life of love and ministry to others, which He regards as wellpleasing, as a “sweetsmelling savour.”

The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! Psalm 118:27

(Revised from the archives)

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26 thoughts on “Spiritual Sacrifices

  1. Beautiful post, Barbara. I will have to think about the part where you call for a CONTINUOUS sacrifice. That is so true. A broken and contrite heart should not be a one-time thing. It should be an all-the-time thing. I loved the quote by David Livingstone. I had no idea he was so devout. Thank you for sharing.

    • I think that’s one thing that makes sacrifice so hard–the fact that we have to renew it, or wrestle with ourselves over the same thing so often. I was just telling a friend that I wished I could just have it out over one particular issue and have it settled for all time. But I guess this way keeps us more dependent on the Lord.

  2. I’m probably guilty of not sacrificing enough time to spend in Bible reading and prayer and communing with God. That scripture is a good reminder to be more in tune to sacrificing because as it says, he sacrificed so much for us. Happy Sunday.

  3. Beautiful and wise teaching. I like what you said about it being okay for us to call our sacrifice a sacrifice. What I sacrifice may not seem like a big deal to someone else, but it represents something to me, and just like your son who gave up his own treat to bless you, my “little bit” touches God’s heart. Thank you for sharing this encouragement and challenge at Scripture and a Snapshot.

    • Thank you, Kym. That’s true–what may seem like a major sacrifice for one may be different for another. God knows our hearts and knows just what areas need work to surrender them to Him.

  4. Really helpful thoughts here! Like your husband, I’m comforted to think that God notices our “sacrifice” — even if it pales in comparison with God’s sacrifices — in helping others or doing other similar things.

  5. Praise be to God for sending His beloved Son. This is such a tremendous sacrifice and I’ve never been fully able to comprehend the cost or get my hands around His plan.

    Where would we be without Jesus. Praise Father, Son, and Spirit …

  6. That sweet story about your son…
    If my sacrifice to God were a true pouring out, I wouldn’t be so conflicted about the things that often get in my way.

  7. Barbara, this is just a beautiful and humbling post which has blessed me immensely this morning. We truly don’t think about sacrificing as much as we should. May the Lord work in my heart to make me more willing to do and give to others as He compels. He gave freely and fully to me (to us), and may He transform my heart so I do the same. For some reason, your post now has me humming “I have decided to follow Jesus …”

    • Thanks so much, Joanne. I have to remind myself that, not only do I have no right to hand onto things when they are His in the first place, but He can do much better with them than I can.

  8. This is so beautiful and insightful, thank you. I had not thought of all those types of sacrifices- particularly the sacrifice of praise. The story about your son is also precious, what a blessing and great illustration.

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  10. Thanks for this encouraging and thought-provoking post! I love the way you speak about the right motivation of our hearts that makes our spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God.

  11. Though provoking post, that we can acknowledge our ‘sacrifices’ and pray for that day when we too will accept our privilege – I loved the David Livingston quote, so challenging.

  12. Your post is really good and a pointedly heart-opening one for me. Sacrifice can make me run. But I do not want to. I want to be obedient and follow the will of God, whatever that may be…one day at a time, or years upon end. I was thinking about Elisabeth Elliott and the sacrifices her husband and the other men made in the jungles, and then what Elisabeth made to return after her husband was killed by the same people she was returning to. WOW! But I do not have to follow in her footsteps for God calls me individually. Will be pondering this more.

  13. A fine post and a heart-opening one for me. Sacrifice can make me run or want to yet I think about Elisabeth Elliot in the jungle after her husband had been killed by the same people she was not ministering to. WOW! I want to hear God’s call for my life, whether for one day or years on end…whatever He desires for me. I want to grow in the Lord and sacrifice is the way we grow most often. Thanks for this today. I will be pondering this more.

  14. Great blog post on spiritual sacrifices! I especially appreciate, “The beauty of sacrifice is the humble surrender to God of what He freely gave us, in response to His great love and mercy, for use in His service in a life of love and ministry to others, which He regards as well pleasing, as a ‘sweet smelling savour.’”

  15. I have to remind myself that keeping God first in my priorities is a continually sacrifice of fleshly desires. I am a servant of the Lord and I have learned the hard way-it requires a constant surrender to His authority. It is a sacrifice of all I am—He gave His all for me. How humbling.

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