I’ve been thinking lately about the concept of sacrifice. What does it really mean? Does God really require it from Christians? The same kind of sacrifice from everyone, or are we each, in turn, asked to surrender parts of ourselves that are unique to us? This, of course, stems from the conviction I received about four months ago from (I believe) God that I should prepare for a future wife. It’s only been four months and it feels like it’s been a hundred years already. I can’t imagine what it will be like if I’m asked to spend another four months with this unsettled feeling inside of me, having given up several things in the process of trying to obey and surrender to his will.
So, let’s dig into the sacrificial nature of obedience to Christ….
Examples in the Bible
Abraham is a go to example of a quite literal sacrifice that was stopped by God just seconds before the deed was done. I have to say, it’s a little disconcerting that our God is not above such “testings” to make sure we will be faithful. But, we must take God as he is rather than form him into our own image and our own likeness. He is a violent God, a jealous God, and in Genesis 22 he does, indeed, test Abraham to see if he would obey God even to the point of killing his only (at this point) son, the son through which God had promised to bless the entire world through his seed. As Dr. Missler often points out, this was Abraham’s task, to trust God implicitly. He had a singular job to perform and the rest, the fallout afterward, that would have to be God’s job. After all, it was God who was doing the asking. It was God who had made the promise in the first place. And that is the severity of the faith we are to have for God. As Jesus said, “he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. He who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37-38). The obedience required of Abraham was simply one example of the kind of sacrifice required.
Paul is also an example for us, a man who by his own words had the kind of life that most people could only dream of, before he was saved. Yet, he “counted it all as loss for Christ, for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:7-8).
Going all the way back to the beginning, we find two brothers, Cain and Abel, giving offerings to God. How or why they decided to do this is unclear. We don’t have an account of God telling them to offer sacrifices or how those sacrifices were to be conducted. But in Genesis 4 we have Abel as a shepherd and Cain a farmer, and the two brought “offerings” to God. This is really the basis for our understanding of sacrificing something for God and it played out throughout the OT and was eventually perverted in the animal sacrifices as “the” thing that forgave the people their sins rather than the symbol for which it stood for – the forgiveness of sin by God.
In this account we see Cain bringing “fruit of the ground” and Abel bringing “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.” Yet, despite Abel’s sacrifice being accepted by God, Cain’s was not and this ultimately led to Cain killing his brother. But, the reason God rejected Cain’s offering is not because it was vegetables instead of meat. It was not because Cain performed a ceremony improperly. It was an issue that his sacrifice reflected from his heart, which is something God considered with every sacrifice we make as well. In the Masoretic Hebrew (most English Bibles), we see God’s explanation, “Why are you angry?…If you do well, will you not be accepted? If you do not do well, sin lies at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you shall rule over it.” This gives us some information, but not really anything useful to explain what was wrong with Cain’s sacrifice. But, if we turn to the LXX we find that same verse translated a bit differently, “Have you not sinned if you offer rightly but do not divide rightly?”
Notice back in the actual verse describing their sacrifices. Cain brought an offering of “the fruit of the ground” but Abel brought “the firstborn and the fat.”
If we step back we can see from these three examples one thing that God wants above all else if we offer sacrifices to him. He wants it to be the very best we have to offer. He doesn’t not want the leftovers. He does not want us to provide for ourselves, for our families, for our passions, for our careers, and then maybe think about something for God. He wants to be considered first before everything else in our lives. Not third. Not fifth. And certainly not last, which is what we so often do.
What I’m Sacrificing
Over the last several months, things have shifted in my life. It’s one of the reasons I decided to write a post on sacrifice, as it dawned on me one day that God has actually asked quite a bit from me over the years. But, I’m not complaining. Despite the things God has asked me to give up, the things he’s asked me to sacrifice, I’m all the better for in the blessings he’s poured out.
In the very beginning of my walk with God, he asked me to sacrifice my belief in another religion, in the path I was on to escape the carnage of this ill-gotten world. When I least expected it, he took from me the one joy I had in my life – the ability and peace I receive from meditation – as well as my enjoyment from and desire to pursue the martial arts.
God later asked me to sacrifice my worldly life, which was actually rather easy to do. Later I would look back and realize that much of my adult life since then has been a monastic one. I have been single for most of the 30 years since. For the briefest of those years I was married, but that relationship was so fraught with difficulty and emotional trauma and turmoil I might as well have been single throughout it.
This is not to say that I have not had opportunities to marry or pursue relationships since my divorce. Actually, there have been a handful of women who have come in and out of my life over the years that showed varying levels of interest in me. Some quite brazenly so. But for many of those years I had little to no interest in marriage or relationships. And now that I’m convinced that God has given me a heart for marriage again (with no foreseeable catalyst in front of me), I wonder if my sacrifice of marriage or relationship during those intervening years were truly a sacrifice or a defense mechanism.
Regardless the underlining motive, what I did in response to the sacrifice was devote myself to a deeper relationship with God. I devoted my time, my energies, my resources to pursing God rather than physical gratification. I could have, instead, just as easily sought after superfluous physical dalliances with strangers. I could have responded to those women who initiated interest (a few of them I was particularly attracted to). If my absence was out of past pain or a fear of future relationship risk, I could have just as easily started vacationing in Nevada and frequented brothels, or risked my livelihood, reputation, and maybe even my freedom and frequented escorts or prostitutes in my own state (which are illegal). These were all options and it is disingenuous to say they are not temptations. There are temptations everywhere I look in this world today. We don’t really have billboards anymore, but we do have internet ads and it’s hard to go anywhere on the internet without seeing a thinly clad woman offering all kind of promises of pleasure, most often for free.
But Paul states, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” and “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1–2).
Even today, given the conviction I’ve received that in the future I will be married (and that I need to prepare for such eventuality), I’m forbidden to pursue a woman at work that I am attracted to. Why? It’s not because neither of us desire a conventional marriage with each other. It’s not that neither of us would want to cohabitate or merge our finances. It’s solely and explicitly because she is a non-believer. For the longest time I assumed she was. She is seemingly conservative. We’ve had long talks about politics and about the dismal state of affairs in the culture and in our world today. We are seemingly comfortable with each other. She has made it abundantly clear that she is interested in me, all but coming out and saying it. Yet, I am prohibited by Paul’s words, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14) and “A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39).
I am bound by my profession before God and men, if I claim Christ as my Lord, and believe that God raised him from the dead, then I can only marry within the confines of the faithful. Those who believe. Those who have submitted to Christ. This is an inherent sacrifice explicit to the claims of faith. It is immediate and unequivocal.
It’s difficult sometimes, though, as I move from day to day, wresting with feelings and emotions and convictions and desires I have not had in more than 13 years. Most people don’t believe me that in my celibacy I’ve actually experienced a great deal of contentment and satisfaction. They assume that I have lingered on, weary, broken, desperate, and all the while craving physical gratification and emotional support in another person. Most people seem to think anything else is impossible. But I can attest, especially to the latter, I’ve had none these last several years. To the point that I would turn down invitations to the former. I’ve had high school girlfriends reach out and try to reconnect. Co-workers. Strangers. But I’ve had an eye for none and, I think more importantly, I’ve had no desire for emotional or spiritual union with another person. I was what Paul described as, “having no necessity” and “had so determined in his heart” (1 Co 7:37).
But, now, after all these years, God has seemingly changed the rules once again. Just when I was certain that I would be single and celibate the rest of my life, just when I had fully embraced this state of life and really thrived in solitude and contemplation, he turned my life on its head and declared for my future once more something I did not actually want. The first time he did that, he took from me Buddhism and the martial arts, two activities in my life that took years to finally surrender willingly. I did not want to be a Christian then. I never wanted to be a Christian. I was a happy Buddhist. But now, looking back, I wouldn’t change what God did for me. I wouldn’t ask him to take it back, to return to me my mute idols and leave me in peace to my own devices. No. I now encourage him to involve himself even more in my life. Change whatever he thinks needs to be changed. Over the last 30 years, I’ve learned he has my best interest at heart. Everything he does is for my benefit.
But I have found that God does want the best from us, too. Some are required to sacrifice a little for their faith. Others are required to sacrifice everything, even their very lives. Some, like me, are often demanded to sacrifice, while others willingly, gleefully give to God everything they have voluntarily. It is the difference between a slave and a freedman in Christ. When he found me I was free. I came and went as I pleased. I took the women I found pleasurable. I had the world. In Christ, I’ve little in the way of worldly success. But, in such sacrifices, there is a hidden blessing and peace from above.
The Ultimate Sacrifice and What it Means
Ultimately, God illustrated for all of us what true sacrifice means. He not only sacrificed himself, but he sacrificed his only begotten son (as symbolized by Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac). He continually to this day sacrifices his justice and his righteousness for the sake of those he created as vessels of mercy by grieving the unrighteousness of those created as vessels of wrath. He is long-suffering. He is patient. He is willing to make the sacrifice on our behalf so that we might fulfill the destiny he has prepared beforehand for each of us.
We don’t know the full story of why such lengths had to be taken. We don’t know why Satan initially chose to rebel, what was the impetus that sparked the feud between him and God that made him strike out in civil war in heaven, that ultimate cost him is standing in the supernatural realm, being cast to earth along with 1/3 of the angels in heaven. We don’t know what grievance he has against humans, or why his ultimate plan to entrap us in Hades solves his complaint. Or how our becoming Sons of God is part of God’s plan to overthrow Satan’s.
What we do know is that God has shown us by example what he asks of us. He desires mercy. He desires self-less love. He desires mutual edification. All of these are sacrificial. All of them require the putting off of the self, of self-importance, of self-obsession, of self-interest, and focuses our attention on the wellbeing and concern of others.
He showed us what sacrifice actually is. It is our job to walk in that sacrifice in our own lives.
What if we Sacrifice but Still Do Not Receive?
There is, though, inherent within the sacrificial nature of God and our call to follow him. There is never in the Bible any guarantee to answer either prayer or petition. Sacrifice on our part is a matter of allegiance alone. It is not the faith-word malarky that if I give to God he will return to me ten fold wealth and health and success and a life of dreams. Sacrifice to God is offered (or required) to God (by God) and we receive for that sacrifice the just reward. We know Jesus was highly critical of those who made offerings openly before other men. He said in response to them, “they have their reward” (Matt 6:2, 5, 16).
Likewise, if we give our offering before God alone, it is God who will judge that offering, if it is worthy or inferior, and that is determined by the condition of our heart and the measure and division of our sacrifice. Jesus said of the impoverished woman who gave two pennies, “this poor woman has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:42-44).
Jesus does not ask for 10%. Despite your local pastor’s insistence so he can line his pockets based on a poorly formed argument from a terrible prooftext, Jesus actually asked for the 10% and then also the other 80%. He wants all of each of us. He asks, patiently insists, sometimes outright demands, that we surrender everything that we have, everything that we are, even everything we could become, all for his glory. All so that we can simply be willing to surrender.
The life I would have wanted to live – studying and teaching the martial arts, opening a meditation center, marrying and having children, or devoting myself to breaking through the duality and illusion of life and reaching nirvana – they have all been sacrificed forcibly at the altar that is Christ. The life of a protestant evangelical, with the young, beautiful wife, the gaggle of children, the pastorate in a small country church – this too has been laid at God’s feet. Even my own actual marriage was, in the end, sacrificed. I had to give it up, quite unwillingly, for reasons I don’t even really understand even all these years later. Even now, I am being asked to sacrifice my peace and tranquility, my contentment and my serenity as a single solitary potentially for married life, which is, in the best of circumstances, a complete unknown.
Sacrifice is a surety if you are to be a genuine, biblical Christian. Many claim the name of Christ in this world, but to them, Jesus replies, “depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41). Sacrifice and suffering are the hallmark of the true Christian. Not material success or social relevance or practical wisdom or insight. In fact, in many respects, following after Christ is none of those things.
It is true madness to live by faith and not by sight.
The Bible has many examples of people who sacrificed their lives, their wealth, their safety, even to death, all for the glory of God. Some lived extraordinary lives full of adventure and danger, while others lived in near obscurity and without clear understanding of what they were doing or why they were doing it. The latter has been much of my life. It has certainly been a life of peace and serenity, of genuine contentment and sanctification. But it has also been a life of sacrifice and toil and struggle as I wrestle with the flesh, as I wrestle against other men, as I grapple to understand what it is exactly that took hold of me all those years ago, shook me loose of my idolatries, and set me on a new course, a new path home. It is all integrally woven into the very fabric of sacrifice and loss and blessing and joy.
Until my next post……
Excerpt from The Light Aurora:
The door’s lock released and Dr. Lewis looked around at each of them.
“Stay close, and be ready for anything. I’m not sure if they’re all in the Command Center or if they are trying to secure Level 4. Hell, they could all be evacuating.”
He stared at Scott as he came up onto the landing.
“Let’s go,” Scott said.
Dr. Lewis pushed the door open and walked out into the hall, followed by the others – in ones and twos. Level 2 was similar to the other level, with a long corridor, doors on either side, all with security displays recessed into the wall next to them.
But, as they entered the corridor, Scott’s breath caught in his throat. As he stood there with the others, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. In front of them, probably no more than a few yards away, were three bodies lying on the floor. One was sitting up against the wall, the side of his face melted, exposing his right eyeball and a good portion of his right skull. Another one was laying face down, his entire back opened up at the spine, as if his spinal cord had been ripped out of him from behind. The last one was a few more feet away from the others, on his back, his eyes seared from his head, black, burnt flesh where his eyes used to be.
The intercom came back to crackling life.
“Professor?” Derrick said over the intercom.
“Don’t worry. You can answer,” he said. “I can hear you.”
Scott looked up, then fixed his gaze on the security camera at the end of the corridor.
“Yes?” Scott finally asked.
There was a pause, static.
“What are you doing, Derrick?” he asked. “Did you do this?”
“Indeed,” Derrick said, coming back on.
“They refused to help me.”
“What are you trying to do, Derrick?” Scott asked.
There was another pause.
“I want to go home, Professor,” the boy said.
“Yes,” Derrick said, his tone soaked with some other-worldly confidence that did not belong in an innocent, ten year old boy.
“I want to go home, Professor,” he said again. “Would you be interested in coming home with me?”
Buy the entire story The Light Aurora today and get ready for the thrill ride of a lifetime! What is this foreign and hostile place these strangers find themselves in? What does it all mean? Will all of them survive?
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