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?