(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
17th April 2008
If a father said to his son “if you want to own your own house one day, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices” what would he mean? He would probably be saying that the young man would have to spend less money on socialising or clothes or computer games and actually save some money. He would have to sacrifice pleasure today in order to be able to pay for what he’s going to need in the future.
The father would be teaching his son the principle called “deferred gratification”, the idea that it can be better to wait for what you want. This principle seems to be being forgotten in our generation. And it is harder to discipline oneself to save in an age when credit cards and bank loans have been so easy to obtain. But the father is right; saving for the future is important is we’re going to avoid poverty.
There are many reasons why people are poor. Many of these reasons are not self-inflicted. But a refusal to follow the principle of deferred gratification results in self-inflicted poverty.
But if that father and his son had been ancient Greeks or Romans, what would the father have meant when he said “if you want to own your own house one day, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices”? He would probably be saying “if you want the Gods to favour you by allowing you to own property, then you need to kill some animals and offer their carcases to the Gods to propitiate them”. Obviously, this is a completely different idea of what the word “sacrifice” means.
Today, we think of “sacrifice” as meaning simply “giving something up”. Some employers will offer their employees various options in their compensation package, such as health care or enhanced pensions, or additional holidays, and will require the employees who want these benefits to make what they call a “salary sacrifice”, meaning to receive a smaller monthly salary, to pay towards the improved benefits.
But in the ancient world – the world in which the Bible was written – the word “sacrifice” meant “to make sacred” (you can see this in the English word we use; “sacrifice” means “sacred-ify”). Sacrificing an animal by killing it was more than a way to give it up – it was a way to make it sacred.
Paul writes, in Romans 12v1:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.
He’s saying more than “give up your lives for God”. He’s saying “make yourselves sacred”. But I don’t often hear this idea spoken of in church.
We are prepared to acknowledge 1 Peter 2v9:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Although some Christians are so confused they don’t realise that we – the church – are God’s chosen people, most Christians do realise that the church is a holy nation belonging to God.
The words “holy” (in 1 Peter 2v9) and “sacred” (in Matthew 7v6, 1 Corinthians 3v17, 2 Peter 1v18 and 2 Peter 2v21) are actually translations of the same Greek word – the word hagios. We’re just more comfortable with the translation “holy” than with “sacred”. 1 Peter 2v9 could have been translated “we are a sacred nation”.
The point I’m trying to get to is this: When the Bible urges us to “offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”, it’s saying:
You are sacred people – live like sacred people
If we had a clearer idea of who we are, then we would be more ready to live accordingly.
That which is sacred is dedicated to God. So now we can understand why Acts 2v42 could say this about the early church:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
The early church understood that a sacred life is a life of devotion to God. And to devote ourselves to God is to devote ourselves to studying the Bible, to supporting the church, to celebrating the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and to prayer.
Do you know who you are? You are sacred – devoted to God. Will you live accordingly?
1 Corinthians 6v19-20
Jesus’s blood has made you sacred. What a privilege! Live like it, and allow God to glorify Himself in your life.