With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. Thus, you will prove in practice that the will of God is good, acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-6, J.B. Phillips translation.
I could write a talk on Romans 12:1-6, parsing out verbs and providing winsomely-worded principles in theory. But I struggle deeply to know what it looks like in the throes of marriage, parenting and the busyness that marks this season of life in which I find myself.
Even in the image is hard to imagine, as sacrifices are usually alive things that quickly become dead. But Paul purposely changes the images into an oxymoron of sorts, bidding us to live as living sacrifices.
In his small but stacked book called Be God’s Guest: Feasts of Leviticus 23, Warren Wiersbe has deepened my understanding on the greater Old Testament context of this specific verse. He notes that, perhaps, Paul intended Romans 12:1 as an allusion to the Feast of Tabernacles.
The Feast of Tabernacles was the Israelite-equivalent to our modern day Thanksgiving feast. For a week directly following the harvesting of the fields, God’s people were to live in tents, remembering the early days of nomadic living through the wilderness after the liberating exodus out of Egypt. They were to recount all the ways that God had provided for them, past and present.
Built into the Feast of Tabernacles was the principle that joy leads to sacrifice. As Israel was looking back at the present baskets of harvest and remembering the past provision of manna with which God had sustained them when there was no land to till or harvest to glean, God called them to present sacrifices. 199 sacrifices to be exact (see enumeration in Numbers 29, pun intended).
199 is a strange number. Why not a nice round 200? The answer is not that Jesus is the 200th, because Jesus was the Atoning Sacrifice which hearkens back to a different feast, the Day of Atonement. Weirsbe asked the same question, answering it with a powerful realization:
“I am supposed to be thankful sacrifice number 200,” and then proceeds to quote Romans 12:1.
In light of God’s ultimate and eternal provision of His only begotten Son, we have far more reason to offer sacrifices of praise and Thanksgiving than did God’s people in the Feast of Booths. They were thanking God with 199 dead sacrifices for His provision of physical food. We are called to thank God with 1 living sacrifice for His provision of His body, broken for us, our bread of life.
But how are we to do this? What does a living sacrifice look like?
It sure seems easier to provide a checklist of items that could be purchased or procured by some means, even if it were 199 of them. 199 dead sacrifices sounds much more do-able than one living sacrifice.
Elizabeth Eliot, in her cut-to-the-chase, faith with feet manner of living, has helped me greatly in comprehending and commencing with the Romans 12:1 living sacrifice concept.
In giving practical advice for how to actually offer our whole selves up to God, Elliot wrote the following in her book Loneliness.
“God knows your heart and will accept your offering in any way you can make it, I am sure, but a very simple thing has helped me. It is to kneel with open hands before the Lord. Be silent for a few minutes, putting yourself consciously in His presence. Think of Him. Then think of what you have received in the four categories mentioned (are, have, do, suffer)…Next visualize, as well as you can this gift, resting there in your open hands. Thank the Lord for whatever aspect of this gift you can honestly thank Him for….the, quite simply, offer it up.”
Four categories. Am. Have. Do. Suffer. I am to offer to Christ all I am, all I have, all I do and all I suffer.
To be honest, I have not done her actual exercise, as silence is hard to come by in our home and kneeling ends up with a dog licking my face. However, throughout the day, I think through these helpful four categories, as nearly every small or large part of my day can usually be traced to one of these four words.
As I wrestle with my personality or limits. Am. As I fold laundry. Have. As I am driving to pick up the boys. Do. As I cancel my plans to take a sick child to the doctor. Suffer.
May these four words move us forward as the 200th sacrifices, living sacrifices, unto our God!