The sacrificial system seen throughout the Old Testament and continuing into the New Testament Gospels is a graphic reminder of the reality that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and that it is precisely because of sin that death entered humanity’s existence (Romans 5:12).
The concept of sacrifice is carried forward for the present-day Christ-follower, but the sacrifice is no longer an animal sacrifice. We are cleansed once-and-for-all by that perfect sacrifice of Christ. Now, as his followers, we are called to make “spiritual sacrifices.”
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, ESV
Peter does not define what he means by “spiritual sacrifices,” and left to our own devices, we can conjure up any number of ideas regarding what that might mean. I believe, however, that we can let the Bible define the concept for us, because the Bible is the best commentary on itself.
I find six ways the Bible sheds light on the the meaning of “spiritual sacrifice.”
1 – Our Bodies
As Christ-followers, we are called to present our very bodies as living sacrifices.
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, ESV
I no longer live for myself. I no longer belong to myself. I am a subject in a kingdom, a servant of a king. My very body belongs to that king, and it will go where he wants it to go and do what he wants it to do.
The apostle Paul describes that offering as spiritual worship. Expanding on the concept of my body as a living sacrifice, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)
Not only does my body belong to the king, it is also the temple, or dwelling place, of the Holy Spirit of God.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NASB
As God’s child, I use my body for purposes and activities that glorify him rather than profane him. I present my body to God as an “instrument of righteousness.” (Romans 6:13)
2 – Our Praise
Never before, in my lifetime, have I witnessed such an avalanche of whining and complaining as I have seen in the United States of America over the last decade. Our society is rife with self-made victims, plagued by myriad syndromes and injustices, while being equally devoid of responsibility. Sadly, this mentality has infected the body of Christ, and it ought not be so! Rather we offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving from our lips.
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. – Hebrews 13:15, NASB
More than at any time in my almost 40 years of walking with Jesus, I find myself reminding other Christ-followers to “do all things without grumbling and complaining.” (Philippians 2:14)
3 – Our Good Works
Beyond the praise of our lips, in the very next verse, the writer of Hebrews calls us to sacrifice through doing good works and sharing.
And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. – Hebrews 13:16, NASB
Earlier in Hebrews 13, the author called for hospitality (v. 2) and ministring to the imprisoned (v. 3).
Doing good and sharing as a spiritual sacrifice involves a mentality that does not need to ask, “How can I help you,” because we see with spiritual eyes. The needs are obvious to us. And when asked, we are quick to say “Yes,” because we are living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1) We are not our own. We were bought with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23)
In reminding us that we are saved by grace through faith, the apostle Paul also points out that we were created with a purpose, and that purpose is to perform good works.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10, ESV
4 – Our Material Goods
As the apostle Paul did his mission work, the church in Philippi supported him financially, and Paul viewed this support as a spiritual sacrifice.
I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:18b-19, ESV
What is interesting about this passage, is that while Paul calls it a “sacrifice,” he also characterizes it as an arrangement of both giving and receiving. The Philippians gave materially to Paul to support his mission work, and in exchange, they received spiritually from the Lord.
While I do not endorse the “prosperity preaching” that is prevalent in our day, as I find it a repugnant theology, I have to agree with Warren Wiersbe, “That church is poor that fails to share materially with others.”
5 – Our Spiritual Offspring
There is a reproductive aspect to being a Christ-follower, wherein disciples make disciples who then make more disciples. Jesus commanded his disciples to make disciples and then to teach them to obey all that Jesus had commanded – which includes going and making disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20) It is a self-perpetuating command, one resulting in what has been called a “multiplying ministry.”
When we teach others the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they respond to that gospel, themselves becoming Christ-followers, the Bible refers to them as a sort of offspring, our “children” in the faith. What is lesser-known is that our children in the faith are also called an “offering” to God.
He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.Romans – Romans 15:16, NIV
6 – Our Prayers
While not actually called a sacrifice, there is a scene in Heaven where the prayers of believers are being treated very much like sacrifices. Angels are offering up incense to God, incense mingled with “the prayers of the saints.”
And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand. – Revelation 8:4, NASB
Earlier in Revelation, the incense is declared to actually be the prayers of the saints.
When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. – Revelation 8:4, NASB
Returning to our target verse from Peter, we are told that we “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” If we do not offer our sacrifices through Jesus, they are self-serving and pointless.
We do not make these sacrifices for our pleasure, or our glory. Only when we make our offerings through Jesus, do they make sense, and find their acceptance with God. In his goodness and truth, God can be trusted with our sacrifices, because through his perfect sacrifice, our sacrifices become meaningful.