Living as a Sacrifice to God
“A living sacrifice to God” (Romans 12:1). It’s a familiar term, one that’s always in the back of my mind as my position and purpose in God. Then, I unexpectedly learned a deeper understanding of what that actually means and how I can really live it out.
The idea of sacrifice to us today refers to giving something up. But the audience of Paul’s day at the time it was written would have understood it to refer to the temple sacrifices — animals, birds, oil, grains — which were a major part of their life and had been in their history for nearly 1,500 years.
One of the offerings required was a “whole burnt offering” — the Hebrew word “olah” (referred to repeatedly in Lev. 1-6). This offering was used to symbolize that the worshipper had offered himself in service and obedience to God. But what I didn’t know was that the word “olah” was also used to describe bondservants.
According to Exodus 21:1-6, a bondservant was a slave purchased by a master for a six-year period. After six years the slave was set free to pursue other employment. However the slave could choose to stay with his master if he desired. If he did, the master then had to present him before God, and also publicly pierce his ear by pounding an awl through his earlobe into a doorpost. He then continued on in service and obedience to his master, now visibly doing so by choice.
This is what Psalm 40:6 is referring to: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire; my ears you have opened.” (Opened meaning pierced.) God desires our whole lives in service and obedience to him as a bondservant. But the learning went deeper.
I couldn’t overlook the fact that Yeshua was also pierced “by an awl to a post.” Yeshua Himself was an olah. Additionally, one of the foreshadows of Yeshua in the Old Testament is Isaac, offered literally as a whole burnt offering (an olah) by Abraham. Hebrew sages calculate Isaac’s age to be 37 at the time — perfectly old enough to resist and reject the idea. While Yeshua may have understood the significance of his sacrifice, Isaac and Abraham probably did not.
Both Isaac and Yeshua were willing to follow God even to death because of their faith and love for Him. After all, God created both of them supernaturally for His purposes. These are examples of living sacrifices, whole burnt offerings.
He’s created us supernaturally as well — for His purposes. So, what can I learn from these two human olahs about being a living sacrifice? I saw that those who give their life as a whole offering walk obediently on as God leads, even if it looks like they are walking toward a sacrifice on an altar or death on a cross. They don’t try to make sense of it, or back down because they can’t see the purpose of it, or consider their own life, plans or comforts more important. They keep obeying and trusting God’s purposes, no matter what it means for them. They have faith in God’s plan and will. But more than that, they love Him and don’t need to understand it. Their only goal is to offer themselves for whatever He asks; willful submission requiring faith, but driven by love.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to God that God should repay him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. I urge you therefore, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Romans 11:33-12:1