I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God Romans 12:1
Living – In order for a sacrifice to be “living,” something had to go wrong. You see, in the sacrificial system of Israel, an animal was destroyed when offered to God. Only if it were no longer acceptable would the an animal offered to God continue to live. After the animal was chosen and dedicated to destruction, something happened that rendered the animal unfit. It was no longer satisfactory for sacrifice, but it had already been dedicated to God. Therefore, it could not be used for any other purpose, and it could not be slaughtered in front of the altar. What happened to such a sacrifice? It was returned to the temple flock. There was no way to reverse the dedication and no way to remove the blemish, so it was set apart from the rest of the herd, separated to God, but still alive.
When Paul calls for believers to present themselves as living sacrifices, he recalls the Jewish regulation concerning the dedicated but blemished animal. By original creative act, every human being was set aside for God’s purposes. But something went wrong. What was to be the paradigm example of God’s distributed authority, the very image of God Himself, became unfit after it was dedicated. We existed for Him but were unfit to fulfill our purpose. What was the solution? Yeshua reconciled us with the Father so that, even though we were stained, we could go on living while being separated for His service. That’s what it means to be a living sacrifice. It is the sacrifice that went wrong, but is still set apart for Him.
The text uses the Greek word zao. It implies having some duration, existing or being alive. Its Hebrew equivalent is hayyah (you can see the Hebrew word “living” in Genesis 2:7). We were made in God’s image, animated by God’s breath, created for God’s purposes. In perfect harmony with the Creator, we existed as His regents, equipped to carry out His orders in the world. But something went wrong. The tragic results meant that Mankind, dedicated at creation for God’s purposes, was now unfit for the role. Only the sacrifice of God Himself could restore the original harmony and someday, when the grand plan of redemption closes, those who return to the God Who loves us will once again be perfectly fitted to the role. Until then, we are separated as living sacrifices.
Perhaps you and I need to understand that a living sacrifice is a sacrifice that is not perfect. A living sacrifice is blemished. That’s who we are. By the grace of God and the obedience of Yeshua, we are the blemished sacrifices, still alive after the altar ceremony. What we could not do, Yeshua did for us. In the process, He allowed us to be set apart, to continue even though we should have been put on the altar. We are the redeemed wrong stuff, not the perfect offering. And it’s all right. We are just where we’re supposed to be.
Knowing this makes it a little easier to handle those days when the blemishes really show. We are still His own, still dedicated to Him. We are still set aside. It’s not about perfection. It’s about grace. Though we were dead and buried with Him, we live. It is a paradox of great importance.
Topical Index: Sacrifice