Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God--this is your true and proper worship.
Believers in Christ are consecrated to God. This is the first element in their relation to him, the second being separation from the world. They are addressed as priests, called to execute a priestly office--to "present a sacrifice." And this implies consecration to God. In one view, it is a high calling. "You are a royal priesthood," is the testimony of the Apostle Peter. "Thou has redeemed us to God by thy blood," is the new song of the saved, "and has made us unto our God kings and priests." In another view, it is a humble position. A priest is ordained to minister and serve at the altar. In this passage, it is not so much the high dignity of the priestly office as its humble ministry that is brought out. Still it is, in every view of it, a sacred position, a position of consecration to God.
Paul has been touching some of those deep, dread mysteries which shroud in impenetrable gloom the eternal throne and the eternal world, mysteries which only thicken into darker midnight the more we try to pierce them. For the sovereignty of God, in its bearing on the ultimate issues of his providence and on the final destinies of the creatures, whom he has made intelligent and free, must ever be inscrutable. Paul, accordingly, closes the great argument which he has been maintaining for the Divine prerogative with a solemn ejaculation implying utter impotency and prostration: "0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" To silence, however, where he cannot satisfy, he appeals abruptly to any who would still raise questions. By what right, he asks, do you presume to judge or to interrogate the Supreme? Have you been in his confidence from the first? Or must he advise with you? Or have you any such claim on him as to lay him under an obligation to give you satisfaction? "For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counselor? or who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?" Are you the Lord's confidants? Are you the Lord's counselors? Are you the Lord's creditors? If not, how are you entitled to pry into those "secret things" which "belong to the Lord your God?" "The things which are revealed belong to you and to your children." But as to the secret things which belong to him, he is not in any way bound to you. Nor with reference to them can you demand that he reveal more of his plans to you than he sees fit. "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen."
Your becoming attitude is to be that of the Psalmist: "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child. Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and forever" (Psalm 131). We are then in our right place when, instead of aspiring to master as critics the whole mind and will of God, we thankfully consent to learn as children what it is his pleasure to teach. He is not dependent on us. He is not indebted to us. The dependence and the debt of obligation are all on our side. We are not competent to dictate or give lessons to him. We are children and scholars under his training, and the training is for service. We are to be, not advisers or judges, but ministers, servants, priests. "I beseech you, therefore, brethren," that instead of aspiring to be the confidants, counselors, or creditors of the Lord, to assume the office and discharge the functions of the priesthood. For the priesthood is to be considered as a ministry and service. It was to Him with whom we are associated in its exercise. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." So he came to do the business of his priesthood. So we are summoned to do the business of our priesthood. The business of his priesthood was to "give his life a ransom for many." The business of our priesthood is to "present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service."
From this general account of what consecrated Christians have to do in the character of priests, the following particulars may be drawn out in detail:
1. There is to be a sacrifice: "I beseech you, brethren, that you present a sacrifice."
2. It must be a sacrifice that fulfills two conditions: it must be such as may righteously find acceptance in the sight of God--be "acceptable to God"--and such as may reasonably be required and expected at the hands of man--"a reasonable service."
3. If it is to fulfill these two conditions, the sacrifice must possess the two qualities of life and holiness, for such a sacrifice alone can be acceptable to God, and such a sacrifice alone can be your reasonable service.
4. The substance or matter of the sacrifice is indicated: it is to consist of "your bodies," your persons, yourselves.
5. The motive which prompts this sacrifice is also indicated: "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God."
Under these headings the sacrifice which we as Christians, bearing the character of priests, have to present to God may be considered, and the connection and correspondence as well as the difference between it and the sacrifice of Christ may be traced. The connection and correspondence will be found, if we rightly apprehend the Spirit's teaching, to be very close.
"I beseech you that you present a sacrifice." There is to be a sacrifice. Priests are not to approach God empty handed. "Bring an offering and come into his courts," so runs their summons. This law applies to the High Priest as well as to ordinary priests. It applies preeminently to the High Priest. "For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer" (Heb. 8:3). Christians who are priests, and Christ who alone is the High Priest, have this in common: they as well as he have to present a sacrifice. But there is a wide and essential distinction. Any sacrifice which we as priests can present must be of an entirely different nature from what Christ, the High Priest, presents. His sacrifice is, in the strict and proper sense of the term, a sacrifice of atonement. His sacrifice alone can be so. Our sacrifice is a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. This is a distinction recognized in the Levitical economy. In that economy, there were atoning sacrifices designed to be effectual for the expiation of guilt and the reconciliation of offenders to God. Of this kind, in particular, were the sacrifices appointed for the great annual day of atonement, when the high priest entered within the veil with the blood of bulls and of goats, "which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people."
The sacrifice of Christ is represented in the New Testament as exactly of the same character with these sacrifices, only infinitely more efficacious. Thus the Apostle writing to the Hebrews reasons: "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (9:13,14). In the offering of a sacrifice of this kind, Christ our High Priest stands alone. Into his ministry of atonement--his propitiatory work--we may not, as priests, intrude.
But there were sacrifices of another kind under the law: sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving offered in acknowledgment of the sovereignty and bounty of God, and as pledges of dependence and gratitude. These sacrifices had nothing to do with the canceling of guilt and the restoration of the guilty party to favor. They did not make peace. They proceeded on the faith of peace being otherwise made by a previous sacrifice of atonement.
And this now is our ministry as priests. This is all our ministry. The ministry of atonement is not ours, either for others or for ourselves; that ministry Christ alone exercises. All the more may the ministry of thank-offering be ours. For our pardon and peace, our acceptance and justification, we have nothing to offer, we have nothing to give. The Apostle calls for no sacrifice at our hands for the purpose of cleansing us from sin and restoring us to favor. So far as that matter is concerned, he uniformly points our view exclusively to the one and only sacrifice of the one and only High Priest: "We are ambassadors for Christ as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5: 20,21).
If there is to be a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise, proceeding upon the faith of a sacrifice of atonement having been offered and accepted, let it be a suitable sacrifice. Let it be a sacrifice that fulfills these two indispensable conditions: As regards him to whom it is presented, "acceptable to God." As regards you who present it, "your reasonable service."
It may with equal justice be said that the sacrifice of atonement which our great High Priest has to present must fulfill these two conditions. To that sacrifice also--to that sacrifice primarily--they apply as conditions. When a ransom was to be found for sinful man, it was necessary, on the one hand, that it should be such a ransom as might be worthy of God to accept; on the other hand, it should be such a ransom that might reasonably be expected to be offered on behalf of reasonable creatures. The character and nature of the offended party (God, the holy lawgiver and righteous judge), the character and nature of the offending party (man, a free and intelligent being made in the image of God), and the relation between the parties (implying just condemnation on the one side and guilty enmity on the other), all must be taken into account. The sacrifice must bear some adequate proportion or suitable relation to the majesty of violated law and the unforced responsibility of its violators. It must have in it worth and value enough to meet the case of God's sovereign authority having been outraged, and it must also meet the case of man's conscience having become burdened and defiled. It must be sufficient to satisfy Divine justice; sufficient also to assuage the anguish of genuine remorse and shame.
Tried by this test, it is easy to see how the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin. The substitution of a senseless, unconsenting animal as a victim or ransom in the room and stead of a race which has intelligently and willfully sinned is felt to be an utterly inadequate atonement. There is no propriety or suitableness in the idea of the death of such a substitute being accepted as an equivalent for the execution of the sentence upon the guilty. The law cannot in that way be vindicated. The Lawgiver cannot, on that ground, be warranted in treating offenders as if they had never sinned, or as if they had themselves suffered the penalty and come out pure and upright. Nor can such a vicarious endurance of my punishment by a bull or goat satisfy my own conviction of right and my own consciousness of wrong. Whatever may come of my controversy with my Maker, I instinctively feel that these animal sacrifices cannot avail for its settlement, and neither can any formal observances that I may be inclined to put in their place.
"God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." He is weary and impatient of all other worship. "My son, give me thy heart," is his demand. He redeems us to himself by the blood of Christ and renews us by the power of the Holy Ghost, that we may be in a condition, and may be made willing, to give him our heart. Through that one sacrifice of propitiation presented by the High Priest on our behalf, there is peace, friendship, and reconciliation. All our guilt is expiated; all our sin is purged. We are no longer treated as guilty criminals under a respite. We are accepted as righteous in the sight of God; we are adopted as children in his Son; we receive "the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father."
Knowing God who is a spirit, and knowing ourselves as spiritual men, may we not decide and determine for ourselves what sort of sacrifice is suitable and appropriate, what is worthy of God, what is worthy of ourselves, what sort of sacrifice may God be expected to accept, what sort of sacrifice may be regarded as our "reasonable service?" Tried by such a test, how miserably will many a sacrifice and service that we are apt to present to God fail and be found wanting! Form, ceremony, routine, heartless prayers (however long), ostentatious alms (however large), bodily exercise (whether in the way of easy compliance with outward rites or in the way of painful inward self-mortification), enforced obedience, reluctant abstinence from pleasure, and the cold and cheerless performance of duty can we bring to this criterion. Is it such a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that a reconciled God and Father should, in fairness, be asked to accept? Is it such a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that we, his reconciled children, may be reasonably asked to offer? Is it such a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that should signalize and seal so thorough a repairing of the breach caused by sin between our God and us? If the universal moral instinct of all men feels that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin, surely the universal spiritual instinct of all those whose sins are taken away by the blood of a better ransom is that formal worship (or obedience rendered in the spirit of bondage) is not the sacrifice which a redeeming God can worthily accept. It is not a "reasonable service" on the part of the people whom he redeems.
The sacrifice which Christians present as priests must possess two qualities which formal worship, or obedience rendered in the spirit of bondage, is sure to lack. It must possess the qualities of life and holiness. Without these qualities it cannot fulfill the two indispensable conditions of being an acceptable offering to God or, on our part, a reasonable service. The sacrifice must be living and holy: "I beseech you that you present a living sacrifice, holy."
It was necessary that the sacrifice of atonement which our High Priest was ordained to present should possess these two qualities. It must have in it life and holiness. And what life? Not merely animal life, the life that is common to all sentient and moving creatures. Not merely, in addition to that, intelligent life, the life that characterizes all beings capable of thought and voluntary choice. But spiritual life; life in the highest sense. The very life which was lost when those fell (on whose behalf the sacrifice of atonement is presented) into that state which makes a sacrifice of atonement necessary. If a ransom is to be found--an adequate and suitable substitute for those who have become dead under God's sentence of righteous condemnation--it must be a ransom having the life which they once had, exempt and free from the death which they have incurred. A living sacrifice of atonement alone can suffice, a sacrifice of atonement having the quality of that life which consists in a right standing with God, in complete exemption from his condemnation. The sacrifice must be holy also. As it must have life forfeited by no guilt, liable to no sentence of death, so it must have holiness tainted by no corruption. "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world," is a welcome call to sinners.
The sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which we as priests are to be always presenting must be "a living sacrifice, holy." It must partake of the character of the sacrifice of atonement. It is by faith in the sacrifice of atonement that we present the sacrifice of praise. This last sacrifice is the fruit of the first, and indeed, in some sense, a continuation of it. We cannot, in such circumstances, think of presenting any sacrifice of praise that is not in keeping and in harmony with the High Priest's sacrifice of atonement. We cannot ask God to accept, nor offer as our reasonable service, any tribute of gratitude, any sacrifice of thanksgiving that does not possess the qualities which impart worth and efficacy to the High Priest's great propitiation. Ours, like his, must be a sacrifice, living and holy.
The next inquiry relates to the substance or matter of the sacrifice. What shall it be? Our bodies. "I beseech you...that ye present your bodies." The same phraseology is used when it is the High Priest's sacrifice of atonement that is in question. "We are sanctified," it is said, we are cleansed from the guilt of sin, "through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10). It is the entire person of Christ that is there meant. He offered himself; that was his sacrifice of atonement. The offering of ourselves is our sacrifice of thanksgiving.
But how can there be any parallel or analogy here? How can there be any correspondence in respect of life and holiness between Christ's person, offered as a sacrifice of atonement, and mine, offered as a sacrifice of praise? That Christ the High Priest may offer his body as a sacrifice of atonement, living and holy, I can understand.
Now, our sacrifice of praise must partake of the qualities of his sacrifice of atonement. It must be living and holy. But how may that be if it is our bodies, our persons, ourselves, that we are to present as the sacrifice? I am asked to present a thank offering and sacrifice of praise. It is a just demand, a gracious invitation. But the sacrifice, I am told, must be living and holy. Certainly, I answer, it is most right and fitting that it should be so. But I am further told that it must be myself, myself bodily, my very self. Are life and holiness in me that I should furnish in my own person the material of this sacrifice? I am lost and dead in sin. I am carnal, sold under sin. In me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.
But it must be. It is yourself that God will have as a thank offering. He will accept no other thank offering at your hands. Do not say that there is no life in you. Is not Christ in you?
Believers in Christ, called to be priests, present yourselves a sacrifice as the great High Priest presents himself a sacrifice. Let your ministry and his be one. Are not you and he now intimately, inseparably one? When you present yourselves a sacrifice, are you not presenting him, even as when he presents himself a sacrifice he is presenting you? He presents himself as crucified for you; he presents you as crucified with him. You now present yourselves, yet not yourselves; it is Christ in you that you present. The Spirit, making you one with Christ by faith, makes you partakers of Christ's life. And when through the Spirit you present yourselves a sacrifice, he takes of what is Christ's in you and shows it to God. May not this be an acceptable thank offering? Redeemed and regenerated saints of God, is not this your reasonable service? Let your presentation of yourselves as a sacrifice of thanksgiving be always going on in the sanctuary here below, the deep and sacred shrine of a believing heart. In the sacrifice of thankfulness, it is Christ living in you, and you become partakers of his holiness.
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