Sacrifice in worship (Romans 12)

Several weeks ago, I began to write about the sacrifice in worship and promised (myself more than you) that I’d continue from where I’d left off.

The notion of religious sacrifice is many-faceted and possesses a long history.  I don’t claim any real handle on it, not adhering to the predecessing Jewish religion that makes a practice of bloody sacrifices, not having ever offered a single such sacrifice, and not having pursued the matter with any sort of scholarly bent.  (Cults, spiritist religions of the third-world, and satanic religion also sometimes include sacrifice, but that’s more than a little afield.)  Considering the idea of sacrificed in worship seems worthwhile because of its frequent appearance in scripture, if for no other reason.

A blogger on hymns and Christian songs, writing about “Trust and Obey,” recently wrote about giving one’s entire life as a “sacrifice”:

The Christian life involves daily faith and obedience, exercised in many different situations. But there is an underlying commitment that provides a foundation for this. The Apostle Paul talks about it in Romans 12:1.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God [because of all that God has done for you], that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

The Greek verb tense for “present” indicates it’s to be a once-for-all action. We are to yield ourselves to God as “living sacrifices,” forever and for all. That is what [the author] is referring to in [st. 4] of our hymn, when he says, “We never can prove the delights of His love / Until all on the altar we lay.” Then, hundreds of daily acts of faith and obedience grow out of that, as described in [st. 5].

– Robert Cottrill,

In attempting to be circumspect about the Christian life, it’s helpful to apprehend Cottrill’s words on the Greek tense of the word “present”:  a welcome freedom comes from not having to devise some way that every keystroke, every dish rinsed, every word, every mile driven, every test graded, every tooth brushed, and every bit of garbage carried to the curb is “worship.”  Not to denigrate any of those actions!  They are part and parcel of life, and the Christian believer’s life is no more lofty than anyone else’s.  We need to have our heads in heaven but our feet on the earth, as someone has said.[1]

Yet some days, it’s easier to think of more of my actions as sacrifice and as “worship” than others; whether you resonate with me on this or not, this very idea of sacrifice—whether it’s to be thought of as once-for-all or as continuous and all-pervading—is something to be contended with . . . in due time.

Next, somewhat out of order, I’ll peer into what the sacrifice becomes, in God’s eyes.

[1] The saying is attributed to Benedict and/or Augustine (whom I respectfully refuse to call “saint,” because that would imply a special status for them) and reappropriated by many over the years.


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