Blog #53 April 1, 2023

Today in the churches of the world, God's Kingdom is being built on the concept of personal sacrifice. We are taught that God depends on our ability abandon the ease of living in the world and trade it for the painful rigors of righteousness. I have often asked myself if this is a truism or just another misdirected attempt at making our human strength equal to the righteousness of God? Does the sacrificial effort of modern religion truly adhere to the pattern for redemption as designed by God? In the beginning God gave Adam a true understanding why sacrifices were a part of worship. Sacrifices were not an end unto themselves nor did they create righteousness. They were offered to remind a believing people of the great and final sacrifice, Jesus Christ.

Genesis 4:6-8
4:6  And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord. And after many days, an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying, Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him, I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
4:7 And then the angel spake, saying, This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth;
4:8 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest, in the name of the Son. And thou shalt repent, and call upon God, in the name of the Son for evermore.

Throughout history sacrifice both personal and public has been a mainstay of all religious efforts. It gave rise to hidden holy places known to and used by only the faithful, or awesome monuments and temples that testified to the world of a powerful God and a powerful people. At the very center of all were sacrificial altars. Holy days of sacrifice became gatherings of note and were repeated year after year. Even today, most religious holidays find their roots in celebrations centering on sacrifice to one deity or another. Whether it was a feast that began or ended with public sacrifice or a deeply personal time of reflection, sacrifice seems to define worship in the world today, but is that what God intended?

Psalms 51:16-17 
51:16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt offering.
51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Even today, worship seems to thrive on our ability to willingly sacrifice. To some the importance lays in what we sacrifice and when we sacrifice it. To others the very act of sacrifice defines the worship. Both share a common mandate; we have to prove to the deity we worship that we are willing to deny ourselves something that in this life is essential to our pleasure. In my heart, I wonder if God, our God, our Heavenly Father really wants or needs us to sacrifice. Does the sacrificial effort truly adhere to the pattern for success that is the Kingdom?

Mosiah 3:1-3
3:1 And now, it came to pass that when King Benjamin had thus spoken to his people, he sent among them, desiring to know of his people, if they believed the words which he had spoken unto them.
3:2 And they all cried with one voice, saying, Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us;
3:3 And also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

I believe that the Christian culture agrees that animal sacrifice ended with the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary, but we seem to have that word thrust upon us at every turn. When we are petitioned for tithes and offerings we hear, "You must sacrifice for the Lord". Most sermons about improving our personal relationship with God include, "We must sacrifice for the Lord". Ministry seeking to make our homes a place for Christ to abide with us most often centers on, "We must sacrifice for the Lord". Am I wrong or is organized religion trying to convince me that the presence of God in my life depends solely on my ability to beat back the devil with my own self-discipline? Is our ability to deny ourselves the mainstay of this battle for righteousness, or does God have a better way?

Mark 12:37-39
12:37 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth; for there is one God, and there is none other but him.
12:38 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength; and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
12:39 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.

I see in this passage Christ urging us to rethink all we know about God and our sacrifices to God. Do we want our covenant to represent what we gave up, or the gift that was given for us? Should God in our life represent our ability to suffer for the Kingdom, or should it testify to the world the richness we receive by opening our lives to God's Kingdom, the salvation brought about Christ's crucifixion, and the ability of the Holy Spirit to lead us to a fuller everlasting form of redemption. Does our labor for God's Kingdom speak of our strength or His?

Hebrews 13:15-16
13:15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.
13:16 But to do good and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

I am convinced that God seeks for us to grow beyond the need for human discipline we call sacrifice. In truth, when viewed as a part of God's design for the Church, sacrifice does little more than petition God to forgive us of today's sins. Tomorrow's sins require another sacrifice. In covenant with God we have been promised much more than just day-to-day forgiveness. God promises us freedom from our bondage to the ways of man. Sacrifice cannot accomplish that task. We seek more than just a feeling of relief at being pardoned from a wrongdoing. He offers a way to change that we might leave the lust of the world forever behind. Only humility to God and the ways of God will bring us complete redemption. The ways of God must become the desires of our heart.

Psalms 37:4-7
37:4 Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
37:5 Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
37:6 And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
37:7 Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him; fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.

That which we gain in the disciplined acts of self-sacrifice cover us with God's forgiveness, but to be His Kingdom we need more. We need the presence of God's Spirit in our heart to change our very nature that the lust of the world no longer controls our thoughts or our deeds. It's the difference between wearing a surgical mask and receiving an effective vaccine. 

Titus 2:11-14
2:11 For the grace of God which bringeth salvation to all men, hath appeared;
2:12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ;
2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
The path we walk from the ways of man to the throne of God is one of growth. Growth is change that often requires actions we might call sacrifice. As we grow in the ways of God, we begin to understand the true nature of sacrifice. Consider this: you have a tax return that amounts to several thousand dollars. You have the choice of either buying shinny new wheels for your truck or taking the family on a very special vacation while still supplying the home with all that is needed. What do you do? 

2 Corinthians 9:7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.

I believe in my heart that family vacation would easily win out. My question: is this a sacrifice? Is the decision to forego new wheels a sacrifice and will it be treated as or remembered as such? Will there come a time when the man will look at his truck, see the lack of new shiny wheels, and either regret the choice he made or pat himself on the back for being righteous enough to give up those wheels for his family. If so, did this sacrifice create righteous or something else? 

Luke 9:62 And Jesus said unto him, No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Please open your heart up to the full meaning of this verse. Does it speak to our commitment? No, neither does it speak to dedication, focus, or any other human effort required to replace our temporal desires with the needs of the Kingdom. Christ was speaking of our willingness to leave behind all that was our life and never looking back. It speaks of a new set of values that allows us to see that the life we led was worth less than the life we gained. Are we to celebrate what we sacrificed or are we to rejoice in what we are given?

Psalms 37:4 Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.

My own testimony is probably the surest way to add clarity to this concept. As a younger man I practiced all the typical social requirements of life in this world. Socializing brought with it all that was socially acceptable. Yes there was alcohol. Yes there was pot and it was never questioned one way or the other. I remember one Sunday watching a football game a joint was being passed around. When it came to me I looked at it, started to take a "hit", and paused and thought, "I don't want this. Then I passed it on. Did I say to myself that God didn't want me to have it? Honestly, the thought didn't cross my mind. I just didn't want it. Did I suddenly have the urge to stop all my friends from smoking it? No, I just didn't want it. 

Psalms 37:4-5
37:4 Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
37:5 Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. 

Looking back on that event brought to my mind the true power of God in my life. Though it was the last time I ever smoked pot, I seriously have no ability to say I sacrificed pot in my life for God, because I didn't give up anything for God that I wanted. Since that time my involvement with all the social graces has changed completely. Do I still see the same friends? Of course I do. Do they criticize me for the changes in my life? Sometimes, but I don't care and apparently they don't either. From time to time they will ask me why, and I tell them much the same thing I told you. One of them was having a problem with gambling and he asked me what he should do. I offered him this testimony, and he allowed me to pray for him. We didn't cross paths for almost six months. When I did see him I asked him about his gambling, he looked at me deadpan and said, "I don't want to gamble". Then he smiled and said, "Ain't it great? I really don't want to gamble any more". Then he said to me, "Praise God", and it dawned on me just how very right he was. There was glory in the changes that happened to my friend and to me but it was not ours. It all belonged to God.

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

As I read this and study all that I have written, I come to find that there is one thing in our life that God wants us to put on the altar of our life and sacrifice it to Him, and that is self-pride. 

Proverbs 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

The mandate of sacrifice through self-discipline so popular in the churches of the world puts humanity in an awkward position. How many believers are being duped into believing that their efforts are a true source of righteousness? As if sacrifice is the work we signed on for and the Kingdom is the wages we receive for the work we do. It's what they're being told. Not only does this viscous trap rob God of the glory He deserves, it robs believers of the help and communion with God they need. Worst of all it destroys our testimony of our oneness with God, and makes condemnation our only source of outreach. 

Matthew 7:31-33
7:31 For the day soon cometh, that men shall come before me to judgment, to be judged according to their works.
7:32 And many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name; and in thy name cast out devils; and in thy name done many wonderful works?
7:33 And then will I say, Ye never knew me; depart from me ye that work iniquity.

Open your hearts to all God wants to give us. Listen for His voice and respond. 
We must respond. 
God will give us directions, but we have to be listening. 
God will direct our steps, but we have to be walking. 
God will walk with us, but we have to walk with Him.


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