We have come to the second to last spiritual discipline that helps create in us a godly and Christlike character. Chuck Swindoll writes:
If the disciplines we have studied were a mound of precious stones, then sacrifice is the diamond on top.
No other spiritual discipline is more closely associated with the character and mission of Jesus Christ than the discipline of sacrifice.
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
- Philippians 3:10
If a person wants to become like Jesus, he/she must practice the discipline of sacrifice because this is what His life was about. No sacrifice - no resemblance to Christ.
What is sacrifice?
Think of someone you know (aside from Christ) who sacrificed for another or for a cause or idea. For example:
- A parent who sacrifices for their child.
- Gives up a kidney to save their child.
- In California, I knew a young man who gave up part of his liver to save his mother.
In this or any type of sacrifice, you will note that:
Sacrifice is an action or attitude that violates our basic urge of self-preservation.
Now, self-preservation is prompted by our human nature. However, sacrifice is prompted by our spiritual nature. As Christians seeking godliness, we are continually called upon to not only make sacrifices (that is the best that the human nature can aspire to). However, as Christians we are called upon to go beyond simply making sacrifices but to become living sacrifices.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
- Romans 12:1-2
As Christians, the sacrifice of ourselves is pleasing to God because, like Christ, we choose freely to offer ourselves to Him in obedience and service - this is not imposed or forced upon us.
Cultivating the discipline of sacrifice
To cultivate the discipline of sacrifice, we have to practice it in 3 areas of our lives:
1. Personal sacrifice
Personal sacrifice begins with a choice:
- Who will we trust to meet our needs?
- We naturally serve who we trust.
For the Christian the choice always comes down to trusting God or trusting self, someone or something else? The idea is that we sacrifice (give up) trust in wealth (even our own) in order to trust only in God. We sacrifice confidence in human systems like personal abilities, government, etc. We still use these because we are in and part of the world but our trust is not in these things.
You see, in the area of personal sacrifice we practice giving up the natural human urge to protect, preserve and promote ourselves by ourselves and turn over that responsibility to God. For example, allowing God rather than ourselves to secure justice or vengeance for an offense against us personally. This is why we forgive and pray for our enemies because God's justice will be perfect and His punishment will be appropriate. When it comes to our enemies, let God's will be done, not ours.
2. Relational sacrifice
In Genesis 22:2-12 Abraham offered Isaac. Isaac trusted Abraham and Abraham trusted God. God may not ask us to give up our children in sacrifice but there are times when we need to "give them up to God." We sometimes have to sacrifice their well-being to God. At other times we may be asked to leave a comfortable place or situation in order to answer a call to service somewhere else.
A relational sacrifice is the willingness to give up relationships that are either broken by sin (i.e., the Prodigal son) or that are harmful (i.e., bad influences) and give them up to God for His purpose. The natural, human urge is to hold on and try to fix things by ourselves. Spiritual growth requires that we make a relational sacrifice at times for healing to begin or even be possible.
So far, two types of sacrifice:
- Personal sacrifice - giving up the urge to preserve and promote self and trusting God to care for us and set us down where He wants us to be.
- Relational sacrifice - giving up the constant impulse to control or fix relationships according to our standards instead of trusting God's ways and His standards.
3. Material sacrifice
This type of sacrifice involves generosity clearly expressed in the giving up of material things, personal advantages and comforts for the good of others. For example, Jesus gave up heaven to suffer the cross in order to save us.
Our greatest fear when it comes to material sacrifice is that we will not have enough left for ourselves. We fear that sacrifice will make us poorer, vulnerable, uncomfortable. However, who or what are the true obstacles in material sacrifice?
- Satan - will make you procrastinate using these fears and the temptation to selfishness.
- People - Who will accuse you of being unreasonable or too zealous usually because sacrificial giving exposes their own lack of generosity, love and faith.
- Your own mind and flesh - who are naturally disposed to preserve and maintain the status quo, not give sacrificially!
31Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' 32For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
- Matthew 6:31-32
Do we truly believe this or not? If we do, then we can sacrifice without fear or doubt.
Only a few among us are called upon by God to sacrifice our lives as martyrs. For most Christians the discipline of sacrifice is exercised one decision at a time until sacrifice simply becomes embedded in us as part of our Christian character.
- Describe the nature and reason for a great sacrifice you have made in your life?
- What part, if any, did God play in your decision?
- Describe, if possible, the results of your sacrifice.
- Looking back, would you make the same decision? Why yes? Why no?
- What holds you back from making material sacrifices?
- How would adding a sacrificial element to your spiritual personality change you?
- Name someone who has or would sacrifice for you. Describe other elements of their character.
- What sacrifice is still out of reach for you? What do you think it would take for you to make it?