The Weirdest Analogy in the BibleBy Tony Caffey
March 10, 2021
There are many illustrative and captivating analogies in the Bible: shepherd and sheep, jars of clay, vine and branches, salt of the earth, etc.; one of the best and most memorable can be found in Romans 12:1, where Paul appeals to us to “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” That is one of the weirdest and most instructive analogies in the Christian life—a living sacrifice. A living sacrifice! In Greek, this has the idea of making your life a living (ζάω) killing (θυσία).1 “Make your life a ‘living killing,’” says Paul. Say what?
Of course, we realize that Paul is being deliberately paradoxical. His statement is unintelligible to us as human beings—“how can I be a living dead-thing, Paul?” It’s unintelligible to us as human beings—unless you’re a Christian. As Christians, we say to ourselves, “Yeah, I die to myself daily. I’m putting to death the deeds of my flesh. I have new life in Christ Jesus.” This makes sense to us, although honestly—living sacrifice—it’s a little weird. Maybe that’s why I like it. In fact, I like it a lot.
My Life Verse
If anyone came up to me this afternoon and said, “Pastor Tony, what is your life verse?” I would probably say sarcastically, “The Bible. The Bible is my life verse!” But if they pressed me and asked, “Okay, Tony, but what passage of Scripture has impacted your life more than any others?” I would say unhesitatingly, Romans 12:1-2. My love for this passage has a lot to do with that peculiar and perplexing image of a living sacrifice. If I could distill this passage down to two words, it would be the following: consecration and transformation.
I’ve seen numerous advertisements for that movie, “Wonder Woman 1984,” in the last year. And every time I see those advertisements, I think to myself, “Wow, 1984! That was a great year for me.” Because that was the year, I got saved. When I was in grade school at the Nazarene Christian School in Austin, Texas, the principal there preached a gospel message. I was convicted. I confessed my sinfulness to the Lord. I trusted Christ. That’s where my wonderful journey as a Christian began. But that’s not where it ended.
Ever since then I have had an ongoing battle with my will. And that battle reached a high point in college when the Lord revealed himself to me in a powerful way. Leading up to that moment I felt like Jacob wrestling with God. I was battling with him. I was holding out. I didn’t want to surrender everything to him. But when I finally did surrender, there was a glorious release of anxiety and struggle. And he led me to this passage in Romans 12:1-2; that Scripture became so powerful and vivid to me. I felt as if I had laid down my life as an offering before the Lord.
Offering my body as a living sacrifice wasn’t just a one-time deal for me. This is something that needs to be done repeatedly in the Christian life. As the old saying goes, “The problem with a ‘living sacrifice’ is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” And so, one of the great disciplines of my life has been to continually (daily even!) say to the Lord, “I offer up my body as a living sacrifice today, Lord. Use me for your purposes.” This is the recurring discipline of consecration. Saying it out-loud is helpful. It’s a reminder that I’m not my own and that I was bought with a price. Also, it’s a reminder that life is short, and I don’t want to waste a lot of time chasing trivial things that aren’t focused on worshiping God.
I’m so thankful that Paul attached verse 2 to verse 1 in Romans 12. I’m so thankful that he moved us down the ladder of abstraction. Paul tells us to not be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This transformation means that we are apart from the world, altered by the truth, and addicted to God’s will for our lives.
Now just to clarify, when Paul uses the word “world” here, he’s not talking about people. He’s not telling us to disconnect from people in this world, move out to some homestead in the wilderness, and start churning our own butter. He’s not telling us “Don’t use the internet, don’t listen to music with a beat, and don’t have your children attend public school.” You can churn your own butter if you want to, but that’s not what Paul is teaching here. “The world” is being used here as a metonymy for “worldliness.” And the “worldliness” that Paul has in mind here is characterized by sin, human foolishness, and worldly wisdom. Paul is saying, “Don’t be conformed to the sin and the worldliness of this present age, an age that is defined by defiance towards God.” Detach yourself from those things. Don’t be a lemming. Don’t be a tool of the world. Don’t be a mindless, imitating follower of what the world wants you to be. Be detached! Conformity is not compelling to the watching world anyway.
Daily Consecration And Transformation
In the North American context, we often speak of worship as “praise” and “praise music.” I think that is appropriate. Praise is a very important aspect of worship in the Bible. But worship is a much larger category than just praise music. One of the ways that we worship God is by offering our bodies as a sacrifice to him. This is the proper and inevitable response of someone who is overawed by the God of the Universe. We should be so fixated and overcome by God’s glory that we say, “Here I am, Lord. Here’s my life. Here’s my body. Here’s my mind. Use it all for your purposes. Here are my talents, Lord. Employ them for your kingdom. Here’s my time left on this earth, Lord. Use it for your glory. I don’t know how much time I’ve got left in this world, Lord. I may have 50 years left, or I may have 50 minutes. But whatever I have left, use it for your glory.” This can be a regular, even weekly prayer offered to the Lord on Sunday. In reality, this should probably be more of a daily prayer.
Warren Wiersbe said, “For many years I have tried to begin each day by surrendering my body to the Lord. Then I spend time with His Word and let Him transform my mind and prepare my thinking for that new day. Then I pray, and I yield the plans of the day to Him and let Him work as He sees best.”2 Every day we can begin with the following prayer: “Lord, I’ve got 24 hours today to use for your glory and almost a third of that will be spent sleeping. Here it is, Lord. Use these 24 hours for your glory. My work. My time with my kids. My prayers. My devotions. My relationships. My rest. Use it as a living sacrifice for your glory.” We should daily offer up our body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.
1 The root verb θύω is predominantly used in the LXX for “sacrifice” or “slaughter for sacrifice” with reference to the animal sacrifices of the OT (rendering the Hebrew זָבַח). However, it can also be used more generally for “kill.” See Moisés Silva, ed., NIDOTTE (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 478: “θύω can mean ‘to slaughter, kill’ even when a sacrifice is not involved.” See also Timothy J. Keller, Sermon “Everyone with a Gift,” September 18, 2011, Romans 12:1-8, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).
2Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1996), 554–555.