Tag Archives: Sacrifice

Obedience is an act of Love

When did obedience become a sacrifice?

Scripture tells us God wants those who are His to follow Him in loving obedience. Yet, those He commands to obey rebel and may justify their rebellion as an obedient sacrifice. This shows superstitious thinking, trying to hide personal sin and rationalize poor choices and actions.

Though Scripture is replete with examples the coronation of King Saul is one such story. God chose Saul as king over Israel because the people wanted a king. Samuel grieved over this choice but God reminded him of the rebellious hearts of the people.

“Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. … Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. [1 Samuel 8:7, 9-10 ESV]

Read what Samuel told Saul when he anointed him king in 1 Samuel 10:1-7.

God’s priest, Samuel, gave Saul God’s authority anointing him king. Saul now has authority to act as one with God’s full power behind him. Yet, Saul was weak so God gave him three signs to confirm his authority. What did Saul do after these signs were fulfilled? Was he fully convinced of his place before God? Did he rally the people and the fighting men around him and attack the enemies of Israel? Did he throw off the oppression of the enemies of God? Did he take the throne with strength and force and certainty? Did he plan anything to help his people become free from the threat of God’s enemies? Did he seek God and set his hands and will to do the will God?

He went home and started plowing. He knew how to work for his family but had never been taught to work for God. It wasn’t until the Ammonites attacked Jabesh-gilead that God’s righteous anger welled up in Saul and he took command.

Saul’s authority was as Israel’s king not as God’s priest. God held these offices in sharp distinction. Samuel would not do what Saul was appointed by God to do and Saul should not do what Samuel was given to do by God. Here is Saul downfall. He had not been taught, nor did he seek to have, a relationship with the God he served. When the Spirit of God came upon Saul as fulfillment of one of the signs of his authority he was changed. He did not embrace the change but retreated to the comfortable and known.

Again, the Philistines attacked Israel and Saul, the designated leader, hid with his men in caves. When Samuel did not arrive within the designated time Saul committed a rash act.

“Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him.

Samuel said, “What have you done?”

And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the LORD’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” [1 Samuel 13:9-12 ESV]

Saul was afraid. He did not trust God. Being God’s appointed authority over the nation gave him a place before God no one else had. But, he was superstitious and tried to control God by offering a sacrifice which he had no authority to offer. He knew offering the sacrifice was wrong. Notice he said he “forced” himself to offer the sacrifice.

This one act sealed Saul’s future. It is not that sacrifice was wrong. Nor was it that Saul didn’t need to seek God’s face and will. He needed to ask for God’s strength and direction, to talk with God and listen to Him. His act was foolish, the act of a man who thinks he can manipulate God by doing something, anything, to gain His attention and good-will.

Because of this act Saul lost the kingdom to David, a man after God’s own heart. David sinned more grievously than Saul ever could. But David carried in the thinking of his heart a spirit of repentance. When David did wrong he grieved at how he sinned against God. When Saul did wrong he excused his actions as necessary. David loved God. Saul had no love for God.

Obedience is evidence of love for God.

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Before He Created Me

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24 ESV]

When was the last time you considered the price of your redemption from sin?

Jesus, God in the flesh,

did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 ESV]

He decided to do this before He created the universe, before He combined dust particles to make Earth, before He separated the waters and set the lights in the heavens. Before He molded and made the plants and animals of Earth. Before He created man in His image and set him in a garden to rule over the Earth and subdue it. Before He commanded man to marry and have children and fill the earth with those who bore His image. He decided to create man, with whom He wanted an intimate relationship, knowing man would sin and rebel, corrupting everything he touched, rejecting God and be separated from Him. He decided from before creation to take upon Himself the sentence and penalty for the sins of all.

Yet, not all are redeemed. It only takes one sin to separate the one God loves from God’s love. Adam’s sin, inherited as the sin for all people, was the one sin of disobedience. Now, having taken upon Himself the sin of all and making Himself a sacrifice, after paying the redemption price for all, it still takes only one sin to separate a person from God.

God commands each person come to Him, accept the gift on the altar, the gift of grace, and have an intimate relationship with the One who created them in His image, redeemed them from sin, and recreated them in the likeness of His Son. It still takes only one act of rebellion, one sin, to separate a person from God. That act of rebellion is to disobey the command to come to Him. Obedience carries no merit but brings life and peace with God. Disobedience carries the dire, justified consequences of eternal death, which is separation from Him who gives life.

One sin, Adam’s, brought death to all. One sacrifice, an act of obedient devotion by Christ, brings life to all. One sin, committed by all who flout Christ’s sacrifice, brings death to those who disobey.

Before the creation of anything, Christ loved me.  Knowing about my rebellion and all of my sin before I was, He decided, because of His love, to take upon Himself my sin. This decision brought upon Him indescribable suffering and anguish and cost Him His physical life. Wanting to have an intimate relationship with me, the one He loves, He was willing to take upon Himself, not just my sin, but the truth I would continue to rebel and disobey, reject and ignore Him whom I was created to love. God knew that to love me is to allow me to continue to hurt Him. Yet, still He loves me.

A sacrifice of love, the only true gift worth giving, means suffering and anguish for both the One who loves and the one being loved.

What does God ask in return? Nothing.

God never asks. He commands obedience, a demonstration of love. “If you love me you will keep my commands” [John 14:15 ESV]. This demonstration of love brings incomprehensible suffering, anguish and mourning to those who bring themselves as a gift to God’s altar. He knew my redemption would bring a suffering which would strike at the core of myself, destroy the sinful foundation upon which my life was previously built, empty and crumble my heart of its worldly passions and desires and bring a defeat, a helplessness and hopelessness to my existence. Here is what happens when I see exactly what sin is, what it has done and the consequences of its presence in my life. What is left for me to offer? There is nothing I have, nothing I can give, nothing I can do.

He set aside everything and gave His life. I have nothing to give, only the dry dust of what is left of myself, easily blown away by the casual breath of God. He does not blow away but blows upon and those dry bones come together again, flesh and blood are recreated and life, true life, eternal life is breathed into the nostrils of one recently dead. (See Ezekiel 37.)

After His suffering, a suffering demanded by love known through eternity, is the gift from Him of eternal joy for Him. He created all for an intimate and eternal relationship with Him. He does this by using suffering to make those who are His whole and then completes them with Himself.

He promises eternity free from sin and suffering for those with Him.

Worship of the Heart

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24 ESV]

Jesus continues illustrating the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven by stressing the thinking of the heart in right relationship with God. If we are right with God then we are right with those around us. They may not be right with God or us. Jesus tells us to focus on the thinking of our hearts and not theirs. If someone has something against us it is because of something we have done to offend them, not because our position before God in Christ as righteous offends them.

Do not read these verses thinking Jesus is speaking only about a touchable sacrifice on a solid altar. When Abel and Cain offered their sacrifices is was not the physical sacrifice God cared about but the thinking of their hearts. We know Cain was “angry” and his face was downcast or fallen. We know God did not accept his sacrifice. Sin had bent him toward anger and wanted to control his whole being. We know God warned him to not allow sin control. Death and separation followed Cain’s refusal to heed God’s warning and discipline. Cain’s thinking held murderous intent and contempt for both God and those created in the image of God.

Pride and covetousness stops any capacity to worship. If pride and covetousness does not immediately kill worship then it strangles it. Even a little pride, a little covetousness, completely robs love from any act declared worship.

We are given His Spirit so we might worship Him in spirit and truth. “God is sprit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” [John 4:24 ESV]. When we give to God our gift is an act of love because we give that which is most valuable to us just as He gave what was most valuable to Him to redeem us. Our gift must be nothing less than our selves. Our giving must be done with the thinking of our hearts devoted to the One who has redeemed us. We love our God “with heart and with all your soul and with all your might” [Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV].  We show our love for Him not only through sacrifice but through obedience which is sacrifice.

Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. [1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV]

Our gifts or sacrifices are not prescribed by law but by the indwelling Spirit. Our altar is not made of stone but of living flesh. Our gift has eternal value and encompasses the whole self. Our attitude, the thinking of our hearts, our whole person, must show love for God for the gift of ourselves to be acceptable. Our worship is a spiritual gift. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” [Romans 12:1 ESV].

Knowing this further helps understand what Jesus is proclaiming in Matthew 5:22-23. His illustration pierces to the center of the thinking of my heart. I am undone.  According to Paul and my own experience my body is a slave to sin while my spirit is a slave to righteousness. If my gift to Him is pure and acceptable it is only because I have been enabled to give, to offer worship in spirit and truth, by the One receiving the gift.

I still sin. And I must continue baring responsibility for the immediate, temporal consequences of my sin. Though my relationship with God can never be severed it can be momentarily compromised. In addition, my sin frustrates and obstructs my relationship with my “brother.”

Though the eternal consequences of my sin the sentence of death and eternal separation from God has been lifted and placed on Christ, I still have a body of sin and I will still physically die. I still suffer the immediate and temporal consequences of my sin and the sin of the world. My sin affects the Body of Christ, the Church, and those around me.

Never does God say He will not accept my gift or sacrifice. However, He demands obedience. We love Him by obeying Him. We love Him by loving those created by Him.  When I sin my brother is affected and my person is compromised and my gift or sacrifice is not given in love.

God will not leave such sin unknown.

Godly Motivation and Mystery

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:21-22 ESV]

Abel did nothing to deserve death. He offered God an acceptable sacrifice. His sacrifice is evidence the thinking of his heart was in line with what God wanted from him. He knew to bring a sacrifice from the correct motivation. God accepted his sacrifice because of his motivation. Abel’s sacrifice was not given with the expectation of receiving anything in return. He sacrificed as a show of his love and affection for God.

In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. [Genesis 4:3-5 ESV]

Cain murdered his brother Abel though he had committed no crime worthy of capital punishment. In fact, there were no written or spoken laws. There was only one prohibition given which did carry a spiritual and ultimately physical death penalty. That prohibition was given to Adam about not eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All indications are Cain, their first child, was born after his parents were driven from the garden. All he knew was what his parents told him and the evidence suggests they didn’t tell him accurately what happened, if at all.

God did not protect Abel from his brother Cain. He did tell Cain he was in danger of allowing sin control of his life. He did not stop Cain nor protect Abel from his brother’s murderous intent. “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” [Genesis 4:3-8 ESV].

Though we may hate what happens to us this is how God works. It is the corrupt thinking of our hearts which leads us to believe that which is not true, either about God or about us. There are times when God does protect from the effects of sin.  However, He is not unjust when He allows us to be affected by sin, especially the sin of others. It is not we deserve what happens, though all who sin deserve eternal punishment, but His eternal decrees, His knowledge and will see and know what occurs will ultimately bring Him glory. We do not know how sin, especially the vial sin of people, brings Him glory but we are told it will.

We must see what He does through the clear lens of His truth, not allowing ourselves the permission to color His truth with our misconceptions.  He allows sin full reign in a person so they might see and know and understand the full extent and consequences of sin. He does this so those He wishes to teach might see the complete degradation sin brings upon every iota of human existence.  He points to the consequences of sin in His Word, His laws, the prophecies and teachings, and in His love for each person.  Sinless Jesus died because of sin. This is the most effective evidence for the reality of sin and His love for those He created. He did not protect His Son, Jesus, from the full effect of the sin of the world.

Does this mean He does not love those who are victims of the abhorrent sin of those around them?  It would seem He does not love them. If this were true those who have endured the most violent, degrading, and vile acts against their person would never be covered by the blood of Christ, who endured the most violent, degrading and vile act against His person. His blood shed to cover those who are God’s is the eternal evidence of God’s love for them.

Cain could not hide his murder from God even though he tried. Nothing which happens to anyone is hidden from God. Perhaps this is why we believe He could have prevented sin, especially against ourselves. He could have kept Adam from sinning. He could have prevented Cain from murdering. He could have rescued Abel from his brother’s murderous intent. He did not. He could have kept His Son from dying. He did not. His full reasons are mysterious, seem callus and unloving, but we know, by the resurrection of His Son, they are just and righteous and void of sin.

We also know the intent of the thinking of our hearts is our responsibility, for which we will be held accountable.

Who is in Control?

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:21-22 ESV]

From where does murderous intent come? Does not such intent begin with the imagining of unreasonable expectations which becomes a demand, a law the person requires of others? In the Hebrew Scripture the first sin recorded was not murder. In fact, God does not list all of the sins Adam and Eve committed before Cain was born. God never give a litany of a person’s sins. He reveals some but mostly He documents that they sinned.

After Cain, the first born, and Abel offer their sacrifice God comes to Cain and speaks with him and warns him about the battle raging within his heart. Cain wanted to worship God the way Cain wanted to worship, not the way God wanted. It was not the actual act of worship God spoke to Cain about but the intent of his heart. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” [Genesis 4:6 ESV]. Cain was angry. God had not met his expectations. This is because, even without knowing Cain’s exact expectations, we can suggest they were unreasonable.

Cain carried his emotion in an obvious way. However, no one else saw Cain’s struggle but God and He see everything. Perhaps, Cain had not yet learned to hide his emotions from himself. Before this would happen Cain had to train himself to allow his anger to control his expectations. He excused his sinful thoughts and unrealistic emotions which were contrary to what God had originally designed. He was made in the image of God but carried the bent to sin. God gave him his image. His parents gave him, and all who follow him, the bent toward sin. Sin is an unnatural inheritance. We all have this bent but we all struggle against it because of the natural godly image within our being. God wants control. So does sin. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” [Genesis 4:7 ESV].

Cain chose to allow sin to control his life. Could he have chosen differently?

Here is a conundrum faced by all Christians. God holds us responsible for our sins even though we can identify sin as an unnatural inheritance, a controlling force in our lives, coming down from Adam and Eve to everyone who has ever lived. Except Christ. We have been taught we have no choice but to sin. We have been taught everything we do is sin. We have also been told Christ covered our sin with His righteousness so we are no longer under God’s judgment for sin. But we still sin while we have been taught God expects holiness and righteousness from us. It is impossible for us to reconcile the two positions. They are in conflict.

God told Cain he must control sin by ruling over it so it would not control him. Does He not tell us the same thing? Sin wants us. We must recognize the assault of sin and steadfastly fight to not allow sin control over us. We do not belong to sin but to God. Sin owned us but He bought us back with the eternal price of Christ’s blood. Our fight begins, not with sin but within ourselves. God never lost His fight with sin. We must be willing to allow God to show us what is truly happening within ourselves. We must honestly confront ourselves and the sin which assaults us, recognizing it as sin and not excusing it as natural and expected.

Sin began outside of us, has become an integral though unnatural part of us, and God has given us the tools, strength and grace to combat it. But first we must recognize our own powerlessness and His power in us. James addresses our conundrum.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for ought when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. [James 1:12-15 ESV]

Worship

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:1-2 ESV]

God uses a specific word to describe our relationship with Him.

“Worship.”

Worship is an act of sacrifice designed and implemented to show honor and respect for God. I do not believe this is what God originally intended. God created man in His image so all might naturally serve Him showing their respect and adoration. Enter sin and with it is corruption, like a drop of poison in a gallon of water, every molecule is affected.

In the Hebrew Scripture, in the Mosaic Law, worship was regulated. Acceptable worship was well defined by God when He brought His people out of Egypt, a symbol of the world, into the Promised Land, Israel, a symbol of His kingdom. He gave the Law, the written code, to teach those who claimed to be His about sin and the need for His grace. They were given severe restrictions on appropriate and inappropriate acts of service and sacrifice. Nothing about the Law was designed it give any a means of earning God’s love and affection. Nothing any could do in following the Law would absolve them of the affects sin had upon their complete nature and person.

God looks at the thinking of the heart. Our actions and motivations are revealed in our worship of Him, or lack of worship of Him. Now worship requires sacrifice.

Yet, it was not through the blood of bulls and goats (see Hebrews 10:4) any would be justified or declared righteous in His presence. Only by His grace, His action, His will, would any be freed from the sentence of death demanded as judgment for sin. Only the sacrifice of His Son in our place would payment for the penalty demanded by God’s judgment by satisfied. His sacrifice is an example for us of the type of sacrifice God seeks from those who are His. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” [1 Peter 2:21 ESV].

Jesus gave everything for us, setting aside His glory and position to become a servant as we are meant to be as a citizen of His kingdom. He demands nothing less than everything from us. This is not a demand issued by a malevolent dictator God upon a subservient, dehumanized people. This is an expectation of a benevolent God for a people made whole and loved by Him who, in turn, loves Him.

Sacrifice given in love defeats the worldly attributes of sin and its demands filled with unreasonable expectations for some assumed return.

We love Him because He loved us first, showing His love through the total giving of Jesus with no demand for payment or earned merit. Our sacrifice for Him, a total giving of self, is done because of the absolute intimacy shared and had with Him.

Intimacy grows the closer two come to each other. We are to test the world around us and ourselves so we might know ourselves, created in His image and remade in the likeness of Christ at rebirth. He changes us as we seek Him out. Our point of view changes as we change, as we confront and reject the lie of sin which surrounds us in the world, which tempts us though those we encounter, which tugs and pulls our very flesh. He changes the thinking of our hearts giving us His truth, driving us away from the world and drawing us toward Him, the source of eternal life.

Here is the downfall of many who think they know God by following perceived rules devoid of grace. They know the rules intellectually but do not know Him intimately, the One who is the rules, the eternal Law. Following the rules steadfastly, or at least a worldly understanding of the rules, gives a sense of control which is a subconscious manipulation of God, with the assumption God will tangibly reward those who keep them. Instead of sacrificing themselves to God, an act of loving worship and service, which results in freedom from the sentence of sin and intimacy with Him, they sacrifice a relationship with Him for control. How easy it is to lose sight of Him by seeing only the words.

 

Conclusion: Pure in Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. [Matthew 5:8 ESV]

If we are honest with ourselves we would draw two obvious conclusions. We are not pure and do not want to be pure. Reality tells us purity is unattainable, existing only in a fantasy world. Therefore, we reject the idea of purity. We would also implicitly state I don’t want to see God. I want to hide from God and I certainly don’t want Him to see me, because I’m not pure. If we were honest with  ourselves.

It is not up to us. We were created for relationship with Him so He might love us. His love is so pure He will love us in spite of our sin. He cannot allow sin to continue to control our lives so He demands we focus, not on the sin and the consequences of sin, but on Him. There is a ripping of one’s eyes away from self to God as the recognition of sin and the realization of its consequences force repentance. There is agony in the defeat of self as we relinquish control and filling as we are changed and become what He desires.

He loves us eternally determining to sacrifice Himself so we might rest in His presence. Sacrificial giving is evidence we are attaining purity of heart as God finishes preparing us for eternity. Yet, our giving is seen as sacrificial only in the eyes of the world. Giving from a pure, selfless heart is not a sacrifice but an act of love.

In the Western world we call an offering or sacrifice a donation. Offerings, usually a percentage of income, are given to God according to our means and how He has blessed. Sacrifices cause discomfort.

In the Hebrew Scripture those who gave God from the first-fruits of their crops and livestock were abundantly blessed by God, as He promised. Those who gave free-will offerings did so because of their love for Him. Sacrifices of obedience are required by God. Free-will sacrifices of love, not required but desired, are acknowledgement of who God is and who we are before our Creator. One may lead to the other. An offering from love is evidence of the condition of the heart.

Those who are His come to a place of complete dependence upon God, having learned to direct their attention toward Him. There is no sudden realization of God’s trustworthiness and faithfulness, but a gradual acceptance and appreciation of Him. At some time during life there is a realization of God’s power and love for us, His mercy.  This gradual, sudden understanding is the beginning and end of God’s work of recreating. One element of His preparing us for eternity.

Purity of heart is one of the essential elements of a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus has been listing them in the first seven statements of the Sermon on the Mount.

Those who attain by grace purity of heart begin in the depths of rebellion, admitting the reality of sin. They are poor in spirit and recognize the truth of sin in themselves and the world. Taking this first step of admitting the truth about themselves and of God begins the cascading process of becoming a citizen of the kingdom of God. After admitting the truth of sin is the realization of the consequences of  sin, separation from God and life which brings deep, unbearable mourning.

God does not leave us in this state of agony but breaks our wills and gives us a new, strong spirit. His Spirit and a recreated spirit. This happens when  we relinquish control to Him who created us. Meekness is not weakness but God’s strength in us under His control. He changes the whole person not just a part. He wants the whole person not a fraction. Those who are His begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. And the war begins, for the tug and pull of the world is away from righteousness.

Changing the heart means directing the person to show love toward God and others. Purity of heart is only the second of the three descriptions of love God shows us and the world. Mercy is active love which God shows us and we, because He loves us first, show to others. Purity of heart characterizes God eternal love for us and our selfless love for Him. We will look next at peace, which is God’s love for the fallen shown by our love for them.

Now, in the midst of the war, I want to please God because I am fully convinced, for a moment, of God’s eternal love for me.