A Living Sacrifice

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Romans 12:1 (KJV)

What does it mean to present oneself as a “living sacrifice”?


Under the substitutionary sacrificial system, when an animal is brought as a sacrifice, as a substitute for the one bringing the sacrifice, can it be sacrificed whilst still alive? Of course not.

The Torah is very specific about what is to happen when an animal is brought as a sacrifice:

  • it must be from your own herd i.e. it must cost you something
  • it is set apart (holy, sanctified) for God
  • it must be inspected by the priest
  • it must be killed in a specific way, by having its throat slit and its blood drained out.
  • it must be lifted up onto the altar by the one bringing the sacrifice.

In other words, if it is still alive, it cannot be a sacrifice. It must be dead before it is placed onto the altar.  You cannot present a “living” sacrifice.

So how can Paul write this to the believers (remember, both Jews and Proselytes meeting in the synagogues) in Rome?

Under what circumstances can an animal set aside for God and brought to the temple to be given as a sacrifice remain living? When it is inspected and found to have a blemish! To be accepted as a sacrifice, an animal must be inspected and found to be without blemish. If a blemish is found, that animal cannot be sacrificed.

But it is still set apart for God! It cannot now be returned to the herd; once being declared holy or sanctified (set apart), it cannot then return to being profane. It has been dedicated to God’s purposes and remains at the Temple to be used for whatever purpose is deemed appropriate.

Brothers and sisters, this is a picture of you and me. We are not spotless, without blemish. Only our saviour and Lord, Yeshua (Jesus) was examined and found to be without blemish. He became our substitute, the perfect, acceptable Lamb of God, and thus became our sacrifice. We, on the other hand, are not worthy to be sacrificed as He was; instead, we are to present ourselves as set apart for God’s purposes, dedicated to His use, and not to return to our previous state and our profane, or common, lifestyles. We are to remain in His service.

What of the Temple? There is no temple in Jerusalem as this is written, so how are we to present ourselves? What does Paul say?

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 1 Cor 3:16 (KJV)

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Cor 3:19-20 (KJV)

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.  Eph 2:19-20 (KJV)

Hmmm – it all begins to make more sense now. We are to be set apart for Him. We are to be presented to the Priest and examined. When found wanting (as we all are), we need not worry as He has already made provision through His own sacrifice. Nevertheless, we cannot be returned “to the herd”; once sanctified, we are to remain in the Temple, dedicated to His purposes, whatever it might be that He has in mind for us as His sanctified, set apart, “living sacrifices”.

Would the first century Jewish and proselyte believers have understood what Paul (Sha’ul) was writing about when he told them to present themselves as “living sacrifices”? Of course – they new Torah. They studied it every week. It was assumed knowledge when he wrote his letter – that is why he didn’t need to explain himself.

Unfortunately, 2000-odd years later, we’re way behind in our understanding because we haven’t studied Torah diligently and therefore we’ve lost the reference point that Paul had when he wrote his letters.

Maybe it’s about time we started catching up…

Rodney posted at ה׳ באדר ה׳תש״ע (February 19, 2010) Category: Epistles, Torah