A Living Sacrifice, that is what we are called to be in the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 12:1 (NIV) writes, “therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship.” But the very concept of a living sacrifice is an oxymoron. Like “jumbo shrimp, awful good, and bittersweet” the words “living” and “sacrifice” are quite contrary to one another. Living encompasses movement, interaction, energy, and vitality. Sacrifice is defined by the destruction or surrendering of something for the sake of something else. There is always an element of destruction and death associated with a sacrifice. So, what does it mean for a Christfollower to reconcile these two terms and become a living sacrifice?
If you are a Christian, you unequivocally believe in salvation by grace through faith. Nothing we can do will earn us entrance into fellowship with God. It is only through Jesus’s sacrificial death and resurrection that we can experience relationship with our Creator. We find our salvation in Jesus’s sacrifice and in return, we respond with loving obedience to his call to genuinely love God and to love others. Abandoning a life ruled by selfish desire and vain conceit to follow Christ’s example and reflect the character of God defines a Christian life. Our spirits, however, are not magically transformed upon our salvation to reflect Christ. We grow to become more like Christ as we actively participate in nurturing our relationship with God (living), while simultaneously dying to our selfish nature that is opposed to Christ (sacrifice). This process of spiritual growth is known as sanctification, and like salvation, it too is a gift from God. God not only redeems us, but he grows us into an image that reflects him. Sanctification is the act of becoming a living sacrifice. It is the act of sacrificing, or dying, to our sin nature and living as a redeemed child of God.
But how do we die to our sin nature? Romans 12:2 (NIV) gives us insight. “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” The sacrificing of our sin nature means turning away from the patterns of this world while renewing our minds through spiritual acts of discipline. As we look at our world, we can identify patterns that are contrary to God. These patterns include, but are not limited to, selfishness, exploitation, abuse, laziness, excess, and hate. And our desire for the sinful ways of the world is not easily shed in this life. As the Holy Spirit tells us through Paul’s words, “we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Through spiritual practices or disciplines, we transform and renew our minds to become more like Jesus Christ, dying to ourselves and offering our lives as a sacrifice to God. Richard Foster, in his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, writes, “the spiritual disciplines are God’s means of grace by which we are enabled to bring our little, individualized power pack we call the human body and place it before God as a living sacrifice. They [the spiritual disciplines] place us-body, mind, and spirit-before God. The results of this [sanctification] process is all of God, all of grace.”1
Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline and is one practice that transforms and renews our mind. There are many examples of fasting practices in the Old and New Testaments and all throughout the history of the Church. Fasting, in its most basic undertaking, means to abstain from something desirable for a certain amount of time. We fast to become a living sacrifice, humbly placing ourselves before God as his creation and recognizing and acknowledging his authority. It forces us to deny ourselves and our desires and humbly approach God as the author and sustainer of our life. It is a way to cast off selfishness while renewing our mind by acknowledging our utter dependence on God for our every breath. It refocuses our mind, reminding us of our need for redemption and forgiveness.
Over the next seven weeks, we, as a church, will participate in weekly fasting challenges. Some of these fasts will be denying ourselves of daily habits-eating, screens, noise, etc. While other fasts will lead us into the giving of our time, thoughts, and talents to others. Our spiritual discipline of fasting renews our minds and encourages us in our daily sacrificial living. Fasting is best experienced within community because we can encourage one another. As a church, we will share our fasting experiences with one another in our RGroups, from the pulpit, and through social media conversations. In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus does command us to live our normal lives while we fast and not to let others know that we are fasting. But this command is less about fasting and more about rebuking those who “humble brag” (oxymoron alert!) about their spiritual practices. At Restoration Church, we are celebrating our fasts to encourage one another and to bring glory to God through our living sacrifice. There is no elevation of self or humble bragging in our communal practice of fasting. It’s all about offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to our Lord and redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Be sure to tune in to the Sunday sermons and check out the weekly posts on the RJournal for instruction and encouragement with our weekly fasting challenges. Let us worship God and bring glory to his name as we traverse the path of fasting and sanctification together.
1. Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (New York: HarperOne, 2018), xiv.