Summary: The principle of self-sacrifice is foundational to the doctrine of the Christian life. So, in our lesson today I want to examine four aspects of the principle of self-sacrifice.
For the past few weeks we have been studying Romans 12:1-2. In Romans 12 the Apostle Paul begins applying the doctrine that he has been teaching for the previous 11 chapters. Now, it is not that he has made no application in the previous 11 chapters; he has. However, as he begins chapter 12 he is, in a sense, saying, “In light of all that I have taught, how should we then live?”
And so I would like to take the next few weeks and look carefully at each phrase in the two verses in Romans 12:1-2.
Let’s read Romans 12:1-2:
1I 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. 2Do 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)
A paradox is sometimes defined as “a self-contradictory and false proposition.” However, a paradox may also be defined as “a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true.”
If someone says, “I am lying,” for example, and we assume that his statement is true, it must be false. The paradox is that the statement “I am lying” is false if it is true.
Sometimes people say that Christianity is full of paradoxes. Some say that Christianity is self-contradictory or false.
However, Christianity is true, and the paradoxes that appear in Christianity are seemingly contradictory but nonetheless true.
One notable paradox in Christianity is the Trinity. We say that there is only one God, but we also say that this one God exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The reason we know that this paradox is true and not false is because God has revealed himself in this way in the Scriptures. So, God says that there is only one God in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” And God says that there are three persons in the Godhead in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Another paradox in Christianity concerns the Christian life. We must die in order to live. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). And the Apostle Paul said, “If we have died with him [i.e., Jesus], we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11).
It was these words that inspired this well-known prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
Seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is by giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is by dying that we are born to eternal life.
These words capture the essence of what Paul set down in Romans 12:1 as the first principle for living the Christian life. It is the principle of self-sacrifice. Paul said, “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.”
In Paul’s day a sacrifice was an animal that was given to a priest to be killed in order to be offered to God. So Paul is saying that the Christian life begins by offering ourselves to God in order to die. The paradox is that by offering ourselves to God to die we are actually enabled to live for him.
Therefore, it is by dying that we are enabled to live. Remember that Jesus said that living for ourselves is actually death, while dying to self is actually living the abundant life. And so, as James Montgomery Boice asks, “What should we call this paradox?” Let’s call it, as he does, “Dying, We Live.”
This principle of self-sacrifice is foundational to the doctrine of the Christian life. It is important, therefore, to explain it clearly and carefully. So, in our lesson today I want to examine four aspects of the principle of self-sacrifice.
I. We Belong to Jesus and Not to Ourselves
The first aspect of the principle of self-sacrifice is that we belong to Jesus and not to ourselves.
Now, before I go further, I need to stress this very important necessary condition. We belong to Jesus and not to ourselves only if we are Christians. Clearly, if we are not Christians, we don’t acknowledge Jesus’ kingship and we frankly live for ourselves. But, the moment we became Christians we instantaneously belonged to Jesus and not to ourselves.