One of the central principles of Scripture is sacrifice. It is the foundation upon which all service and godliness is built and fastened. Nevertheless, many people have different ideas about what sacrifice is and what role it plays in the lives of the servants of God. Some define sacrifice as being forced to do something you do not want or prefer to do. Others will define sacrifice as nothing more than a Biblical description of ancient cruelty to animals. The true significance and purpose to be found in sacrifice is utterly lost in such concepts. Therefore, it is worth our time and effort to understand what it means to sacrifice, and how the Bible uses this particular concept.
The term “sacrifice” is used over 200 times in the Bible. Though the majority of the passages are found in the Old Testament, there are 24 uses of the term in the New Testament as well. Webster defines this word as, “the offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage; the person, animal, or thing so offered; the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim; to surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.” It is obvious that there are a variety of ways this word can be used; by the same token, the Bible uses the principle of sacrifice in multiple ways as well. As one considers the term in question, the definitions given fit perfectly with the use of Biblical sacrifice.
“The offering of animal, plant, or human life or of some material possession to a deity, as in propitiation or homage.” This is a summation of the sacrifices offered under the Old Testament laws. The offerings of the blood of animals on altars, though they could not remit sins, did have the power to roll the sins of man forward to the time when the ultimate sacrifice could be made for man in the person of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:1-13; 10:2-4). These things were commanded by God in preparation for the coming of Christ and as a method of bringing man to obedience to the will of God.
“To surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.” This is precisely the sort of sacrifice Christ made for mankind. Jesus Christ, the Word, the Son of God, permitted His life to be surrendered and sacrificed for us. It was not because of any wrong which He had done, or any desire He had to know what death was like, but in order to save His own creation (Col. 1:13-18). The sacrifice of Jesus was an act of selflessness unlike any which ever has, or ever will be, seen on the face of this earth. The Hebrews writer explains to us that this was the only way by which man could receive redemption (Heb. 9:23-28). Therefore, Christ permitted His body to be crucified to the cross of calvary for our sins.
“The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” This is the type of sacrifice God requires of us today. If we are to be acceptable in the sight of God we must be willing to surrender and destroy the things which hold us within the grasps of worldly devices, and look toward that greater goal of Heaven (Rom. 12:1-2; Tit. 2:11-12; Heb. 12:1-2). Only by doing so can we take advantage of the blood of Christ which was offered on our behalf.
Our understanding of the principles of sacrifice as laid forth both in definition and practice can only serve to strengthen our ability to serve our Lord. However, we must be willing to put into practice the principles of sacrifice, lest we make the sacrifice of God of none effect.