What Does It Mean to Be a “Living Sacrifice”?

Dustin Crowe
header for What Does It Mean to Be a “Living Sacrifice”?

The Old Testament thanksgiving offering reflected a person’s willing acknowledgment of God’s goodness. The sacrifice symbolized a greater truth: everything comes from God and belongs to God. The New Testament trades in the shadow of the animal sacrifice for the reality of grateful worship and devotion.

Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

The discontinuity is clear in that living sacrifices replace life-taking sacrifices. Because Jesus fulfills the sacrificial system, God’s people no longer offer animals or grains (Col. 2:16; Heb. 10:12–14). Now the sacrifice costs more and the act of worship is more comprehensive. We’re called to not just make an offering but to be the offering. We don’t give God something outside of us; we give Him ourselves.

Let’s see what this looks like in three passages.

We no longer merely give a sacrifice but we live as a sacrifice.

Romans 12:1–2

Though separated by eleven chapters, Romans 12 echoes language from the opening chapter (1:18–32) and contrasts two very different ways to live. Central to this comparison is the role of thanksgiving.

The first chapter characterizes the person far from God by their ingratitude, idolatry (false worship), and disobedience. Romans 12 describes the godly by their gratitude, worship, and obedience (12:12). In his excellent book about Paul’s theology of thanksgiving, David Pao writes, “If Romans describes the ingratitude (cf. 1:21) that characterizes those who refuse to worship him, Romans 12 calls us to offer all of ourselves ‘as living sacrifices’ (12:1) to him who deserves all praise and thanksgiving.”5 We either offer our life, day, and body to God or to false gods. Choosing gratitude or ingratitude plays a large role in which path we’ll take.

Paul writes, “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” (Rom. 12:1). Paul embeds thanksgiving in the language of a living sacrifice. Our act of worship shouldn’t be a one-and-done offering but something we continually do.

Because everything we are and have is found in Christ, our whole life is lived with gratitude. It includes giving thanks, singing praise, generosity, prayers of gratitude, and retelling God’s faith- fulness, but these small practices build a larger posture of gratitude. The small choices and cultivating the right habits add up.

Colossians 3:15–17

Paul conveys a similar idea when he urges living a God- centered life. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Colossians 3:15–17 says it a little differently:

And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Giving thanks to God (Col. 3:17) isn’t an afterthought or an optional add-on. It’s not separate from doing everything in the name of Jesus. We live all of life under Jesus’ lordship with gratitude and through gratitude. Giving thanks articulates our worship.

Hebrews 13:15

While Jesus ended the sacrificial system through His substitutionary death, one sacrifice remains: the sacrifice of praise. “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:15–16; see also 1 Peter 2:5, 9).

We no longer merely give a sacrifice but we live as a sacrifice. Thankfulness for Christ’s work swells up from within and surges out in verbal acts of giving thanks (13:15) and loving deeds to others (13:16). Gospel-generated gratitude pours into every nook and cranny of our life.

For Further Reading:

The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks

by Dustin Crowe

The apostle Paul instructed the Philippians to be anxious in nothing and thankful in everything. And when he said everything—he meant...

book cover for The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks