“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” This verse is Romans 12:1. Usually, I quote the dictionary definition of the spiritual discipline that I’m writing about, but with service, the Bible gives us a pretty clear one. “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” Serve God in everything you do.God calls us to be living sacrifices. Let’s take a minute to talk about that word “sacrifice,” because I know it has the negative mental image of killing people or animals in Indiana Jones-type temples. If that’s what you think of, you’re right—that is one definition. And, if you think that a sacrifice of that magnitude is only for the movies and the Old Testament, you’re wrong—the sacrifice I’m talking about here should carry the same seriousness as a physical sacrifice, because Jesus was the physical sacrifice that atoned for our sins.
Jesus calls us to live our lives sacrificially, and that could mean our literal lives, as it has for many Christians around the world. But day to day, the definition I’m working from is “the act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone.” “Sacrifice” means giving up the lifestyles we want in order to fully serve Jesus, to live in submission (cough cough, read last week’s blog) to him. Richard Foster says, “As the cross is the sign of submission, so the towel is the sign of service.”
The cross represents Christ and how he died and rose again to set us free. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Other translations read “have it in all its fullness” and “give them a rich and satisfying life.” However, just because we are free does not mean we can live life selfishly. Galatians 5:13 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” The cross represents Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice; the towel represents Jesus’ lifestyle, his washing the feet of his followers, his “first shall be last and last shall be first” mentality.
The problem—for me at least—is that I am constantly scrambling to be the best. In many ways, that’s good—it’s what drives my work ethic, and God calls us to work at whatever we do with all our heart as if we are working for him, not men (Colossians 3:23). But while a strong work ethic is a biblical principle, it turns negative when the pursuit to be the best turns to prioritizing the competition over God and others, or when my focus shifts from God to earthly treasures or authority or prestige or fame.
As the saying goes, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it can keep crawling off the altar.”* I know I’m supposed to be living my life in service to God—but that’s often easier said than done. There is good news, though. Foster says, “More than any other single way, the grace of humility is worked into our lives through the Discipline of service.” You can’t very well trample others if you’re washing their feet. You can’t very well put your needs and wants first when you’re presenting your whole life as a sacrifice. Service leads us to humility. And a “humble heart” is the only thing with which we should approach the King of Kings.
Clearly, service is an important part of the Christ-follower’s life. Service can be anything, really. It doesn’t have to be building houses on the weekend. Often, service is never really noticed by man. But even when man doesn’t see your service, God does. Hebrews 6:10 says, “ God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” True service is when you’re serving and sacrificing for an “audience of One.” True service is when you serve with no intent to get anything back—including human praise.
A lifestyle of service defines our Savior’s life on earth, and so it should define our lives as well. Foster says, “The risen Christ beckons us to the ministry of the towel. Such a ministry, flowing out of the inner recesses of the heart, is life and joy and peace.”
When the first becomes last, she truly follows in her Savior’s footsteps. And when she dies to herself, she truly lives.
*I tried really hard to figure out the original source of this quote, like a good English major, but I couldn’t.