How Far Will You Go?
In the Old Testament, when God was creating a people for Himself it started with total obedience and a total sacrifice. Last week I detailed the story of Abraham’s obedience, his unwavering faith, and incredible sacrifice. He was willing to slay his son because God asked him to. For those of you who weren’t here last week, let me say that it was all a test. God was never going to require or allow Abraham to kill Isaac. God was just putting Abraham in a position where he would see if his commitment to God was first and if it was a total and not partial commitment.
In a dramatic and stunning moment, God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac and provided a lamb for the sacrifice. In this test, God was asking Abraham, “How far will you go?” Would Abraham be willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice? Would he be able to give up his son? We know Abraham took sacrifice all the way. Abraham was all-in with God, and that’s why God could use him to become the Father of Many Nations.
The whole Abraham/Isaac story is a type or shadow of what God has done for us through Jesus. Isaac’s birth was prophesied. Jesus’ birth was prophesied. Isaac’s birth was the result of miraculous, Divine intervention as he was born to parents who were 90 and 100. Jesus’ birth was the result of miraculous, Divine intervention as he was born to a virgin.
Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, but he didn’t have to go through with it. God would provide a sacrifice for the sins of the world, but it actually would require the slaying of His Son. Just as Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice proved Abraham’s faith and love for God and led to the production of an entire nation of descendants, God’s willingness to sacrifice His Son, Jesus, on the cross, proved his love for humanity and has produced a new nation of people. For through Christ’s sacrifice, all who trust in Him, have become the Children of God. We are only saved because Jesus went all the way for us. His sacrifice wasn’t partial. He laid down His life for us. It’s really pretty incredible.
Just a side note, but the location of Abraham’s sacrifice and the location of the crucifixion happen to be one in the same. God was definitely pointing His people to Jesus through the story of Abraham and Isaac. One other detail that pointed to Jesus is that Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice. Who else carried the wood for the sacrifice? Jesus did, right? He carried the cross as far as He could anyway, until Simon of Cyrene had to step in and help out. Pretty striking similarities between the sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrifice of Jesus.
As I reflected on the Abraham-Isaac story some more, the character that stood out to me, the person who perhaps was just as all-in as Abraham was his son, Isaac. It would have been one thing if Abraham began to tie his son to the wood and Isaac said, “Wait a minute, Dude. What do you think you are doing?” But there is no commentary in Genesis 22 to suggest that Isaac questioned what his dad was doing to him when he was binding him and placing him on the altar.
We don’t know how old Isaac was when this story unfolded, but we know he was old enough to carry the wood (Genesis 22:6). Scholars believe he was 18 to 33 years of age. That meant that his dad, Abraham, who was 100 when Isaac was born, was now 118 to 133 years old. Isaac, however, was in the prime of his life. He would have certainly been able to fight off his dad. If he didn’t want to have his throat slit, if he didn’t want to become a human torch, he would not have had to because he could have taken his dad without too much of a struggle.
Isn’t that interesting? Not only was Abraham willing to obey God and do the most difficult thing anyone could ever be asked to do, but Isaac was willing to let his dad do it and do it to him. What in the world? Wouldn’t we protest? Wouldn’t we resist? Wouldn’t we struggle to get away? Isaac didn’t. The story is filled with incredible details and the absence of any struggle is one of them. Somehow, Isaac got there. Somehow, Isaac got to the place of total commitment, total sacrifice. He was willing to lay down his life at his father’s leading because he trusted his father was following God’s will.
How does a person get to that kind of willingness? How do we get to the place where we will sacrifice without struggle? That we will say, “Yes, Lord” before we even know the question? That we will be so all-in that God could use us to bring life to a countless number of people?
God is really dealing with me about the condition our world is in. As I observe what is happening in our world today, I will say with great conviction that:
Satan is trying to mar and mutilate and assassinate the image of God in this generation.
I truly believe this. I believe that Satan is hard at work to confuse people from an early age about who they are, who God created them to be and what there purpose is for being on planet earth. He is doing that because he is seeking to destroy anything that reflects God’s image, and he is doing so because he doesn’t want to deal with a generation who would be fully committed to Christ. He knows when people are all-in with Jesus, his influence is diminished, his power is all the more limited. And as I see things right now, it appears that Satan has the upper hand. When I look around me, I see that:
Truth has been exchanged for a lie.
People’s opinions are more important than God’s Word.
People falsely believe they can live any way they want to as long as they are authentically true to themselves.
We aren’t supposed to live true to ourselves. We are supposed to be true to God and His Word. I believe in order for things to turn around, in order for mass numbers of people to be converted in these last days, in order for there to be common ground between our fellow man, in order for there to be progress in our country and peace in our streets, the church has got to be white-hot with passion for the Lord’s will and be willing to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel.
This past week, I went to Craigsville Campmeeting, a Church of God annual event. I heard a song I hadn’t heard in a long, long time and it stirred my heart. It says:
You have longed for sweet peace and for faith to increase and have earnestly, fervently prayed. But you cannot have rest or be perfectly blessed until all on the altar is laid. Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid? Your heart, does the Spirit control? You can only be blessed and have peace and sweet rest as you yield Him your body and soul.
Isaac didn’t resist being the sacrifice. He trusted his father, Abraham, so much that he knew he would be kept safe. He asked his dad where the animal was for the sacrifice. Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the sacrifice. Isaac believed him. He had heard his dad tell the servants to stay put while he and his dad journeyed on to worship. He heard his dad tell the servants they would both come back together. Isaac believed him. Totally. Fully. And without flinching, without fear, he willingly yielded his whole being.
What I believe God wants to say to us today is that God doesn’t just call us to salvation, but He calls us to complete and total consecration.
This isn’t a popular message today, but it’s the truth. I have to be honest with you today. I want you to hear Romans 12:1-2 with your heart. You have heard it many, many times. Hear it anew this morning.
Romans 12:1-2 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern 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.
Each one of us has an opportunity to make spiritual decisions every day. Presenting ourselves as living sacrifices to God is a spiritual decision and here is the truth:
1. No one can offer your life as a living sacrifice but you. This is something you have to do for yourself. I cannot offer you as a living sacrifice to God. You cannot offer me as a living sacrifice to God. Each one of us has this spiritual decision to make. How far will we go with this Christianity and consecration thing?
Consecration to God is a total offering. To present your body as a living sacrifice is to present your entire being, body, mind and spirit. We withhold nothing. We don’t say to God, “Well, you can have my hands and feet to use to serve other people on occasion, but my mind, well, that’s for me to use however I want to.” No. When we make the spiritual decision to be living sacrifices we are saying there is no part of who we are that is off limits to God. And it isn’t just about our physical, emotional, and mental selves. It is about what we do, what we say, how we spend our time and money. It’s a total surrender of it all to the Lordship of Christ.
Again, not a popular message, but it isn’t a request that has no benefit for us. The way to experience our best life is to let God be in complete control. Anyone who would think they could run their life better than God doesn’t have a clear mind or a full understanding of the difference between God’s ability and ours.
The surest way to miss God’s best is to offer Him less than our best.
Living sacrifices will incur a cost.
Why do you make a sacrifice? You make a sacrifice because you believe whatever sacrifice you are making is worth it. You spend lots of money and time to go to college because you think it will be the best way to prepare you for your future. You go without something so that your kids can have something they need or want. You pick up an extra job so you don’t have financial stress. You stay up late to get the project done that will yield your company a significant profit. You diet for three months before summer so that you can fit into your summer clothes. You hit the gym to increase your strength and see your guns popping out and your abs well defined. You drop weight so that your heart functions better or so that you can go off of a medication. You do those things because it is worth it to you to make the sacrifice.
I’m telling you that offering your body as a living sacrifice to God will cost you, but it is worth it. Do you want God’s best? Do you want to live with power? Do you want to be transformed spiritually or are you good with just having an earthly experience and making it through each day?
That whole phrase, “Living Sacrifice” is a bit of an oxymoron. If you are going to actually be a living sacrifice, you are going to have to choose to be dead to some stuff. You have to choose to be dead to sin. When God says, “This behavior needs to go from your life, you can’t take off running in the direction of sin.” When God says, “These thoughts need to depart from your mind,” you can’t get up off the altar and say, “I can think whatever I want to think.” When God says, “You can’t talk that way to people,” you can’t say, “I’ll say what I want.” When God says, “I don’t want you putting that stuff into your body,” you can’t say, “I’ll inhale what I please.” When God says, “You can’t look at those perverse images,” you can’t say, “I’ll view what makes me happy.” I mean, you can say those things, but not if you are going to be a living sacrifice. There is a cost to going all-in with God.
Yes, there is a cost to being a living sacrifice, but the benefit? Oh my! The benefit far exceeds the cost. Anything I could give up to please the Lord would be for my benefit. It would bring blessing to me. It would expand my territory and influence. It would protect me from self-harm and the destruction that sin causes. In order to present yourself as a living sacrifice to the Lord, you need to embrace that the cost is worth it. How far will you go to sacrifice in order to experience God’s best?
3. Living sacrifices will worship God.
Paul says that when we offer our bodies to the Lord as living sacrifices, we are actually worshiping the Lord. When we say “No” to sin, we are worshiping the Lord. When we lay down that substance that God has asked us to put aside, we are worshiping the Lord. When we stop cursing and taking God’s name in vain, we are worshiping the Lord. When we quit using our bodies in ways that are outside of God’s Word and plans, we are worshiping the Lord.
What I want us to understand is that there is no true worship without sacrifice. God deserves the best worship we can offer. How far will you go in order to worship Him? Are you good just to sing on Sundays with the crowd or will you honor Him with your entire being Monday through Sunday?
Living sacrifices will be transformed. If I am going to live as a sacrifice for the Lord, I won’t look like and live like someone who lives without Christ. There will be a change in my heart, a change in my passions, a change in my focus, a change in my desires, a change in my motivation for living. When we present our bodies to the Lord, we are expressing our desire to be completely committed. It’s like enlisting in the military. People who sign up belong to the military for as long as they are serving. They are obedient to the commands of their commanding officer. They do what they are told. They eat what they are served. They get in line and follow the prescribed program. They don’t suggest a better way to do things. They don’t offer their opinion about strategy or protocol. They comply because there is a good reason for them to conform. Something is being developed in them that is for a higher purpose, a greater good. There is a sense that they have abandoned their way of life for a higher calling. Can you agree with me that following Jesus with everything in you is the highest calling anyone could answer? Has God not called us to be wholly His? Has He not given us reason after reason after reason to want to belong fully and completely to Him? When people become living sacrifices part of that complete commitment involves transformation from the inside out, a real change that is noticeable as we begin to live life in response to our Commanding Officer!
It would be awfully hard to stay completely committed to something without an inward motivation, without an inward change. Listen, when God has is way on the inside, you become indestructible, unstoppable, supernatural and oh, so powerful. When God has His way on the inside of you, you become like Jesus. And the things this culture says you have to have and become won’t even appeal to you, and you will be happy about it. You will be thrilled to live separated from the drama and destruction taking place. Oh, I’m preaching the truth this morning. I want to be like Jesus. There is no other way to get there than through this process of becoming a living sacrifice.
Our text says in Romans 12:2 that after you present yourself as a living sacrifice, committing your all, and after you willingly give God control to change you from the inside out, then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Please hear me with your heart this morning. The transformation you can experience with God’s help will bring the greatest satisfaction into your life. You will love the will of God. You will want the will of God. Doing the will of God will be exciting and fun. It will bring deep contentment and true blessing to your life. How far will you go in order to experience the perfect and pleasing will of God?
Why should we do any of this? Why should we even think about giving God complete control of our lives? Yes, I said that God can run our lives better than we can, but what else could motivate us to want to give us a try? The answer is found in verse 1 of Romans 12: “In view of God’s mercy.”
Living sacrifices understand and respond to the mercy of God.
Without Jesus as our Savior, without the forgiveness of sin that He offers, without the Holy Spirit coming to make His home in our hearts and to give us spiritual life, we live in a state of depravity. We live without spiritual life. We live without an internal compass that is truly holy or moral. We live without peace. We live without wholeness. We live broken. We live to chase what will never satisfy. Without the experience of God’s mercy in our lives, we have no identity as a Child of God. We live without a sense of God’s abiding presence. We live without understanding our reason for being. We live without direction. We live without the help we need to avoid destruction. Without the mercy of God, we will self-destruct. And of course, without God’s mercy we live without the hope of heaven. Everyone doesn’t go to Heaven. Only those who have been impacted by the mercy of God by asking Christ to be their Savior are going.
But once you receive the mercy of God, once you realize what God has done for you in Christ, once the weight of sin is off your back, once you realize that you have possibilities for a future—that you aren’t doomed to be who you have always been, once you have an encounter with the presence of God, once you hear God say, “Fear not, for I have redeemed You; I have called you by name and You are mine,” once you have tasted the Living Water of the Holy spirit, like once you experience moving from darkness into His marvelous light, once you go from being an orphan to a Child of God, you will want to offer yourself in return. This is the only legitimate response to God’s mercy.
And here’s the thing: He didn’t have to do it. That’s what I don’t think we fully understand sometimes. He didn’t have to do it. God didn’t have to send Jesus to die. In our entitlement society I wonder if we think God owed it to us to send Jesus. He didn’t. God owes us nothing, but He has given us everything. How could we not offer ourselves in return? How far will you go, Christian? How far will you go in order to respond to the incredible mercy of God?
I see no other legitimate response but the laying down of our lives for the One who laid His down for us. It is time to move beyond casual, to move beyond comfortable, to move beyond careless and caution-less living. It is time to go all in, to be fully committed, completely consecrated to the Lord.