All fires burn out. Even the greatest of forest fires eventually gives way to nothing. Though it may at one time be blazing with heat, wildly untamed and raging with fury, a fire will die. Sure, it leaves its mark. There are scars everywhere. Blackened earth. Naked trees. Vast emptiness that once consisted of lush vegetation. Ashes everywhere. Yet the fire is gone, its life is over, forever.
I was reading Romans 12:1 one evening. It reads, “Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, 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” (TNIV).
It is interesting that the author, Paul, uses the term “living sacrifice.” Up until the death of Jesus, it was common for Jews to sacrifice animals for the forgiveness of their sins. From previous readings in the first part of the Bible, I learned that the animal would be slain and then burned on the altar. It was considered a dead sacrifice, because the animal was dead prior to the burning. So the term “living sacrifice” must have struck the people of that day as extremely odd, even paradoxical.
And it did me as well.
When I picture a “living sacrifice,” a comical yet scary picture runs through my head. I imagine some guy running around his back yard with some part of his clothing on fire, because he put too much lighter fluid on the grill before tossing the match. He runs around screaming until he is finally able to put it out by jumping in the kiddy pool he had set out for his children. Don’t worry; his injuries are few.
Yes, the image of a “living sacrifice” could be much more gruesome and horrifying, but I opt for the guy who is now lying with relief in the kiddy pool. It is less troublesome on the mind.
But is this bizarre image that far from the truth?
The Bible says that “in view of God’s mercy”—in view of His willingness to give us another shot, in view of Jesus’ coming to earth, to undeservingly cleanse us of our sins and make us whole again—we are to lay our life, our wants, our desires, on the altar and allow God to use us as He sees fit. When we do this, we do not die. When we do this, it is not an end. God does not want a dead sacrifice. He wants to use us as living, breathing humans while we are here on this earth. And when we lay ourselves on the altar, be prepared for God to do His part. What does He do?
He sets us on fire.
Things that are laid on the altar are meant to be burned. They are meant to be lit up with flames, engulfing whatever has been placed on the altar. Once we are willing to put ourselves up on the altar, God wants to set us on fire. He wants us to be consumed by an untamable inferno. He wants to use us for His purpose, a greater purpose than you or I could imagine.
We have to constantly remind ourselves to throw our lives up on the altar. Somewhere in the Bible it says to take up our cross daily. We must do the same thing with the altar. We need to offer ourselves up for sacrifice daily because our humanness allows us to make mistake and follow wrong paths. Somehow, we must commit ourselves to being sacrificed.
I think about how incredible it would be, when at the end of my time here on this planet, God looks at my earthly life and sees nothing but ashes remaining. How awesome would it be to know that, because I daily presented myself as a living sacrifice, God constantly let me burn brightly until He could no longer use me, until my life was nothing but ashes. I left nothing else to be consumed.
Fortunately, unlike the fires we see consuming forests, when our lives are nothing but ashes, the fire can still go on. When our lives are set aflame by God’s hand, we will undoubtedly have an impact somewhere on someone. And though our flame has left, the heat that was felt from our lives while we were here on this earth could spark another flame in another life. Your fire could leave a legacy that no fireman could ever put out.
I don’t know what God will do with my life. I don’t know where He will take me or how He will use me. My only hope is that He will set my life on fire, a fire that rages uncontrollably. By no means have I mastered the self-sacrifice. I am still learning, still growing. However, just knowing the potential of what could be motivates me to try to be a “living sacrifice” for the One who first loved me. I want to be used. I want to be completely burned out.