Both Saints Peter and Paul refer to “spiritual sacrifices”: As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4–5).
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 (Romans 12:1).
What are they talking about, and how does this shape our Christian walk with Christ?
God’s Word teaches us that we are not saved by our own sacrifices, for “Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’” (John 6:29), and “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28). Only the work of Jesus on our behalf can save and redeem us to make us children of God.
The question for this article is not what saves you; rather, now that you are justified before God in Christ, how shall you live? What does it mean to live as a Christian? The holy apostles write that we are being made something more than we were. We are being built into “a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5), and “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).
As Christians, we are being transformed corporately, not as disconnected individuals; for we are together being formed into the Church. And that makes sense, for it is through our assembling together in worship that we receive our Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament. And these gifts change what we are together, even as they transform each of us individually.
Salvation is already ours through faith in Jesus. Now it is given to us to be together the royal priesthood of God. In the Old Testament, the priests principally fulfilled two duties: they prayed and they made sacrifice—first for themselves, and then on behalf of others.
Jesus has made the sacrifice once and for all for our sins, so we no longer may make sacrifice for ourselves. However, we may offer to God an acceptable spiritual sacrifice on behalf of others. It is an offering of thanksgiving for Christ’s gift of salvation. And this most often will be informed and shaped by the daily roles in which we find ourselves.
So we can care for those who live and work alongside us. We love our neighbor for Jesus’ sake, and in our daily vocation help and support him, living in such a manner that our fellow believer is encouraged and strengthened, and that even those who are lost and dying may see such hope and grace in our daily dealings that they may wonder and ask about the hope we have which so transforms our behavior (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).
Your acceptable spiritual sacrifice, as one redeemed by Jesus, may have a thousand and one ways of expressing itself, according to your vocation and the needs of your neighbor. We can summarize this joyous work in Peter’s instruction: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor (1 Peter 2:17).
As a Christian you are called to a life of willing submission and service to others. In Christ you already have forgiveness, life, and salvation. Now you are called in your ongoing prayer and labor to serve one another in such a way that your fellow believers are encouraged, and your neighbors may see your hope in Christ.
Reverend Jim Wilson
Resurrection Lutheran Church
North Bend, OR
Christ Lutheran Church