Flourishing as a living sacrifice
Many same-sex attracted Christians feel that respecting God’s design for marriage means that they have to sacrifice their desire for a same-sex partner. I was challenged recently with the question of whether giving up a sinful relationship really can be counted as a sacrifice. Is it not merely an act of obedience?
What is a spiritual sacrifice?
This got me thinking about what the Bible teaches us as Christians about sacrifice. The Cambridge Dictionary definition of sacrifice is “to give up something for something else considered more important”. But what does the Bible say? The vast majority of references in the Bible, even in the New Testament, refer to the temple sacrifices as atonements for sin: the blood of animals was shed as a substitution for our sin. But the book of Hebrews makes it very clear that this type of sacrifice is no longer required for those who trust in Jesus’ work on the cross. This is because “where [sins] have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” (Hebrews 10:18).
However, following Jesus is more than a passive receiving of his work on the cross: Jesus says, “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. The cross is a picture of self-sacrifice: Jesus is inviting us to lives of self-sacrifice too.
The New Testament does have some references to what sacrifice looks like for Christians: Peter calls us “to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. Sacrifices now no longer involve the killing of animals (remember, Jesus has taken care of sin on the cross); but the call of every believer to sacrificial discipleship involves “spiritual sacrifices”. Prior to Christ’s death, believers needed to take their physical offerings to the priests who would sacrifice the animals on their behalf. In Christ, however, every believer is a holy priest, able to make their own spiritual sacrifices in the way they live their lives. But what does this mean in practice? Well, the author of Hebrews calls us to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise” (Hebrew 13:15) and not to “forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrew 13:16). So, worship and good works are spiritual sacrifices. A life of spiritual sacrifice is one that is wholeheartedly given over to God.
What’s this got to do with same-sex relationships?
The Apostle Paul applies the language of sacrifice specifically to our bodies:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:1-2)
Paul’s “therefore” takes this idea of our bodies being living sacrifices and links it to the argument that he has been building in chapters 1-11 of Romans. In particular, it is in stark contrast to the degradation of bodies described at the start of the letter:
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” (Romans 1:24)
Whereas ungodly people are given over to sexual impurity and specifically same-sex activity (Romans 1:26-27), the Christian by contrast is called to offer his/her body as a living sacrifice, which does “not conform to the pattern of this world”. It seems that Paul is actually saying that sexual purity, abstaining from the sexual immorality so prevalent in our world, is an act of living sacrifice, which is “your true and proper worship”.
Worshipping through sacrifice
It is really important to remember though, that our sacrificial lives aren't in any way a payment to God. Our sacrifice is a response to the great news of the gospel, that Jesus has become the ultimate sacrifice for us. That's particularly clear in the Romans passage - we are to offer ourselves up “in view of God's mercy” rather not to gain God's mercy by our own merits!
When we think about offering our bodies as living sacrifices, we need to be careful to avoid any feelings of pride in doing so. God has ordered this world, and He’s made it clear that none of us is entitled to a same-sex union. Even though aligning our lives with God’s ways involves sacrificing our desires, we shouldn’t pity ourselves or allow a sense of martyrdom to take hold. Rather, we should present this sacrifice with a genuine attitude of “true and proper worship”.
Our culture tells the celibate person, “don’t waste your life!”, but no sacrifice is wasted in God’s economy. On the contrary, it is magnified. I am reminded of the story of when David was hiding from Saul in the Cave of Adullam and his body “longed for water” (2 Samuel 23:13-17). His companions took great risks against the enemy to bring water back to David from Bethlehem. Rather than drinking the water, however, he poured it out on the ground as an act of worship. His sacrifice demonstrated to those around him that his God meant more to him than his bodily appetites. By giving up this temporary treasure, which would have greatly satisfied his thirst, it was transformed in God’s sight into an eternal treasure in heaven. Likewise, when we offer our “bodies as a living sacrifice”, by abstaining from bodily desires, we worship God and show him to be the one who is greater than any temporary gratification. Indeed, our sacrifices demonstrate to us/others what we really value in life. Such acts of worship actually build our faith and are an amazing witness to those around us.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Winter 2023 edition of Ascend