Sacrifice. What does sacrifice mean?
When thinking about a Christian’s life of sacrifice, it sometimes helps to look up the word in a couple of dictionaries.
Encarta defines sacrifice as “giving up something valuable or important, for somebody or something else considered to be of more value or importance.”
That is an interesting way to view the word “sacrifice.” By this definition, although you’ve given something up, you’ve also received something of greater value in return, which means that, really, there has been an exchange, a trade-off; no true loss was experienced.
It would be a bit like buying a car. It costs you. But having that car was important to you, so you somehow manage to come up with the money for it, whether you work longer hours or tighten your budget for a while. That vehicle is a thing of value and importance to you, so you are willing to pay the price being asked. You sacrificed for it. But you received something you considered of equal or greater value in return.
There are many other examples where the cost / gain transaction happens in everyday life. Athletes sacrifice in order to train hard and win in their sport. Students sacrifice in order to make good grades and graduate. People in the workplace make sacrifices in order to advance in their careers. Everyone has to give something to get something. And the greater the value of what we’re trying to gain, the more it’s going to cost us.
Putting this into terms that relate to our lives as Christians in the Lord’s service, this means that—like the athlete, the student, or career-focused individual—we also have to sacrifice in order to reach our goals.
Sacrifice is not unique to Christians. The average person who is trying to get ahead in life experiences many of the same hardships. Life is difficult. Granted, we may face different types of challenges unique to the Christian faith, but we have also been blessed with the spiritual gifts and understanding needed to meet those challenges.
The point is, it’s not a question of whether we have to make sacrifices in life, but rather what we choose to sacrifice for. Anyone who strives to achieve anything in this life will have to make sacrifices to achieve their goal, dream, or career. As Christians we’ve adopted the Lord’s goals for our lives and have made them our own.
We are willing to make an exchange—giving our life, which in day-to-day terms translates into giving of our time, resources, and finances; giving up possessions, and places that are dear to us, if that’s what the Lord asks; giving of ourselves, our prayers, kindness, empathy, and love—for the sake of being what the Lord wants us to be, where He wants us to be, in order to do His will and reach humankind with His love.
It’s a price we’re willing to pay because we place a greater value and importance on doing God’s will for our lives and fulfilling the great commission than we do on our own lives and what it’s costing us.
Another definition Encarta and Webster’s give for the word sacrifice is actual loss. Webster’s defines it as “something given up or lost; loss.” And Encarta says, “giving up something valued: a loss incurred by giving something away.”
This kind of sacrifice—the kind where you’re giving something away with no visible means of return—is often the kind of sacrifice we experience during the earth life in our service for the Lord. It’s not that there aren’t returns, but they’re not usually immediate, and for the most part we go through life without obvious payback for much of our giving. Of course, we experience joy, peace, and blessings, but we won’t experience our full reward till we get to heaven.
Living for the “now,” seeing immediate results, receiving recognition of our efforts, and reaping the fruit of our endeavors can seem more appealing than living for the eternal. But Jesus has taught us to look beyond our everyday lives to live and work and invest in the eternal life to come, through seeking first His kingdom and righteousness. That may not reap immediate or noticeable results, but we know that according to God’s promises, what we invest in His eternal kingdom will last forever.
In the meantime, however, there is no shortage of sacrifices to be made in the here and now. And this is what we are addressing today—the cost, the price of living for Jesus.
As Christians, we’re very familiar with the concept of sacrifice, but in day-to-day terms what does it really mean?
Love is sacrificial action. Put another way, sacrifice is love put into action, it’s paying the price, it’s something that costs you, and it’s expensive; sacrifice is giving, not grabbing; it’s laying down your life for the other person.
The Lord’s love is always there for us, and we are richly blessed. But sometimes we become familiar with those blessings to the point that we start to think the Lord owes it to us or that we deserve the blessings. We come to expect good fortune in our lives and can be surprised or feel deprived when the Lord requires something from us that we don’t want to give.
We can tend to forget that the calling of an active Christian entails a life of sacrifice.
So to look at our daily lives and expect that everything’s just going to be peachy, that our lives will always go well and we’ll always be happy, that there won’t be times when we will have to abase; or that we’ll never (or should never) have to experience loss, heartaches, or deprivation, is just not realistic. It’s not an accurate depiction of the faith life.
On this topic, Maria Fontaine wrote:
We often have unrealistic expectations about our lives dedicated to the Lord, feeling that we shouldn’t have such big problems, or that problems should dissipate more quickly, or we shouldn’t have to struggle so much.
It really helps if we take a different approach, however, and remember that very often, the battles and struggles we go through and the sacrifices we have to make are par for the course; they’re just part of life—the difficulty and the hardship and the fight are all part of our learning, training, growth, and gaining endurance, compassion, maturity, and faith.
When the Lord said “whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it,”1 He really did mean that. He understood that to serve Him would mean to “lose” your life.
The Lord also tells us to “deny ourselves and take up our cross daily.”2 To deny yourself literally means “to refuse to gratify your personal needs or desires,” to refuse your will and to instead take up the cross—our life of sacrifice and service, daily—and follow Jesus. Here are those verses in full:
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it (Mark 8:35) And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23). So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).
So, we can see that the Lord doesn’t gloss over the fact that the life of a Christian is one of sacrifice and forsaking, which often translates into hardships, trials, weariness, loss, and sometimes even despair.
You know the apostle Paul understood this when he said, “We were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.”3 Paul also said, in reference to living the faith life, “I die daily.”4
That’s really the hardest kind of life to live, the kind where you deny yourself and die daily. But that’s what we sign on to when we agree to follow the Lord. The Bible says that we are “bought with a price” by God.5 It says that we are to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is our reasonable service.”6 Sacrifice is our “reasonable service.”
Sacrifice hurts. Serving the Lord and others can sometimes feel like an endless uphill climb. But let’s put that struggle and the accompanying feelings in perspective by remembering that our stay here on earth is only for a moment when compared with the eternity we will spend in heaven.
We each need to decide if what we’re living for is worth the momentary pain and immediate losses. Think about your personal convictions and commitments. Think about what you’re giving up and why. If you conclude that you’re exchanging today’s sacrifices for something much more valuable and eternal, then it is well worth the price!
If you can declare that Jesus is enough for you, if you can proclaim that the great commission and the promise of eternal heavenly rewards are worth living for, then that understanding will change your approach to sacrifice. You will relish the chance to give back to the Lord and be grateful for the deeper, more sympathetic, more loving person you will become as a result of your selflessness and giving.
So let’s ask the Lord to help us replace selfish attitudes with the joy of sacrificing for God’s will. And may each of us be granted the honor that at the end of a life well spent in God’s service, we, too, will hear Jesus say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant, enter into My joy.”
For more articles from the Roadmap series, visit Anchor.
1 Mark 8:35.
2 Luke 9:23.
3 2 Corinthians 1:8.
4 1 Corinthians 15:31.
5 1 Corinthians 6:20.
6 Romans 12:1.