A Lifestyle of Sacrifice

Lesson Focus:  This lesson explores what the Bible says about a lifestyle of sacrifice by examining Jesus’ command to take up one’s cross, the example of the widow’s offering, and Paul’s command to offer oneself as a living sacrifice.

Sacrifice Defined:  Luke 9:23-24,57-62.

[23]  And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. [24]  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. [57]  As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." [58]  And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." [59]  To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." [60]  And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

[61]  Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home."

[62]  Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  [ESV]

[23-24]  Jesus lays out three conditions of discipleship. The first involves a need to deny oneself. This is much more radical than simply a denial of certain things. This mandates a rejection of a life based on self-interest and self-fulfillment. Instead a disciple is to be one who seeks to fulfill the will and the teachings of Christ. Another metaphor to express this act of commitment is to hate one’s own life [14:26]. The opposite response can be seen in 12:9 and Acts 3:13-14. The second condition involves the need to take up one’s cross. Jesus’ own crucifixion reveals more fully to Luke’s readers that this call is for a commitment unto death. There needs to be willingness to suffer martyrdom if need be. The final condition is the need to follow Jesus. In contrast to the other conditions this verb is a present imperative, indicating that following Jesus must be continual. Verse 24 contains two words, save and lose, used twice but with different meanings. The first use of save means a failure to deny oneself, but the second means to receive eternal life. Conversely, to lose in the first instance means to suffer the judgment of hell, but in the second it means to deny oneself. This verse is also an example of paradox. To lose one’s life is to be equated not with Christian martyrdom but with the fulfillment of the three conditions given in verse 23. On rare occasions this may lead to martyrdom, but one can fulfill the conditions of verse 23 without suffering martyrdom.

[57-62]  In these verses three sayings of Jesus are addressed to potential followers, and all three center around the term follow [57,59,61]. Luke placed these sayings in the travel narrative by the words as they were going along the road. The three sayings remind Luke’s Christian readers of the stringent nature of discipleship. They are absolute in nature, for Jesus demands unqualified commitment, far beyond what a rabbi might require of his disciples. The first saying shows that Jesus seeks no flippant, frivolous decision to follow Him. Following Jesus means becoming a stranger and exile on earth. Those who volunteer to be disciples must first count the cost. The next two sayings concern legitimate requests for temporary delay. The first man wanted to bury his father and the other to bid his parents farewell. Both requests were denied; for discipleship involves the sacrifice of comfort and security, family ties, and family affection [58,60,62].

Sacrifice Demonstrated:  Luke 21:1-4.

[1]  Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, [2]  and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. [3]  And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. [4]  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."  [ESV]

In these verses Jesus teaches us several important lessons about Christian giving. God does not need your money. He requires no benefactors to help Him establish His kingdom. Nothing you can do or give will add to His riches. He owns the entire universe, and can employ everything in it for His own holy purposes. Furthermore, He owns your money too! He is able to give it to you and withdraw it from you at a moment’s notice. You are simply His steward. Anything you give to Him He has first given to you, like a father giving pocket money to His children to help them buy his birthday present! God chooses to use whatever gifts He wants to further His kingdom. He can use a small gift for a great purpose and a great gift for a small purpose. With a small gift, a Gospel, or New Testament may be purchased which leads to the conversion of someone who wins many others to Christ, or is the instrument of a great revival. Three further lessons are underlined here. (1) Our giving is to be measured by proportion, not by addition. The woman gave more because she gave everything she had. (2) Our giving is not measured by amount, but by sacrifice. This is why Jesus commended the widow. It cost her to give. (3) Our giving is always in the sight of Jesus Christ. It is His estimate that really matters, not the estimate of others.

Sacrifice Commanded:  Romans 12:1-2.

[1]  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. [2]  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  [ESV]


Romans 12:1-2 is one of the best-known passages in the New Testament. Its fame is justified: here Paul succinctly and with vivid imagery summarizes what the Christian response to God’s grace in Christ should be. The verses have a pivotal role in Romans. On the one hand, they look back at the argument of chapters 1-11. While Paul ultimately has in view all of these chapters, verbal and thematic links point to two texts as particularly significant. The first is Romans 1, whose downward spiral of false and foolish worship and corrupted minds now finds its reversal in the Christians’ spiritual worship and renewed minds. The second is Romans 6, whose brief mention of the need for Christians to present themselves [13,19] as those alive from the dead [13] is here reiterated and expanded. At the same time, 12:1-2 stand as the heading for all that follows in 12:3-15:13.

[1]  Therefore must be given its full weight: Paul wants to show that the exhortations of 12:1-15:13 are built firmly on the theology of chapters 1-11. One of the notable features of Paul’s teaching is that he regularly combines doctrine with duty, belief with behavior. He insists both on the practical implications of his theology and on the theological foundations of his ethic. As has often been said, the indicative of God’s grace precedes the imperative of God’s commands. Our Christian behavior flows out of what God had done in and for us by His grace. By the mercies of God underscores the connection between what Paul now asks his readers to do and what he has told them earlier in the letter that God has done for them. All that Paul has written in the letter thus far may be summed up under the heading of the mercy of God in action. Paul has just summarized that universal mercy of God [11:30-32] and expressed praise to God for it [11:33-36]. Now he calls Christians to respond. What Paul calls for is the appropriate and expected response to God’s mercy as we have experienced it. But God’s mercy is not a matter of past benefits only, but it continues to exercise its power in and through us. That God’s mercy does not automatically produce the obedience God expects is clear from the imperatives in this passage. But God’s mercy manifested in His Spirit’s work of inward renewal does impel us toward the obedience that the gospel demands. We experience God’s mercy as a power that exerts a total and all-encompassing claim upon us: grace now reigns over us [5:21]. It is therefore entirely fitting that our response is to be one that is equally total and all-encompassing; the presentation of our entire persons as a sacrifice to God. Paul’s use of sacrificial imagery here fits a pattern found throughout the New Testament. Christians no longer offer literal sacrifices; for Christ has fulfilled and thus brought to an end the Old Testament sacrificial system. But the centrality of sacrifice in ancient religion made it a natural and inevitable vehicle for the early Christians to express their own religious convictions. At the same time, the New Testament use of sacrificial language has an important salvation-historical function, claiming for Christianity the fulfillment of those institutions so central to the Old Testament and to Judaism. Christians offer no bloody sacrifice on an altar; but they offer spiritual sacrifices [1 Peter 2:5], such as the sacrifice of praise to God, which is the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name [Heb. 13:15]. However, in 12:1 the sacrifice we offer is not some specific form of praise or service, but our bodies themselves. It is not only what we can give that God demands; He demands the giver. By body, Paul probably intends to refer to the entire person, with special emphasis on that person’s interaction with the world. Paul is making a special point to emphasize that the sacrifice we are called on to make requires a dedication to the service of God in the harsh and often ambiguous life of this world. Paul qualifies the sacrifice that we offer with our bodies with three adjectives. Each of the three continues the sacrificial metaphor. A living sacrifice is one that does not die as it is offered but goes on living and therefore continues in its efficacy until the person who is offered dies. Holy is a regular description of sacrifices; it implies here that the offering of ourselves to God involves a being set apart from the profane and a dedication to the service of the Lord. Such a sacrifice is acceptable to God. Which is your spiritual worship qualifies the whole exhortation that Paul has just given. Spiritual worship is a worship that involves the mind and the heart as opposed to a worship that simply goes through the motions. It is a worship that honors God by giving Him what He truly wants as opposed to the depraved worship offered by human beings under the power of sin. The Christian is called to a worship that is not confined to one place or to one time, but which involves all places and all times. Regular meetings together of Christians for praise and mutual edification are appropriate and, indeed, commanded in Scripture. And what happens at these meetings is certainly worship. But such special times of corporate worship are only one aspect of the continual worship that each of us is to offer the Lord in the sacrifice of our bodies day by day.

[2]  Verse 2 is probably subordinate to verse 1, giving the means by which we can carry out the sweeping exhortation of verse 1. We can present our bodies to the Lord as genuinely holy and acceptable sacrifices only if we do not be conformed to this world but are transformed by the renewal of your mind. World is the sin-dominated, death-producing realm in which all people naturally belong. But it is to deliver us from the present evil age that Christ gave Himself [Gal. 1:4]; and those who belong to Christ have been transferred from the old realm of sin and death into the new realm of righteousness and life. But this transfer, while decisive and final, does not isolate us from the influence of the old realm. For while belonging to the new realm, we continue to live, as people still in the body, in the old realm. Paul’s command that we not be conformed to this world, then, builds on the theology of Romans 5-8 and calls on us to resist the pressure to be squeezed into the mold of this world and the pattern of behavior that typifies it. Instead Paul is looking for a transformation at the deepest level that is infinitely more significant than the conformity to the world’s pattern that is distinctive of so many lives. The renewal of your mind is the means by which this transformation takes place. Mind translates a word that Paul uses especially to connote a person’s practical reason or moral consciousness. Christians are to adjust their way of thinking about everything in accordance with the newness of their life in the Spirit. This re-programming of the mind does not take place overnight but is a lifelong process by which our way of thinking is to resemble more and more the way God wants us to think. In Romans 1:28 Paul has pointed out that people’s rejection of God has resulted in God’s giving them over to a worthless mind: one that is unqualified in assessing the truth about God and the world He has made. Now, Paul asserts, the purpose of our being transformed by the renewing of the mind is that this state might be reversed; that we might be able to approve the will of God. Approving the will of God means to understand and agree with what God wants of us with a view to putting it into practice. Paul’s vision, to which he calls us, is of Christians whose minds are so thoroughly renewed that we know from within, almost instinctively, what we are to do to please God in any given situation.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What are the three conditions of discipleship Jesus lays out in Luke 9:23-24? What do these three conditions tell us about the level of commitment Jesus is looking for in His followers? How do you personally measure up to these conditions?

2.         What lessons about Christian giving does Jesus teach in Luke 21:1-4?

3.         What does Paul intend for us to understand by his use of therefore in 12:1? What does Paul teach us here concerning the relationship between theology or doctrine and ethics or Christian behavior?

4.         What does verse 12:2 teach us concerning how we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices?


Luke, Darrell Bock, ECBT, Baker Books.

Luke, Robert Stein, NAC, Broadman.

Let’s Study Mark, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity Press.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts