The Abolition of Sacrifice

grumpy

Some people view sacrifice as an inherently good thing because God instituted animal sacrifices in the Law or because of the sacrificial death of Jesus. The general concept is carried over into the New Covenant by claiming that we are to live sacrificial lives for God, giving up the things of this world for the things of God (Romans 12:1 is cited often to make this point).

Methinks this is a misconception.

Let’s take a look at the role of sacrifice in human history.

The concepts of sacrifice (or scapegoating) existed in every known culture and society. A historical study (see the works of René Girard) reveals that there were generally two reasons why communities practiced sacrifice – because the gods required it and to keep social order. People viewed sacrifice as necessary because otherwise the gods would unleash their anger on them, and also because it was an outlet for their (the people’s) violence. People didn’t know how to deal with their anger and frustration, so they decided to systematically take it out on something else. Thus, social order is maintained because instead of civil war breaking out, one person (the scapegoat) died for the rest. This mindset can even be seen in the scriptures, where the high priest Caiaphas advises the Pharisees that it is better for one man to die for the people (referring to Jesus) than for the whole nation to be destroyed (John 11:50). Of course, this never gets to the root problem, which is losing sight of who God really is, and thus losing sight of every person’s true desire, which is God himself (Haggai 2:7). Sacrifice emerged from not understanding God’s heart toward people.

The question, then, is why did God command animal sacrifices to be performed under the Law?

The Israelites wanted to be like the nations around them. They wanted laws, not relationship. They wanted human kings, not a heavenly Father. And they wanted sacrificial systems, not unmerited forgiveness. They couldn’t conceive of any other way of dealing with guilt and violence, and, in their minds, that was the only way to satisfy their angry God, Jehovah. But God isn’t like every other ancient god that required sacrifice in order to be nice to people.The truth, the mystery that had been kept hidden for ages, was that God was never angry with them and had forgiven them even before they had asked to be forgiven!

God never wanted our sacrifices, even under the Old Covenant. “Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired…Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required” (Psalm 40:6). “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; And the knowledge of God, more than burnt offering” (Hosea 6:6). (Also see Micah 6:6-8, Isaiah 1:11-14, and Jeremiah 7:21-23.)

morphiusGod instituted the Old Covenant sacrificial system for people, not for himself. It is no different than how Jesus explained that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Its introduction in the Law wasn’t to alleviate God’s anger or satisfy a need to punish sin, both of which God has no need for. Rather, it was a concession to man’s guilt and bloodlust (in fact, the entire system of Law was a concession to Israel since it refused to relate intimately with God; see Exodus 20:18-21). Sacrifice under the Old Covenant was to provide an outlet for human violence and to fulfill the human need to feel free of guilt and have a clear conscience (although according to Hebrews 10:4 it never permanently fixed anything – “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”).

God never wanted to use violence, but mankind did; so God worked within mankind’s violence to achieve His purposes, and to slowly wean His people off of the need for blood punishment. – Christian Erickson

This is why even though the Law contained retributive ordinances with concepts such as equal retaliation (someone who causes harm is repaid with the same harm to themselves), Jesus pointed to a better way. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39). Indeed, Jesus demonstrated this principle himself as he did not retaliate against his accusers and executioners.

The Law is good (Romans 7:12), but it is not good in the sense that it would be good for us to try and follow it. It is good because it served its purpose, which was to reveal our sinfulness and bring us to our senses (Romans 7:7). When we try our best to follow the Law, we find that our efforts are futile. Thus God administrates his grace to us through the Law because it reveals our need for a savior. God imposed an impossibility on us to make evident the insufficiency of our independent selves (which is only an illusion, because we are never separated from God). It sheds light on the fundamental error made at the fall – thinking that we could do life alone if only we had the knowledge of good and evil.

Thus, just because something is in the Law doesn’t automatically make it good. Sacrifice is a case in point.

The cross didn’t deal with God’s sin consciousness, as if he was hindered from relating with us because of sin. It dealt with our sin consciousness (Hebrews 10:1-3). It doesn’t free God from a need to punish; it frees us from a guilty conscience.

The cross reveals that even when humanity is at its worst, united against God to murder him, God’s love for humanity and how he relates to them does not change. Even when God seems most justified in violently retaliating against humanity (and had the power to do so), he chooses not to. The heart of the Father is revealed.

The cross unmasks the practice of sacrifice (and more generally the concept of retributive punishment) for what it is and rescues humanity from its insanity.

It is simply human violence.

Let me get back to how this relates to sacrifice in our New Covenant lives.

God doesn’t want sacrifice unless he’s providing the sacrifice (think Abraham and Isaac). But from our perspective this isn’t sacrifice at all! Jesus meant it when he said it is more blessed (happy) to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and he applies it in his dealings with us. God’s not looking for us to do something for him; God derives the greatest pleasure from continually providing for us all that we need. He doesn’t need our help. His joy is rooted in our enjoyment of his provision, not our provision for his non-existent needs.

Missionary to China Hudson Taylor, at the end of a life full of suffering and trial, said, “I never made a sacrifice.” When the motivating factor of service to Christ is love, it doesn’t feel like you’re working at all. It is effortless. There is no sacrifice.

And that’s just the kind of life that Jesus has made available to all.

*****

Also see:

Glimpses Into a Mystery (Andre Rabe)
http://hearhim.net/wordpress/2012/12/27/glimpses-into-a-mystery/

The Harmony of Enjoying and Glorifying God

Another story of Jesus revealing his goodness to me.

When I was a Sophomore in college, I encountered and struggled with this question: “Am I doing everything for God’s glory? Am I living this life purely out of a motivation to serve him with none of myself in the equation?”

The more I thought about this question the more I realized that the answer was no. There was some kind of motivation to please myself behind everything that I did “for God,” whether that was getting personal satisfaction or a promised future reward.

I can’t tell you how guilty this made me feel. I saw myself as selfish and inclined to evil, desiring what was contrary to God’s heart. I tried to suppress and ignore my thoughts and emotions and focused on obeying God simply because that was the right thing to do. I wanted to live out of a devotion unadulterated by my own desires, but it seemed impossible. How could I get rid of motivation rooted in myself?

Unfortunately, I never stopped to ask some simple questions.

What brings God glory? What pleases him? 

One day I was browsing through my college’s library when I stumbled upon a book called “Desiring God” by John Piper. Piper recounted how he had gone through the same struggle I myself was going through at that time – and it was during college for him too! I read with wide-eyed excitement as I sought his answer to our dilemma.

Piper writes, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever…God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

Oh my God! Oh my God!…Oh my God! I had no other words. This was simply too good to be true.

desirelessAt that moment I realized that God designed me to be a pleasure seeker and that God himself was the ultimate satisfaction of my desires. It was okay for me to want God for the joy to be found in him.

God wasn’t looking for me to clean up my motives or work hard at self-denial. He was looking to be glorified precisely by my enjoying him.

I was mind blown. I was heart melted. I was utterly blissed.

The happy message of the Gospel is that the glory of God and the joy of mankind are not in opposition but rather are in harmony. 

I had tried to suppress my God-given nature as a pleasure seeker but failed. “To the extent we try to abandon the pursuit of our own pleasure, we fail to honor God and love people,” writes Piper.

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. … The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves. – Blaise Pascal

What I really needed was to make sure I was drinking from the most pleasurable source: Christ. Only he satisfies. And he indeed does satisfy, completely. “But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4:14).

This is why it’s important to happily repent (i.e. change our minds). It’s not about striving to quit seeking pleasure; it’s about reconsidering what is and isn’t pleasurable, ultimately realizing that God himself is the greatest delight.

crowder

“The longing to be happy is a universal human experience, and it is good, not sinful,” writes Piper. “We should never try to deny or resist our longing to be happy, as though it were a bad impulse. Instead we should seek to intensify this longing and nourish it with whatever will provide the deepest and most enduring satisfaction. The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God.”

God wants a people addicted to His pleasure – a people who serve him for no other reason than the delight they take in Him. This is the very heart of true worship. It is not self-centered. It is putting God at the very center of self, so that self cannot possibly be satisfied without Him. – John Crowder

“Eden” literally means “pleasure.” God gave Adam the job of tending the garden of pleasure. This is what we were created for.

God is that good.

*****

(If you want to see a fuller scriptural basis for this idea, check out The Ecstasy of Loving God  by John Crowder.)

Effortless Christianity

A story of extravagant grace in my life.

How Jesus saved me from do-it-myself religion.

How God jacked me up with joy, and still does every day.

How Holy Spirit showed me the good he put in me that I was unaware of.

During my Junior year of college I was doing a bunch of good things. I set time aside to explore the bible and talk with Jesus daily, led a Christian fellowship, did outreach in my neighborhood, helped at a homeless shelter, etc. I don’t remember all that I was doing, but I do remember that I was doing a lot of stuff. Good stuff.

I wasn’t burned out, nor was my mindset to do works to earn salvation. My thinking was, “I’m going to try to do my best to do good works because I’m so thankful to Jesus. I’m going to do things for God even when I don’t feel like it. I’m going to deny myself and finish this race strong.” Sounds good yeah? Like a good little Christian boy.

But hidden in that mindset I had was distrust in Christ’s saving and transforming work.

One day God told me to quit everything I was trying to do. I was like, “No way! If I do that, I’ll end up not doing any good works. Why would I quit trying as if that’s bad? The only reason I do good works is precisely because I try!” He responded, “Tyler. You don’t trust our union. You don’t see how deep it goes. I’ve placed my desires in you so that even the good works that you do don’t have to be born out of effort but purely out of desire. Give yourself time to recognize your true desires.”

I was scared. How could I believe that I would actually start to do good things purely out of desire? I didn’t see it and I didn’t feel it. Surely I am not that good. If I didn’t try to do stuff, I wouldn’t do anything! So I thought.

It took me a while to decide to fully give up everything I was trying to do, but I eventually gave in. After I threw in the towel, I just hung out with Jesus all the time. Just as I suspected would happen, I wasn’t doing any good works. But Jesus kept reassuring me, telling me to rest in the works that he had accomplished and not my own, and to simply learn to enjoy him all the time.

It’s kind of nice to have your Daddy tell you over and over that you don’t need to do anything. After some time I learned to relax and simply enjoy being with Jesus. Any worries I had about “not doing enough” faded. And as I continually set my eyes on Jesus and his works, something amazing started happening.

Jesus was right!

I began to do good works.

At first I didn’t even realize it. I was doing them only because I wanted to, so it was entirely effortless. I was not “intentional” at all. It was more like “if I don’t do this good thing I’m gonna explode!” I saw the fun and joy in whatever it was, and because of that I was exponentially more fruitful than I previously was when I was caught up in my own hamster wheel of effort.

That’s when I first experientially realized that sweet reality Paul spoke of, that I no longer live but Christ lives in me.

My old self always tried so hard to do good by its own willpower and missed out on the party Jesus had prepared. It just took me a while to realize that that old man always was and always will be completely dead! He doesn’t even exist anymore.

I knew my death with Christ had brought freedom from sin, and I was avoiding sin effortlessly. I had lost all interest in sin. But that was merely avoiding the bad. I had not experienced the pleasurable compulsion to live righteously and to do good.

I already was who I was all along. I was born again. I was a new creation. The old had passed away and the new had come. My identity wasn’t dependent on anything I did but only what Jesus did. I just didn’t see the full extent to which I had been transformed.

So I continued to act like I needed to try to do good, not knowing the righteous desires God had planted in me.

But Jesus helped me see what was already true of myself, what I am really like, and what he had transformed me into.

And this is why Christianity is easy, effortless in fact. Because it’s all about giving up and being guided by the desires of Jesus, which are infinitely gratifying.

Glorifying God and enjoying him are one and the same thing.

The effort is all his. My job is to trust, give up, and enjoy.

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13