What are the sacrifices pleasing to God? Why does God desire those sacrifices? How do we offer them to Him?
Hosea 6:6 reads, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Does that mean God does not desire all forms of sacrifices?
Scripture often notes that sacrifices to God are incomplete and even offensive without a changed heart that loves and knows the Lord. First Samuel 15:22 says, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (cf. Isaiah 1:11-17; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8 and Matthew 7:21-23.) The same is said of other religious rituals, such as circumcision (Romans 2:28-29).
Jesus would later use Hosea’s teaching against the hypocritical Pharisees, saying, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13; cf. 12:7). Without a loving relationship with God, all the ritual in the world couldn’t help the Pharisees.
Many religious people participate in Christian rituals, yet their hearts do not love God and seek to know Him. Those who practice empty ritual should heed Hosea’s words. God cares more about our heart’s love for Him than the things that we do in His name. We must not substitute religious traditions for a relationship with God. May we never be like those whom Jesus described: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6).
Hence, it does not mean that God does not desire all forms of sacrifices, but rather He does not desire the empty rituals practiced by those whose hearts are far from Him. So what are the sacrifices pleasing to God, and how do we offer them to Him?
In Romans 12:1, the Apostle Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service.” Paul’s admonition to the believers in Rome was to sacrifice themselves to God, not as a sacrifice on the altar, as the Mosaic Law required the sacrifice of animals, but as a living sacrifice. The dictionary defines sacrifice as “anything consecrated and offered to God.” As believers, how do we consecrate and offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice?
Under the Old Covenant, God accepted the sacrifices of animals. But these were just a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Because of His ultimate, once-for-all-time sacrifice on the cross, the Old Testament sacrifices became obsolete and are no longer effective (Hebrews 9:11-12). For those who are in Christ by virtue of saving faith, the only acceptable worship is to offer ourselves completely to the Lord. Under God’s control, the believer’s yet-unredeemed body can and must be yielded to Him as an instrument of righteousness (Romans 6:12-13; 8:11-13). In view of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus for us, this is only “reasonable.”
What does a living sacrifice look like in the practical sense? The following verse (Romans 12:2) helps us to understand. We are a living sacrifice for God by not being conformed to this world. The world is defined for us in 1 John 2:15-16 as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. All that the world has to offer can be reduced to these three things. The lust of the flesh includes everything that appeals to our appetites and involves excessive desires for food, drink, sex, and anything else that satisfies physical needs. Lust of the eyes mostly involves materialism, coveting whatever we see that we don’t have and envying those who have what we want. The pride of life is defined by any ambition for that which puffs us up and puts us on the throne of our own lives.
How can believers NOT be conformed to the world? By being “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” We do this primarily through the power of God’s Word to transform us. We need to hear (Romans 10:17), read (Revelation 1:3), study (Acts 17:11), memorize (Psalm 119:9-11), and meditate on (Psalm 1:2-3) Scripture. The Word of God, ministered in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, is the only power on earth that can transform us from worldliness to true spirituality. In fact, it is all we need to be made “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). The result is that we will be “able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2b). It is the will of God for every believer to be a living sacrifice for Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” The terms “sacrifice” and “praise” might seem to be opposites. We think of sacrifice as offering something at great cost to ourselves. Praise, on the other hand, sounds joyful as it bubbles from a grateful heart. However, in the spiritual realm, sacrifice and praise are intertwined.
Praise does not always cost us something. We praise our children for their hard work and efforts and colleagues for a job well done. Praise is often our response to some action that directly benefits us, and we feel generous because we extend it. We often find it easy to praise God from the same motivation. When He has blessed us, helped us, and protected us, we feel generous toward Him. We can sing, worship, and talk about how good He is because we can see it. That kind of praise, although worthwhile, does not cost us anything. It is not a sacrifice.
Then there are those times when God did not come through the way we thought He would. The medical test comes back positive. The spouse wants a divorce. A child is wayward. The mortgage company calls in the loan. God seems very far away, and praise is the last thing to bubble up from our hearts. We can’t see His goodness, and circumstances scream that He has forgotten us.
To praise God in those times requires personal sacrifice. It takes an act of the will to lay our all on the altar before a God we don’t understand. When we bring a “sacrifice of praise,” we choose to believe that, even though life is not going as we think it should, God is still good and can be trusted (Psalm 135:2; Nahum 1:7). When we choose to praise God in spite of the storms, He is honored, and our faith grows deeper (Malachi 3:13-17; Job 13:15).
The command in Hebrews 13:15 says that this sacrifice is to be offered “continually.” Our praise of God is not to be based on our opinion of His job performance. Praise cannot be treated as a “reward” we give God for His obvious blessings. Isaiah 29:13 says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Real praise continues regardless of circumstances. It flows continually from a worshiping heart in good times and bad (Acts 16:23-25).
The “sacrifice of praise” comes from a humble heart that has been purified by fire. It rises from a spirit that has chosen to honor God in spite of the pain that life is causing. Psalm 51:16-17 expresses this idea best when it says, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”
God wants to have a loving relationship with His people. He does not desire empty sacrifices made by those who do not love and know Him. He desires “living sacrifices” and “sacrifices of praise” offered by those who love Him with all their heart, all their soul, and all their mind (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matt 22:37).
Let us praise God with the song “Living Sacrifice”: