The Sacrifice of Life
The relationship between the Christ-follower and God is all about pursuit — pursuing a deeper and more intimate knowledge of the Creator with every breath we’re allowed to take. This pursuit of God is a relentless “following hard after” him (Ps. 63:8 KJV), an uncompromising clinging to Christ and his gospel of unmerited favor and affection. This pursuit will take everything from us, and that’s precisely because God wants all of us, every part. “God wants us all,” writes A. W. Tozer, “and he will not rest till he gets us all. No part of man will do.” (83)
God doesn’t want pretenders. He doesn’t need any religious fakers or pious actors. In fact, the better part of Christ’s ministry was refuting the false teachings and dangerous doctrines that the Pharisees, hypocrites and, indeed, religious pretenders, were lofting up. (Matt. 23:13–36) The sincerest desire of God’s heart is that we lay aside all sense of pretense and artificiality and come to the foot of his cross just as we are, undone, unholy, and desperate for grace. (Isa. 6:5)
The Labor of Artificiality
The gospel is the declaration that we’re fully known, that God sees everything about us, and yet, continues to love us with an unfailing love. Therefore, there’s no need for us to clean up our act or believe that we must improve in some fashion before we come to Jesus. Jesus — the very Person of grace, mercy, and love — meets us right where we are: in the filth, in the muck, in the midst of our sin. (Ps. 103:8) That’s the nature of grace, the nature of the gospel. It eradicates any need for religious pretending or facades of self-righteous piety. “Artificiality is one curse that will drop away the moment we kneel at Jesus’s feet and surrender ourselves to his meekness,” continues Tozer. “Then we will not care what people think of us so long as God is pleased.” (90)
“So long as God is pleased.” This must be our clarion call, our rallying cry, the insignia on our chests as we do this thing called “life.” We are, and must be, ensigns of God’s glory and monuments to his grace. Whatever we’re doing or thinking or saying, everything must be done to the glory and praise and adoration of God. Everything. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31) “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him . . . Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Col. 3:17, 23)
Harmonizing the Sacred & the Secular
I believe most Christ-followers stumble and fall and get depressed with their spiritual walk, with their faith and relationship with Jesus, because they’re entangled and ensnared in the “sacred-secular trap.” “One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters,” writes Tozer, “is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas, the sacred and the secular.” (91) The idea of separating our lives, our actions, and our duties, into the “sacred” and the “secular,” or the “spiritual” and the “natural,” originated within ancient Grecian philosophy. These thinkers and philosophers determined that the things done of the body were mundane, they’re natural or dull or routine — even areligious. But, however, the things done of the spirit were the truly important matters. Thus, to find meaning and value and worth, we must continually identify with these “spiritual” things, these “higher” duties. And, consequently, a divide, a rift, was created that separated what we do and what we do for God.
This separation is dangerous and fundamentally kills all that Jesus came to do. The very nature of the gospel is invasion: it invades our darkness, our sin, our brokenness, and infects it with light and hope and grace. Jesus came to engage us where we are, not to separate us from life itself. “Jesus did not to offer moral reformation, he came to effect a mortal resurrection.” (Tchividjian, 218) The gospel of Christ should, and indeed does, change everything about us. If we separate our lives into little “cubby-holes,” one for fun, one for pleasure, one for leisure, one for “religion,” etc., we’re living a divided life, instead of the unified life that Jesus offers. A separated life will always end up crumbling and breaking down. The trap of the “sacred vs. secular” results in us “try[ing] to walk the tight rope between two kingdoms and find[ing] no peace in either. [Our] strength is reduced, [our] outlook confused and [our] joy taken.” (Tozer, 92)
As finite human beings, we weren’t made keep all those “cubbies,” all those categories, separated and balanced. The greatness of Jesus’s gospel is that it invades all those cubbyholes and permeates them with transformational grace, radically changing what we do and how we talk and think and live. Deliverance from the “sacred-secular divide” is only found in the gospel. For, you see, the believer is living in two realms at once: the spiritual and the natural. Gospel-centered living is unified living: there’s no divide, no separation, between that which we do and that which we do for God.
If you’ve been redeemed by Jesus’s grace, you’re currently living in the natural world, with the same limitations and weaknesses and afflictions that have been brought upon mankind through sin. But, you also enjoy a life, right now, in the Spirit, for you’re a child of God and possess a heavenly status and citizenship that will one day be brought to completion. (Phil. 3:20; Col. 1:12; Gal. 3:26) “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
If we would escape from the toils of the sacred-secular dilemma the truth must ‘run in our blood’ and condition the complexion of our thoughts . . . every act of [our lives are] or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament. (Tozer, 94–95)
Invaded & Transformed
This is what the apostle Paul was getting after in 1 Corinthians 10, that regardless of what we’re doing, God’s glory and the invading power of his transforming grace must continually shape and fashion us. In whatever activity we’re involved in, whether we’re eating or drinking or whatever we’re doing, God’s glory must be our ultimate goal and at the forefront of our minds. This unifying of “spirit” and “truth” (John 4:23–24) means that God’s in us and with us through all the routine and mundane stuff just as much as he’s in us and with us on Sunday’s, when we’re worshiping and adoring him. “The truth is,” writes Jefferson Bethke, “God doesn’t just want your ‘Christian’ things. He wants it all. When we realize the beauty of God’s grace in the mundane, not just the religious, that’s when we will begin to see him correctly.” (166)
For Christ-followers, our whole lives are to be an outward display of what God has done in us through his Son. We’re to be walking, living, breathing proofs of the gospel of grace and it’s amazing and restoring and transforming power. “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.” (Rom. 12:1) Tozer, who we’ve been quoting from extensively, defines a sacrifice, or sacrament, as “an external expression of an inward grace.” This concept has vast ramifications for us, for now, our whole lives are to be our sacrifice; not just the “Christian” things we do. All that we do, “in spirit and truth,” must be utterly and entirely soaked and saturated with the gospel. This means that you’re not just worshiping when you go to church on Sunday mornings, you’re worshiping when you sit down to eat dinner with your family; when you’re playing basketball with your friends; when you’re taking that dreaded math exam; when you’re getting coffee with your closest companion; when you’re texting that significant other — whatever you’re doing, “do all to the glory of God.”
When the apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes that statement in 1 Corinthians 10:31, and likewise, what Christ is calling for in John 4:24, is something greater than “pious idealism” or “religious pretending”; these commands are “an integral part of the sacred revelation and [are] to be accepted as the very Word of Truth. [They] open before us the possibility of making every act of our lives contribute to the glory of God.” (Tozer, 93) “There is no part of our life,” writes the eminent John Calvin, “and no action so minute, that it ought not to be directed to the glory of God, and that we must take care that, even in eating and drinking, we may aim at the advancement of it.”
When reading through the book of Leviticus, it’s hard not to be weighed down by the strictness of the ordinances and regulations set up for the Israelites to worship God. But, the stiffness and rigidity of these sacraments weren’t there to create a dichotomy between “holy” and “common” things or activities, a “sacred-secular” divide. No, they were there so that Israel might learn of the colossal holiness and limitless perfection of their God. They were there to show and point to righteousness of Yahweh himself. By these ordinances, Tozer asserts, “Israel learned that God is holy. It was this that he was teaching them. Not the holiness of [the] things or places, but the holiness of Jehovah was the lesson they must learn.” (95)
When Jesus performed the work of redemption on the cross, he rent the veil of the temple in two (Matt. 27:50–51), thus breaking down the barrier between God and man, so that any man could come to him. “The ordinances of an earthly priesthood were [likewise] rent with that veil,” says Charles Spurgeon, “[giving] ample space for all to enter who are called of God’s grace, to approach the throne, and to commune with the Eternal One.” Likewise, too, this eradicated any sense of “sacred vs. secular” acts and made it possible for our entire lives to be our sacrament, our sacrifice, in whatever we’re doing.
The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common [mundane] act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. (Tozer, 98–99)
Christianity, then, isn’t something you do, it’s who you are — it’s something you live, it’s the proving of the gospel, it’s the sacrifice of life.
Jefferson Bethke, Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, And Being Good Enough (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2013).
Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013).
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Whitakers, NC: Positive Action For Christ, 2007).