Living Sacrifice: The Christian Life as Death and Resurrection
Credo Magazine’s new issue has arrived: Holiness. The following is an excerpt from William Barcley’s article, Living Sacrifice: The Christian Life as Death and Resurrection. William Barcley is Senior Pastor of Sovereign Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Charlotte, NC, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Secret of Contentment (P&R Publishers, 2010).
In his final letter, when he knew that his death was near, the apostle Paul wrote to his friend, close companion and co-worker Timothy, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Tim. 4:6; ESV). In using the imagery of the drink offering, Paul is drawing on Old Testament sacrifice language. The drink offering accompanied the old covenant sacrificial offering from the herd or flock (Num. 15:1-10). It tells us that Paul viewed his life as a sacrifice given over to God (see also Phil. 2:17).
In fact, in Romans 12:1, Paul calls all Christians to present their “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” This echoes the earlier words of Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). In Jesus’ day, the only time people saw someone carrying a cross was when he, like Jesus, was carrying it to his death. Jesus requires that all his followers give up their lives, and follow him alone.
Of course, Jesus does not command this without his first being willing to do it himself. This is why Paul begins Roman 12:1 with the words, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God” (Rom. 12:1). Paul has spent much of the previous eleven chapters discussing our justification, that is, how sinners can be in right relationship with a just and holy God. At the heart of this discussion are four verses that summarize the basic truth of the gospel:
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:23-26).
Paul says that God is both “just and the justifier” of those who trust in Christ for salvation. God is just, and as the just Judge of the universe, he must punish sin. Furthermore, “the wages of sin” is death (Rom. 6:23). In Christ, God acts justly in punishing sin. Christ becomes the substitutionary sacrifice, dying in the place of his people. His “blood” (death) becomes the “propitiation,” which turns away the wrath of God (the basic meaning of the word propitiation). In this way, God remains just—sin is punished. But he is the justifier in declaring those who are united to Christ by faith to be righteous in his sight.