One of the most consistent metaphors used in the Scriptures for the church is that of a temple. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, your local congregation should very much view itself as a place where the God of heaven dwells. As Paul asked the church at Corinth, “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).
As your church worships, as the very temple of the living God, then, this truth places on your congregation a solemn obligation. For temples are places of sacrifice. Clearly in the Old Testament, the temple the Lord commanded to be built in Jerusalem was dedicated by Solomon with a virtual river of blood coming from all the sacrifices (1 Kings 8:62–64), and it continued through the years to be a place where sacrifices by the people were offered.
With the coming of Christ and His ultimate sacrifice, Christians might be tempted to think that sacrifices are no longer necessary in the worship of God. After all, Christ offered Himself on our behalf. However, clearly the church in the New Testament, in union with its crucified and risen Savior, now has the duty to offer sacrifices to God appropriate to the new covenant age.
This responsibility is captured by Peter when he tells the church,
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5)
The church is a spiritual house and priesthood where spiritual sacrifices are offered to God. Each person who believes in Christ is chosen to receive the full benefits of Christ’s redemption. Trusting Christ as the Rock of our salvation, the Living Stone as Peter calls Him, we also become living stones fitted together in His holy temple as we abide in union with Him. As the Father sacrificed Christ for us, we are in turn to offer sacrifices to Him in thanksgiving. God’s Word often describes the church’s worship and ministry in terms of the sacrificial language of the Old Testament.
What are these sacrifices that the church is to make to God? God’s Word often describes the church’s worship and ministry in terms of the sacrificial language of the Old Testament.
Incredibly, the first offering is that of sin, or, if you prefer, confession of sin. When worshipers came into the temple courtyard, the first object they met was an altar. Likewise, as we come to God, we come through the cross. He calls us to confess our sins to Him. So, whether you have recently believed on Christ for the first time or have been a believer for decades, when you come to God, the first thing you can and must offer to Him is your honest confession of sin. Is this not rather unbelievable? First and foremost, we are to offer to God a broken and contrite heart over our sin (Ps. 51:17). Our holy God, unlike the gods of this world, does not ask us to do any “self-cleaning” before we come to Him.
The next offering is that of praise. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15). As those redeemed by the blood of Christ, we have the joy to offer our praise to God as we thank Him for who He is and what He has done. He receives it in Christ as a pleasing aroma. Perhaps this is most demonstrated as the church sings to the Lord. The melody of the psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs we sing ought to come from happy, redeemed hearts (Col. 3:16).
Next, we can offer prayers to God that arise before Him as incense. When the Apostle John saw the glorified saints worshiping before Christ in heaven, represented by the twenty-four elders, they had “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8). Our prayers of adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication ascend toward the throne of God. They are pictured in the Bible as mixed with fires from the altar, or, in other words, cleansed by the righteousness of Christ our High Priest. Then the answers are hurled back to the earth in powerful response (Rev. 8:3–5). This should enliven us as we worship to pray with our whole hearts.
A fourth offering we are to make is simply caring for others in the body of Christ and beyond. We are commanded, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16). When Paul received from the church of Philippi a financial gift to support his ministry, he said to them: “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18). When you walk in love toward your fellow Christians, you are remembering that “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).
Our gospel witness to Christ is an offering to God as well. Paul said, “[I am] a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:16). When the church evangelizes people and the Spirit brings souls into the kingdom, God receives that as harvest offerings.
Finally, we will see that sacrifice is so much at the heart of being the church that we are to offer up our own lives. Romans 12:1 commands those in the church to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” We can sacrifice for others with the use of our bodies, time, and resources. We may even be called by Christ to give up our own lives for the sake of the gospel. Paul, as he faced death for the gospel, said he was “already being poured out as a drink offering” (2 Tim. 4:6).
We must not shrink back from our calling as a holy priesthood to God. For the church to truly be the church, she must live as the sacrificing church and make such offerings to God.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 27, 2019.