In this article, I want to focus on the definition of a “sacrifice.” We will examine what it was that Jesus sacrificed, what were the benefits to him (and thereby to us) for his doing so, and what it will look like for us to follow in his steps. I think it will become clear that we too should be making sacrifices in our own lives for the good of others.
1 Corinthians 5:7 and 8 (NKJV) 
(7) Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
(8) Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
There is much figurative language in the above verses, but the point I want us to notice here is that the truth in verse 7—that Jesus gave his life for our sins—is the basis for the action that verse 8 encourages us to take—to live our lives with sincerity and truth. As Scripture says, Jesus Christ is the example for each of us, and we are therefore to walk in his steps (1 Pet. 2:21). Let us look at a contemporary dictionary definition of sacrifice: “The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.”
Now that is provocative. Think about it—this connotes a value system in which one thing, while deemed valuable and thus not easily let go of, is not considered as valuable as another thing in one’s overall estimation. This involves the exercise of one’s free will and the power we each have to make choices.
What was Jesus called to sacrifice? His very life. Psalm 22 prophetically depicts the crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation of the Messiah, with the first 18 verses pointing to his torture and death, and the last 10 verses pointing to his resurrection and his reign in the Millennial Kingdom. In between are the following pivotal verses, which poignantly foreshadow his crying out to God for deliverance from the grave.
Psalm 22:19-21 (NKJV)
(19) But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me!
(20) Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog.
(21) Save Me from the lion’s mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered Me.
In that vein, it is noteworthy to compare the attitude of Socrates just prior to his death with that of Jesus Christ before his impending torture and execution. Socrates threw a party, gathering his friends to help him celebrate his exodus from this life via drinking the poison hemlock. Jesus, on the other hand, agonized alone in the Garden of Gethsemane to such an extent that the Greek text says he was “crushed with anguish” (Luke 22:44-NKJV “being in agony”).
Why the stark difference in their attitudes? Was it because Socrates had a better understanding of life than Jesus did? No, it was because Jesus had a truer understanding of death than did Socrates. Socrates erroneously believed what many people today believe (even most Christians), that death is the immediate “doorway” to a better life in some other realm.
Jesus Christ, however, knew the truth that death, as accurately defined in the Word of God, is “the end, or the absence of, life.”  By definition, one cannot be both dead and alive. Jesus knew that if he chose to step into the theretofore unbridged abyss of death, the only way back to life would be via his heavenly Father keeping His promise to raise him from the dead (Gen. 22:1-13; Ps. 16:10). That is why, in absolute contrast to Socrates, Jesus’ decision to sacrifice his life was not a flippant one.
What were the promised benefits that motivated Jesus Christ to lay down his precious life, which was most definitely “something prized or desirable” to him. What was the stupendous “something [that he] considered as having a higher or more pressing claim” compared to the preservation of his own life? The following verses answer that question:
Hebrews 12:1 and 2
(1) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
(2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The “joy set before” Jesus was the great truth woven throughout the Old Testament that if he would go the distance as the only man who could live a sinless life and die a torturous death as the true Passover Lamb, he would be raised to newness of life, and so would all those who ever believed on him. He would reign over the world for a thousand years and later rule as second-in-command to God on a new earth, enjoying everlasting life with all the redeemed throughout the ages.
Because Jesus knew who he was, and that there was no one else who could do what he was called to do, he chose to walk the path set before him, which called for him to sacrifice his life. Now you and I are members in particular of the Body of Christ, representing him in this fallen world. So who are you? What are you called to sacrifice? And how will that look, behaviorally speaking? What will the benefits be to you for so doing?
For you and me as Christians, the Church Epistles are where we find our identity, our purpose, and our destiny. There is much relevant truth in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and elsewhere in Scripture, but for it to be applicable to our lives, it must fit with, and cannot contradict, the truth found in Romans through Thessalonians. In fact, a precise knowledge of the curriculum found in the Church Epistles is the only basis for extracting and applying the many other great truths found all through the Bible.
Only in the Church Epistles do we find who we are in Christ, and, in the context of this article, that is our basis for understanding that we can “lay down our lives” (behaviorally speaking, in our relationships with others) with the assurance that what we are laying down (sacrificing, giving up, putting to death) are the selfish aspects of the old nature that dwells within us (Rom. 7:18). This “death” of our old self—our false self, if you will—is the only way to real life, that is, living according to our new and true nature, which is designed by God to revel in putting others before ourselves. Each of us can “get our kicks” only from walking according to the new nature within us. You can see that in Romans 7:22-NKJV (“For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man”) where the root Greek word translated “delight” is hedomai, from which we get the English word “hedonism,” meaning “pleasure for pleasure’s sake.”
The Word of God is clear that in His sight you are dead to sin and alive in Christ. When God looks at you, He sees you as completely righteous in Christ. Each of us is thus equipped to practically live out this truth by putting to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature (Col. 3:5). Whenever we do, we find newness of life. Consider the following verses, which are foundational to understanding our unshakeable righteousness and our ability to walk in newness of life:
(3) Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
(4) We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
(5) If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
(6) For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—
(7) because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
So what do the Church Epistles have to say about sacrifice? As we consider that question, we should expect whatever we find to flow in line with the principles of Christ’s sacrifice, because we are to follow in his steps.
Romans 12:1 and 2 (NASB) 
(1) I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
(2) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
What?! Do I detect a flaming oxymoron? What on earth is a “living sacrifice” when, by definition, a “sacrifice” is dead? This obvious figure of speech is designed to arrest our attention and reinforce to us the aforementioned truth that sacrificing the selfish aspects of our sin nature is the only way to really live life and love people as God desires us to.
No doubt you are familiar with the following exhortation from Jesus himself:
John 15:12 and 13
(12) My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
(13) Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
This same truth is echoed in Ephesians, where we find another use of the word “sacrifice.”
Ephesians 5:1 and 2
(1) Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
(2) and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
As Jesus vividly demonstrated, true love requires, and is evidenced by, sacrificing some of what we want for the benefit of others with whom we are in relationship. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross, and that is why we can follow suit by “dying to self” (see Luke 9:23 and 24) day by day, for his sake. Hebrews 2:15 speaks of people who all their lives are subject to bondage because of their fear of death. Death is always equated with loss, and the fear of losing something deemed valuable is what often drives people. If we grasp the truth in the following verses—that our real life is secure in Christ—we will more joyously lay down/give up those less valuable elements of our selves.
(1) Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
(2) Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
(3) For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
(4) When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
So what are some ways that we as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ can lay down our lives for our friends (and other people)? First of all, doing something for someone else is in the category of “service,” and the following verse clearly equates sacrifice and service:
But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.
Paul’s heart was like that of Jesus Christ. He understood that pouring out his life in service to others was a key to his own joy. How can we pour out our lives to others? One way is to share the Word of God with them. Another is to pray for them. Another is to be there for them in times of trial. Think about an exhausted mother staying up through the night with a sick baby, or a faithful husband caring day after day for his aging wife beset with Alzheimer’s, or a pastor sitting with an ailing friend. Sacrificing ourselves like that for others is showing them true love.
All of these things require that, in a healthy way, we set aside our own needs and wants and take our time for another person. We could also “lay down our lives” for others by sharing with them some of our money or material things, which we have as a result of taking time to work. Look at the following verse:
I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
I assert that the wellspring of our being able to pour out our lives to others is our personal intimacy with our God and with our Lord Jesus (2 Tim. 4:17, etc.). Strengthening that relationship requires sacrifice on our part, that is, laying down anything in us that stands between us and them. And each of us has a lot of “stuff” in our sin nature that relentlessly tries to hinder our relationship with God by getting us to hold on to our selfish desires at the expense of having something greater from our Father. Consider the following verse, written by David following his sin with Bathsheba:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
When we give up our pride, our arrogance, our defense mechanisms, and our infernal Adamic shucking and jiving, and just “get naked” before our Father and our Lord, they sweep us up in their arms and infuse us with newness of life in whatever way we need it.
I believe this is what Paul is talking about in the following two sections of Scripture—that when each of us sacrifices our old self by subjugating our will to God’s in a particular situation (usually involving other people), we identify with the death of Jesus Christ, and thus with his resurrection also, as his life within us is manifest in our lives.
2 Corinthians 4:10 and 11 (NKJV)
(10) always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
(11) For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
Philippians 3:10 and 11
(10) I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
(11) and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from [ek=out from among] the dead.
Paul is assured of attaining his physical resurrection at the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, but I think this verse also speaks figuratively of the newness of life we receive from God when we choose to “die to self” in our daily interactions with others. Not all Christians make this choice, and this is indicated by the preposition ek, which shows that only those who do so receive this “resurrection.”
In regard to our personal relationship with our Father and our Lord as the bedrock of our lives, let us note one other use of the word “sacrifice” that I think is most pertinent.
Hebrews 13:15 (KJV)
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
Praising (and worshiping) God and the Lord Jesus is vital to our spiritual well being because it orients us to them as the source of all that we need. When we exalt God and Christ, our focus shifts from our own needs to their fathomless sufficiency. When we choose to praise our God and our Lord, we are sacrificing whatever else we could be doing with our minds and hearts, and showing them our love and gratitude. This is especially true if we do not feel like praising. Of course, speaking in tongues is a primary way each Christian can give thanks well (1 Cor. 14:17-NKJV).
It is the magnanimous sacrifice of Jesus Christ that has made it possible for you and me to experience the joy of walking in his steps. He is with us, closer than our breath, each step of the way, and he is ready, willing, and able to work within us to make us like him. Because of what he did, all the way through the Cross, you are now righteous, justified, sanctified, and able to manifest his heart to a dying world. Let’s allow the Word to speak in closing this article.
(9) Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.
(10) And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
(11) Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
(12) But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
(13) Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,
(14) because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
 Scripture quotations marked (NKJV) are taken from the New King James Version®. © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 See our book, Is There Death After Life by Mark Graeser, John Lynn, & John Schoenheit (Christian Educational Services, Indianapolis, IN 2004).
 Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.