The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23; ESV).”
When it comes to salvation, and the sanctification of ourselves to the service of God, there are no half-measures. We are either saved completely, or we are lost completely. We either belong to Christ or we do not. Either we are blameless and ready for His coming, or we are not. Just as it is impossible to be a little pregnant, or a little dead, so too is it impossible to be a little saved. It is an all or nothing sort of affair.
Relatedly, the sacrifice that God desires is not one of half-measures either.
We read in the Scriptures: “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 (Romans 12:1; ESV).”
One cannot make a partial sacrifice of a thing and still call it a legitimate sacrifice. When a worshiper of God, under the Law of Moses, brought an animal to give to God, the entirety of the animal was given over. One could not sacrifice a bull on Saturday and then expect to use it to plow with on Sunday. The animal was gone, slain, and burnt to ashes. There was no getting it back.
Why should we think it different when we offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God? Do we think we can “sacrifice” ourselves to God on Sunday, giving ourselves completely to His service and then come Monday, we are our own again? What sort of sacrifice do we think God is asking for when He calls us to be living sacrifices? Do we really think God is going to be pleased with half-hearted, once-in-a-while measures?
When God commanded the Israelites to love Him, He told them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9; ESV)”
God was not looking for half-hearted devotion from His people. He wanted their complete loyalty. He wanted them to focus their lives on doing the things He commanded them. He wanted them to focus their families on being conformed to His words and His will. He wanted their hearts and minds to be filled with a constant meditation upon those things He had taught them.
When Jesus was asked concerning the greatest of the commandments, repeatedly He returned to these words: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (cf. Matthew 22:36-37).”
Jesus wanted His followers to understand that utter devotion to God was still the highest calling and the greatest summary of all that God wanted from His creation. The Gospel of Christ does not change this calling, rather it affirms it. God still wants our complete loyalty. God still wants us to focus our lives and our families on Him and His holy words. God still wants our hearts and minds to be filled with constant meditation upon His teachings. God wants us to make of ourselves a living sacrifice in His service.
Some might protest that this seems unreasonable, that God is expecting too much, that something must be left over for self. But those who think this way are undervaluing God, undervaluing the worth of their soul and undervaluing the completeness of the salvation God supplies.
The same apostle who urged others to give themselves completely to Christ knew the value of what He had in Christ. “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… (Philippians3:8-9a; ESV)”
One might also consider the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Jesus did not give Himself on the cross, for our salvation, with half-hearted half-measures. His death on our behalf was a full sacrifice of self in the service of God. He thus teaches us about the dedication and commitment God wants from each of us.
Today, if you desire God to sanctify you completely, and keep the whole of your being blameless for the day of His return, then give yourself over completely to God so that He may save the you completely. Full salvation requires a full sacrifice.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.