Did you know when Wycliffe Bible Translators translated the New Testament for a tribe in Borneo, Jesus was referred to as "the pig of God" in John 1:29, rather than "the lamb of God"?
More on Wycliffe's interesting translation later...
Read Romans 12:1:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.
Paul gives the command to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices." He describes the living sacrifice as "holy and pleasing to God" (it's something God really wants us to do) and finally points out that "this is your spiritual act of worship".
The NIV translation is actually misleading on the last part. In this case, the King James gets closer to the truth by rendering it, "this is your reasonable service." In the Greek, Paul says it is "your logical service."
In other words, Paul is saying that not only does offering our bodies as living sacrifices please God, it's also a no-brainer. It's a head-smacking, "does-the-word-'duh'-mean-anything-to-you?" idea: if you're a Christian, you are a living sacrifice to God.
But what does it mean to be a sacrifice?
In the Greek, "sacrifice" literally means a thing or person burned by fire as an offering to a god or to God. The idea is simple enough as it is presented, but I'd like to give it a bit more depth. Hal Lindsey wrote this article on the significance of one kind of sacrifice in Jewish culture, the paschal lamb.
This lamb was offered by a Jewish family to atone for sins. The lamb itself was to be without blemish and one from the family's own flock (not purchased or given to them). The process of choosing the lamb began with selecting several lambs that looked to be perfect, and then setting them apart and watching them for a time to spot deficiencies. Once the proper lamb was selected, the family would take it into their house and would care for it as if it were a family pet, so as to prevent anything from happening that might disqualify it as a sacrifice. Of course, in a household with small children, it's easy to see how a lamb like that would become dear to the family - the children especially. Nevertheless, the day would come when they would have to kill it to atone for their sins.
When that day came, the entire family would go to the temple with the lamb in tow. Then, the father of the house would take the lamb to the altar and the priest would examine the lamb, approve it for sacrifice, and hand the father the sacrifical knife. The father would have to kill the lamb since it was a sacrifice for he and his family's sins. He sacrificed the lamb first by rendering it unconscious by compressing two veins in it's neck. Then he would nip those veins with the knife, and bathe his hands in the outpouring of blood. The carcass would then be burned completely. Often, parts of the sacrifices were given to the priests for their food, but not in the case of the paschal lamb.
The lamb was a perfect, but difficult sacrifice - it meant giving up something that was dear to and prized by the entire family. It came at considerable cost and was a vivid way to remind the Israelites just how serious sin was to God. Yet that cost pales in comparison to the price God paid to remove the sins of those who believe in His Son. This is why John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the "lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" in John 1:29.
So why did Wycliffe's Bible translators refer to Jesus as the "pig of God" in it's effort to reach a culture?
Quite simply, the native population Wycliffe was trying to reach had never seen sheep, so the "lamb of God" would mean nothing to them. In order to communicate the meaning and purpose of this sacrifice image, they had to use the animal that best fit the Jewish image of the lamb - in this case, the pig. Not surprisngly, this has stood as a rather controversial translation. Nevertheless, it was deemed appropriate for the cultural context.
So how does the concept of a "living sacrifice" apply to the Christian life?
During the course of the last week, I did something I never thought I'd do - I fasted. Fasting is something I always assigned to people whom I believed were more "spiritual" than me. Nevertheless, I was hit with the conviction last Monday that this is something I ought to do. So, I tried it. I went two days without solid food and drank mostly water. On two occasions I had 100% fruit juice to allieviate some light-headedness. Then, after almost 60 hours, I broke my fast. I suppose I had my first true "breakfast" ever last Friday morning!
I can't say that I had some sort of "mountain-top" experience as a result of my fast, but I do feel as though I was closer to God for it. Times I would have spent eating and doing other things to entertain myself were spent in Scripture or in prayer. My hunger pangs reminded me of why I was fasting (to seek God and to draw near to Him) so I used them as opportunities to do just that. As a result, I can see why it is a valued practice among so many even today. While I don't believe fasting is any sort of spiritual "cure-all" for what ails us, some use fasting for a variety of purposes, like these guys from XXXChurch who are doing a 40-day fast as a "movement" to mobilize the church.
While I believe the primary (certainly, the most noble) purpose of fasting in a Christian context is to draw near to God, another benefit was how it reminded me of the consuming nature of pleasure. Case in point, going two days without solid food made the can of Pringles sitting on our kitchen table look like a T-Bone steak to me. I never wanted a potato chip so badly in my life! The experience clearly demonstrated how lust can completely dominate my mind if I permit it.
Ultimately, it has served as a great way of demonstrating just how much of a sacrifice it is to offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices. It is neither convenient nor cheap to sacrifice to God the things we love the most in this life. Yet I believe there is nothing that pleases God more than what we willingly sacrifice out of gratitude and love (not obligation and fear) and it is a natural and inevitable result of being a Christian.