We often hear people talk about sacrifice. “You have to sacrifice for your art.” (Which, for me, currently means driving an extra 26 miles a day for rehearsals.) “How I sacrifice for my wife/kids!” “Practice sacrificial giving. Give until it hurts.” The common thread through all of these is the idea of giving up something, often of value, and often painfully. In the Bible the idea of giving up something of value may be included, but it is not the primary meaning. Sacrifice may be anything that makes one holy.
In some cases that may be something one gives up. Certainly under the Law of Moses a sacrifice was not acceptable unless it cost one something. “And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.” (2 Sam 24:24) However, it was not the giving up that made the person holy. It was the offering itself. It did not matter how much or how little it cost. In some cases the sacrifice was the same for all, regardless of ability to pay it. “The firstborn of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem. And those that are to be redeemed from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation, for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary.” (Numbers 18:15-16) It did not matter so much the value of what you brought, but that you brought it.
What makes a person holy is not what he brings but that it is a part of him. Just the act of bringing a sacrifice reveals and enhances one’s holiness. In a sense this is where the value comes in. If you perform the minimum it is no more than what is expected of you. If you give more because you want to, it not only shows the desire for holiness; it also reinforces the holiness you already have. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, your reasonable service.” (Rom 12:1) Just as a person usually does not fall away with one sin but repetition, so holiness grows with repetition of that which makes for holiness.
In seeming contradiction to all that I have said up to this point, the most important sacrifice of all was not something that we gave at all. It cost us nothing. It was not ours to offer. It was of extreme value, but people accounted it as of no value. We sacrificed nothing, and yet this sacrifice makes us more holy than even we can imagine. That sacrifice is the son of God.
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:24-26)
This is the sacrifice that truly makes us holy. Anything else we could offer is only a picture of this sacrifice. Even if we offered all that we have, and that is no more than he asks of us, it would not make us truly holy. Only by the grace of God, and the sacrifice of his son to fulfill his justice, are we made holy, as God is holy. Now that is a sacrifice!