Sacrifice means, “to give something up for the sake of something of higher value.” Sacrificial living (and leading) is to give up our own lives for the purpose of following Christ. Jesus modeled the perfect sacrificial life by giving His very life for the sins of mankind. It is this type of lifestyle, one that chooses to live for others instead of self, that models real love for people (John 15:12-14).
Sacrificial living is a daily decision, not a one time event. Paul urges us to, “….offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1).” We are to continually offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices as an act of worship to God for all He has done for us. He died for us! Living for Him is the least we can do!
Jesus reminds us that being His disciple means, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To follow Christ means that we must first deny ourselves. That is, give up all rights to our own plans, desires, dreams and hopes for our lives and let God determine our future. It is an abandonment of self into the loving hands of God. Secondly, we must take up our cross daily. To the first century audience, the picture of a person carrying a cross meant that they were condemned to death by the Roman government. They had no future – only death. Jesus uses this picture to illustrate that this death to self is to be daily, not just a one time decision. Each and every day we must choose to live for Christ and die to self.
Sacrificial living goes against the wisdom of this world. The world says to seek self-gratification. “If it feels good do it!” The implication being, if it doesn’t feel good, then it should not be acted upon. To choose to deny self in order to gain the opportunity to serve God is something that will be hard for others to understand.
Sacrifice is painful! It cost God’s Son His life! There are no guarantees we will live a pain-free life. God does not apologize for asking much of His followers. It is His right. He owns us. He bought us with His own blood. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
But God also promises us that whatever cost we are asked to pay in denying self and following Him He will repay multiple times over. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Therefore, whatever has been sacrificed for Christ, when compared with what has been gained in return, will not seem to be too great a cost to pay.
Leaders who model this type of sacrificial leadership entrust themselves and their leadership impact to God. They will model the same type of leadership that Nehemiah did in Nehemiah 5:14-19: Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels[a] of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall…In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.
And these type of sacrificing leaders will pray as Nehemiah did, “Remember me with favor, my God, for all I have done for these people.”