In Braveheart, William Wallace dies (stomach opened and all his insides pulled out while he is still alive – gruesome, right?) fighting for the freedom of his countrymen. At the run up to the big battle he says to his men:
Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!
Jack Dawson lets go and drowns in the freezing cold water of the Atlantic, instead of trying to share the raft, which may have tipped over, to save Rose in Titanic. Before letting go, Jack and Rose have this conversation where he makes it clear that his death should inspire Rose to fully live:
Winning that ticket, Rose, was the best thing that ever happened to me… it brought me to you. And I’m thankful for that, Rose. I’m thankful. You must do me this honor. Promise me you’ll survive. That you won’t give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me now, Rose, and never let go of that promise.
At the end of A Tale of Two Cities, Sydney Carton goes to the gallows in the stead of Charles Darnay out of his love for Lucie and the hope that he has for her happiness. At the gallows, Carton says the most powerful line of any work of fiction of all time:
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.
And sadliest©, at the end of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, Spock dies of radiation poisoning for the rest of the crew and James T. Kirk, to whom he says:
You are my superior officer. You are also my friend. I have been and always shall be yours.
Oh, someone get me some frakkin Kleenex!
Now those are sacrifices! Dying for your loved ones and your friends. These characters become heroes to us by showing us that there are things and people worth dying for. These ideals presented give us something to shoot for. I want to truly live, like William Wallace. I want to sacrifice myself for my love, like Jack Dawson and my friends like Spock. And I want to find redemption in my sacrifice like Sydney Carton.
The problem I have is that I don’t get a lot of opportunities to take up a weapon against my enemy, or choose myself or my love in an obvious do or die moment, or know with certainty of the peril of another of which I could intervene. I’m just not in life or death situations enough to act so nobly as these guys.
Paul begs us (yes, begs) in Romans 12:1 to sacrifice ourself for God:
So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as living sacrifices to Him. Your offering must be only for God (holy/ set apart) and pleasing to Him, which is the spiritual (authentic/ true) way for you to worship.
Like all good Christians after reading this passage, I kiss my wife and children good-bye and look for somewhere to die for God. Unfortunately, I don’t find anywhere. No lions to eat me in a coliseum. No Romans to hang me on crucifixes. Since there just isn’t an easy way to force martyrdom on myself (well, in my religion,) it is obvious that Paul is not saying to die for God.
Of course you know that. Church people, or Churchtopians© as I call us, have heard time and again that we are supposed to live for God. We’ve heard it so much that we’ve tuned it out. Like “I really should eat less fast food or I will get fat and die of an obesity related disease” and “smoking is going to kill me so I should stop” we find ways to ignore the good advice with excuses and equivocations.
We say, I will worship God by going to church (Lord knows that is a sacrifice!) or I will worship God by giving some money I happen to have in my wallet. We sooth our aching conscience by remembering all the crap we
threw away gave away to the Goodwill to help poor people, bless their hearts!
But we can’t be saved by acting on rules we make up (see Romans 11: Not Finding What You’re Looking For for more on this topic.) The Bible is not about us and we don’t get to make up the rules on what satisfies God in terms of worship. Paul says, in verse 2:
Do not be shaped by this world (age/ culture); instead be changed within by changing the way you think. Then you will be able to decide (or understand) what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to Him and what is perfect.
Step one in learning how to sacrifice yourself for God: recognize that the answer does not come from any other source than God Himself. It is not found in our culture. It is only found in the Bible. So read the frakkin Bible.
Once we change the way we think, that is switch from a worldly “we can figure this out on our own” independence to a Godly “only God knows how to live right” dependence we will finally understand how to sacrifice ourselves for God.
And I think – for those of us who achieve this sacrifice – upon entering Heaven will find that the angels and saints, along with God will have watched the movie of our life and Jesus will have said over and again to the Holy Spirit, “Oh, someone get me some frakkin Kleenex!”