June 24, 2014

Sacrifice of Praise

I think it is an interesting turn of phrase to say that we are to sacrifice praise to God. I understand the biblical application of sacrificial giving, but I think our modern understanding of what it means to sacrifice praise is skewed and distorted. Why should we sacrifice praise to God? I mean, why should our praise of God be sacrificially given? Shouldn't our response to God be one of praise -- without any notion of there being a sacrifice involved?

Biblically speaking, we are no longer sacrificing animals for the forgiveness of our sins. The old system of atonement was passed over for the new system of grace. Ours sins are forgiven and our guilt is washed away! Since we have no sacrifice to make (physically coming to the altar at prescribed times), we are encouraged to make sacrifices that are spiritual (our bodies, for example). Our praise is to be sacrificially given as well.

My question, though, is why we don't give praise without thinking that it is a sacrifice to be made?

In my view, praise comes forth through a heart and mind that acknowledges the goodness of God. I know that He is good, and therefore, my praise resonates with that understanding. I don't stop myself and say "Oh, I have to go sacrifice some praise to God right now" because it just happens. I praise God all the time. I hear myself saying "God be praised" or "Praise the Lord" or even "God is good." These utterances, I believe, come from my spirit which has been moved by the Holy Spirit and my mind and body being yielded to His presence simply allows them to come out. I often do not realize I am saying these things. The words just come out of my mouth. I believe this is a praise-state that happens only after you have fully surrendered your life to the Lord. I don't wrestle with God over praise or thanksgiving -- these are naturally occurring events that are generated out of a surrendered and fully compliant spirit.

I am always struck by teaching (from the pulpit) that suggests that it is normal for Christians to not want to read their bible or praise God. I hear it all the time -- sort of -- I know how hard it is to choose to pray or choose to read the Word. I think to myself that this is not normal or more appropos it is not normal for Christians who have been saved. Our salvation is not partial, it is not progressive as some like to say it is. Some denominations teach that you are saved once -- saved and sanctified -- and that from that point on, your old life is gone and the new life is reborn. Other denominations teach that you are saved, but you must remain in grace to reap the rewards of salvation. This is a progressive sanctification and it is predicated on obedience to the Word and behavioral change. In short, one view takes the opinion that the work of salvation and sanctification occurs by the Holy Spirit with no assistance from us. The other view says the initial work is by the Holy Spirit but the ongoing "keeping the faith" work is up to us. We must remain in grace, we must obey, we must do the right work, the right kinds of things, to experience sanctification.

I came to faith in a church that believed the latter. I lived under the law for many years, believing that while I was saved, my salvation was only as good as my obedience to the Word of God. I regulated my life, inner and outer, to conform to the Word. I read my bible, I prayed, I studied, I did good works. I lived by a code that said I had to keep myself under grace. If I stepped outside grace, then I had to start over again. There was repentance and forgiveness, of course, but the process was like climbing up a steep mountain side. If you slipped up, you dropped back down and you had to climb again.

I experienced grace-liberating faith a couple years ago. I was in the midst of great turmoil in my life, and I was at that place where I questioned God's goodness. I had been a Christian for a very long time, and I had sacrificed everything to be faithful and obedient. I came to the conclusion that my faith was built on works, and that while I believed the Word of God, I didn't love the Word or Jesus. I didn't want to go to hell, but I didn't love the One who saved me from it. It was a difficult place to be in, to admit that the One you were following was not someone with whom you loved. I confessed my lack of love for the Lord, and I asked God to help me come to know Him, to love Him, in a new way.

God answered my prayer, and from that moment on, my heart was changed to where I learned what it meant to love the Lord. I began to praise Him, to honor Him, to seek Him, and to know Him. I didn't do anything legalistically -- there was no obedience, no rules or regulations -- there was just an upwelling of Love for the One who died to save me.

I also learned that my sins were forgiven once for all on the cross. I didn't have to keep on asking to be forgiven, for unknown sins. I didn't have to keep asking to be cleansed from the guilt of those sins. They were taken on Him, and I was washed clean by His blood and the waters of baptism. I was cleansed, and I was able to come into the throne room of God, not because I was a good Christian, obedient and faithful, but because my Lord opened the door for me and bid me come in.

Since that day, my heart and my mind have been conformed to His will for my life. My words have been changed, and my attitude toward my life has altered to follow Him. The praise I have for His Name comes out of a place unbeknownst to me. It is deep inside me, and it bubbles up, and out the words come. I give Him praise. There is no sacrifice for it, it just happens.

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