Worship isn’t just something we do in church. An Old Testament ritual of worship, held in various ways and places from the beginning of the Bible, illustrates the point well. If we comprehend its symbolism, we will have a better understanding of worship.
The ritual is the burnt offering (Genesis 8:20). The animal was selected from the herd, “a male without defect” (Leviticus 1:3), and brought to the tent of meeting. “You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you” (v. 4).
Animals were costly, so it was an economic sacrifice. In laying his hand on the animal’s head, the owner identified with the animal and transferred it to God. He was saying that he deserved to die for his sins. He wanted to give himself to God to make and keep a right relationship. The final instructions tell of complete sacrifice to God: “the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering . . . an aroma pleasing to the Lord” (v. 9).
The New Testament symbolically applies this language of sacrificial worship to every believer. Romans 12:1, for instance, says, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.” Paul utilizes this symbolic language again three chapters later, describing his ministry in priestly terms. As a minister of Christ, he proclaimed the gospel in order that Gentile believers “might become an offering acceptable to God . . .” (15:16).
As the burnt offering was a sacrifice wholly given to God and pleasing to Him, now we are a living sacrifice acceptable to God. Worship isn’t just going to church but giving ourselves wholly to Christ, setting ourselves apart for God’s service.
This sacrifice is bodily — the entire person. We bring to God our eyes, ears, tongues, hands, and feet with believing hearts and transformed minds (10:10; 12:2). We offer our thoughts, words, and actions to the glory of God.
Sometimes we think of ourselves as ordinary people struggling with life and enjoying what we can. We are more than that: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
A person under the old covenant with their burnt offering could only replace themselves with an animal. But because Christ gave Himself as an offering to God for us, a new way has come. Through Jesus we can be living sacrifices every day. By His gift of redemption and forgiveness, we have a direct relationship with God that was missing before. Let’s honor Jesus’ sacrifice as a spotless substitute for us by following Him and becoming living sacrifices ourselves.