Self-sacrifice can be exhausting. It can be painful, difficult, and largely thankless. Moreover, no shortage of people stands ready to take advantage of our willingness to serve. Nonetheless, few messages are more consistent in the New Testament than believers being known for our sacrificial spirit. (Romans 12:10)
A picture intrinsic to our sacrifices reflects the nature of Christ. (John 13:34) In fact, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul exhorts us to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) How do we do this and not lose ourselves? In other words, in other words, is it possible to be self-obliterating?
Anchor Your Worth In God
First, in order to be confidently sacrificial, we must rest assuredly in our true value. Often times people are sacrificial in order to feel valuable – either internally (to themselves ) or externally (to the world and to God). But we can never do enough to fill the giant void that the craving for self-worth creates. While we may have moments when our sacrifice is emotionally rewarding, those moments are fleeting and insufficient. We will inevitably find ourselves empty and hurt.
On the other hand, if we allow God to shape and define our worth, we are free to empty ourselves without the fear of losing ourselves. My value comes not finally from what I bring to the table, but from the one who brought me there,
God has made us in His image, a gift unique to humankind thought-out all creation. (Genesis 1: 26-28) More than that, he has seen me – the very real, very selfish, sinful me. He’s even seen the me that I haven’t seen yet because He knows every single thought I will ever think and every action I will ever take. (Psalm 139:1-6)
My thoughts and actions habitually betray my lack of love and trust, and yet God willingly gave up that which He loved most so that I might be His, (John 3:16) – not just some certainty that I would be His and become a part of His family, a fellow heir with Christ. (Romand 8:16-27)
This is the place – the place of God’s own self-sacrifice – where I find my real value. And knowing that God grounds my salvation in His own heart to be self-sacrificial is the foundation for my own self-sacrifice.
Draw Your Energy From God
Second, we must know from where the energy to be held-sacrificing comes. Too often we strive for self-denial in our own strength. But trusting in ourselves to deny ourselves is an oxymoron. Self-sacrifice is line death. And doubly so when our sacrifice seems to be in vain.
While our own effort is vitally important it is empty without the catalyzing of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) Counting others more significant than ourselves is an activity that starts with, is borne along by, and finds it’s fulfillment in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, sacrifice which doesn’t start with Spirit-dependant prayer and trust should not be expected to yield spiritual satisfaction.
It is often when we find ourselves at the end of our own abilities that God’s grace in us superabounds. (Ephesians 3:14-21) So, let us not too quickly withdraw when we find ourselves gassed in the marathon of lifelong sacri, but rather redouble our efforts through God’s word and prayer. Through God’s perseverance, God’s grace may be made more apparent to the world and ourselves.
Sacrifice Yourself For God
Third, we need to understand our own heart when I comes to self-sacrifice. Too often our self-denial is little more than window dressing on our desire to please people or control them, we feel hurt. We may even blame God (which is always a sin)
What makes this even more complicated is that even rightly intended motivations are often wrongly prioritized. Wanting someone to be helped, get better, or feel more loved becomes the primary focus, not bringing honor to God, (Colossians3:17) And when motivations, even good ones, get top billing over the glory of God, we care setting ourselves up for the sort of disappointment that leads to weariness well-doing. (Galatians 6:9)
Set boundaries With God’s Help
Lastly, we have biblical grounds for proper boundaries. Not every relationship that requires self-sacrifice is in itself sustainable. If the relationship is with someone who makes a profession of faith, then they too are required to show love and respect our involvement. (Romans 16:17-18) That should not end our kind acts of self-denial, but rather refocus them in areas where fruit seems to be more forthcoming through the leading of the spirit.
It also doesn’t necessarily mean the death of those relationships. Paul, for example, was frustrated with the lack of maturity in John and refused to let him go on one of his missionary journeys (Acts 15:36-40) But later Paul counted his as invaluable to his ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)
It is a little trickier when exercising appropriate boundaries with non-believers. On one hand, we are told to go the extra mile – so that the aroma of God may be perceived in us. (Matthew 5:38-42) We reflect something almost unspeakably beautiful in the grace, mercy, and love of Christ as we lay down our lives not just for friends and family, but also for those who would consider themselves our enemies. ( Romans 5:8-10)
While we are to be poured out, we are not to be unwisely used up. Times comes when we must cut ourselves off from these outside the body of Christ. (2 Corinthians 6:14+18; Titus 3:20; 2 Timothy 3:1-9) The key seems to be sanctification and glory. If the relationship is not helping in our own identification and bringing glory to Christ, then it’s time to reevaluate.
That said, do not be hasty in boundary-making. It is easy to get hurt, scared, or offended and decide that a relationship must come to an end. Sometimes our sanctification and God’s glory take a long, tortuous route. Let the Holy Spirit guide you through Bible-soaked prayer over this relationship. Making a boundary too quickly can be just as detrimental as not making one at all.
Self-sacrifice is painful, problematic, and peculiar, but it is part and parcel to the believer’s life. Understanding where our value, energy, motivation, and end boundaries come from helps us to ground our giving in the grace of God, which is the one place where we will never find ourselves completely empty.