I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your rational service (Rm. 12:1).
Seemingly, we are instructed from our births that the only way by which we will find true fulfillment in our lives is by becoming someone who is great and laudable—someone who is esteem-able. Implanted in our young minds are the society’s virtues of self-esteem and self-aggrandizement, wherein countless sources from parents to teachers, preachers to presidents, cheer us on to be anything that we desire to be, as long as we put our minds and our energies into it. We are inspired to dream dreams, to reach for the pinnacles of human existence, and to loathe whatever evil thoughts might step in our way that tell us, “You’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, and dag-gone-it, people don’t like you.”
We are taught to become our own cheerleaders and our own advocates to society, and the only thing that holds us back from making our dreams realities is our own lack of positive thinking. And granting the short span of our lives and our preoccupation with them, our dreams nearly all consist of becoming well-to-do, staying healthy, and securing our future by investments so that we will not have the spend the entirety of our days toiling under the sun.
Apart from these, there are those who understand the reality of death and the passing nature of life, and these invest their time in some good or achievement that will carry on their name beyond their death. It is for them the only way by which they can grant for themselves some sort of immortality. In such a case, I cannot help but think of the English poet John Keats, who enthralled by the inevitably of his young death, wrote poetry with great zeal so as to secure his name among the Greats of English literature. Keats accomplished his goal and awarded himself the immortality he sought, but to what advantage and to what end?
The fact remains that in all of our pursuits, whether it is for the pleasures of this life or for nominal immortality—all are pursuits in futility. For whether we enjoy this life to the fullest or do such works so as to make a name for ourselves, all will come to an end at our deaths. We will no longer be able to enjoy the pleasures we once pursued or the prominence we had gained, for, as far as this life is concerned, all is done; it ceases to exist.
Granting the inevitability of our demise and the worthlessness of our worldly accomplishments to our deceased souls, what then is reasonable in this life? What is a rational pursuit? Is there anything that will be of everlasting good to our souls?
The apostle Paul in this letter to the Roman church gives the answer to this most profound of mysteries. Referencing what he had been teaching in the previous eleven chapters, the apostle argues the only rational way of living, the only sound pursuit in this life, is being a living sacrifice which is holy and acceptable to God. On the surface, this seems to us to be the most irrational thing, but granting the futility of every other path toward self-fulfillment, this is indeed the most rational of lifestyles.
Why is this so? It is so because we are finite and mortal creatures designed and brought into being by an eternal and immortal God. We are his handiwork. And since we are thus, it is reasonable that the only way by which we can achieve anything that lasts or anything of true immortality is if we are bound up in the Immortal and removed from the mortal. We must lose ourselves in God.
In this light, everything that Christ taught us makes sense. He spoke, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt. 10:39).” And elsewhere, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross (an instrument of death) and follow me” (Mk. 8:34). Furthermore, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Mt. 16:26).
Jesus Christ, in all these things, called men to seek that which was everlasting—that which would count forever. Ironically (perhaps not), all the things that Christ taught us to do opposes everything that the world teaches us to do. It is the world that teaches us to search for our best life now and to make a name for ourselves, but Christ—the very God of the universe who created us—calls us to suffer and to die in this life for his sake and not to make a name for ourselves but to find our identity in him alone.
The call remains today as it did two-thousand years ago, are you willing to trust the Truth of Christ and forfeit the world and your name for the sake of an Inheritance that will not perish? Are you willing to give up your luxury and dreams and “suffer with him in order that you might also be glorified with him” (Rm. 8:17)? Will you consider this life and how it passes so quickly and consider the rationality of presenting yourself as a living sacrifice to the One True God? I pray that you will, because this life will be gone far quicker than you can imagine.
My belovéd Death! far too long have I
Been unfaithful to thee, giving Diblaim’s bed
To blind Desire and feigned Hope in thy stead.
Yet, how could I’ve known thee, hid ‘hind the lie
Of dye-drenched grayed hair and suppresséd sigh?
Seeing thee a foreign tyrant, I fled
From thy distance-blurred image to wed
One less loving to escape thy ill-bye.
I was deceived! Thou art not ill, indeed
Thou art the balm for my indifferent heart!
Come nigh to me (not too close!) and impart
The power thou gavest Keats in his age.
Breathe into me, sweet Death! cause me to bleed,
Fix my gaze past thee, my might never assuage.