Until recently, I was under the impression that the Law of Sacrifice was something Adam was given, and that all forms of that law disappeared with the advent of the Law of the Gospel, as given by Jesus during his mortal ministry. But I now see that the Law of Sacrifice is about the oldest and longest running law in the plan of salvation, and that we are still required to live by it, for without it we cannot be saved.
Law of Sacrifice
In Adam’s day, living the law of sacrifice entailed (in a nutshell) mainly animal sacrifice, which required an altar on which the animals were tied and slaughtered. This is about all the information Adam had to go on besides the need for the requirement of the offering being a firstborn male lamb without any imperfections (without blemish).
The scriptures say that Adam lived this law for “many days.” I am assuming that means many years, since sheep only have lambs once a year, but that is only my opinion. In Moses 5:5–9 we are told that eventually an angel appeared to Adam asking him why he was offering sacrifices to the Lord. Adam confessed that he had no idea. He was doing it because he had been commanded to do so.
5 And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
6 And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me.
7 And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
8 Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
9 And in that day the Holy Ghost fell upon Adam, which beareth record of the Father and the Son, saying: I am the Only Begotten of the Father from the beginning, henceforth and forever, that as thou hast fallen thou mayest be redeemed, and all mankind, even as many as will.
From this brief passage we learn several lessons.
- We learn that sometimes the Lord requires obedience before he reveals the reason for being obedient.
- We learn that Adam’s sacrifices weren’t at all about killing animals, but about doing something that represented the sacrifice of Christ for all mankind.
- We learn that we are to do everything in the name of the Son, and that we are to pray to God in the Son’s name forever.
- Lastly, we learn that being saved is up to us. There isn’t anyone who has ever lived on the earth who can’t be saved if they choose to do what it takes to be saved.
This same law was practiced by Adam’s righteous posterity for thousands of years, down through the flood, through Abraham’s time, down to the time of Moses, after the children of Israel had been in bondage in Egypt for 400 years.
The change to the Law of Moses
Moses tried to give the Israelites the fullness of the gospel of Christ, but they were too ingrained in their mindset of slavery and the worship of the gods of Egypt. The Lord gave them instead, a version of the law of sacrifice that was far more strict and with accompanying daily rituals and ordinances to help remind them every hour of the day how they were supposed to worship. This was a temporary change that would be done away with once Christ had fulfilled His earthly mission. It was temporary because everything about the law pointed to Christ fulfilling His earthly mission. That was the whole focus of the law at that time.
But the Israelites, in their disobedience and willfulness, gradually reworked the law until it meant something entirely different than it had when it had been given to them. By the time of the Savior’s coming, the Jews, the only remaining Israelites in Jerusalem, had lived without any prophets for several hundred years. The Pharisees now defined their worship and interpreted the law of Moses as a group of intellectuals, without inspiration from the Almighty to guide them.
Adam was told that all things in the Law of Sacrifice pointed to Christ and His ultimate sacrifice for our sins. That one crucial fact was lost to the Jews by the time Jesus was born. The Messiah, the Anointed One they were looking for was not someone to save them from their sins, but to be a commander and lead their armies to victory against their captors and persecutors.
With such a mismatch in doctrine it isn’t hard to see why they disliked what Jesus was teaching them. It didn’t matter how plainly he spoke, and how matter-of-factly he taught them the truth, they wanted none of it. Only Christ’s believers accepted him for who he said he was.
Moving from one law to another
When Christ transitioned the Church to the Law of the Gospel, it wasn’t a move to dump the law of sacrifice then adopt something completely different by accepting the law of the gospel. The law of the gospel is still the law of sacrifice, but on a much higher plane.
The law of sacrifice was given to those who were looking forward to the coming of the great Redeemer and Savior. There were several kinds of sacrifices in the law of Moses, where the animal represented either the one making the offering or it represented Christ. Once He had come and fulfilled all the promises made to the Israelites in the law of Moses, the law of sacrifice was changed so that instead of an animal sacrifice, the sacrifice was to be our heart and our will.
Instead of putting a living creature on an altar and spilling its blood, representing the blood and sacrifice made by Jesus in Gethsemane and on the cross, the altar is our lives. We place upon this spiritual altar that which is most precious to us, all our desires, and our will, the one thing we truly possess.
We still live the law of the gospel, but now we have additional revelation, ordinances, and temples to assist us in fulfilling the Lord’s will for His children.
The importance of blood
There is a reason the Lord demanded blood be shed in order for the sacrifice to be acceptable to him. Jesus had but one assignment, a big one, but just one, that was to pay the price for the sins of all God’s children, die then be resurrected, thus bringing immortality and the possibility of eternal life to all of God’s children.
The Lord sees the end from the beginning. That means he knows each and every detail of every life that will ever be lived, long before that life is lived. He knew, even before the earth was created how Jesus would die, and what would be required of him to pay for our sins. The Law of Sacrifice was given as a pattern of our Savior’s atoning sacrifice.
Just as Jesus is the firstborn of the Father, so the lamb had to be the first male child. As the Savior bled from every pore, so too did the animal have to have its throat cut, thus spilling its blood. Just as Jesus had to die, so the animal had to die. The list of similarities is long. Even in the law of Moses, the burnt offering was an animal that was consumed – not eaten – but cremated. This demonstrated that the life and body of Christ were to be offered by him whole and complete, without any reservation. He was willing to give everything about himself in order to fulfill the will of his Father. He held nothing back.
Today we still live the Law of Sacrifice. There is still blood required. But now, instead of a sacrifice that foreshadows the coming of the great sacrifice by the Christ, we now look back at the blood shed for us in Gethsemane and on the cross. The requirements of the sacrifice are still in play.
The sacrifice made by people for millennia had to be repeated regularly. This constant need to repeat the sacrifice demonstrates that man cannot satisfy in any kind of permanent way the demands of justice. This is why once Christ had made His infinite and eternal sacrifice in Gethsemane and on the cross, no more shedding of blood was needed. The great sacrifice had been made, and no other sacrifice of blood ever need be made again, except when the temple in Jackson County is built.
After Christ’s resurrection, instead of an animal’s life being sacrificed on the altar in place of our life, we are now the sacrifice. The animal died in the person’s place, just as Jesus died for us. Now we are required to submit ourselves, all that we are, to the will of God. Our obedience must be complete. We must be willing to withhold nothing from him, not even our lives. We must be willing to be consumed, like the animal sacrifice in the burnt offering, in performing the will of our Father.
What is the point of this law?
The whole purpose of this law is to bring us closer to God, and to test our obedience. Remember that in Abraham 3:25 we are told by God why the earth was created.
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
Even in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says the same basic thing to Joseph Smith.
“I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.
“For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me” (D&C 98:14–15; emphasis added).
All is a pretty inclusive word. The Lord does not speak things lightly, since anything He says comes to pass and is obeyed by the universe. Are we willing to give everything to the Lord? Are we willing to let go of every habit that prevents us from being completely obedient? Are we willing to wear out our lives in the service of others, without regard for our personal conveniences and pleasures? Are we willing to put the Lord and His work first and foremost in our lives?
This is more inclusive than it sounds. Our first step is to be baptized and begin to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. We covenant with God to seek his Spirit and obey his promptings at all times and in all places. We promise to bear testimony of Christ and do to the best of our ability what Jesus would do if he were in our place.
Such promises require continual repentance and constant monitoring of our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. We must give ourselves over to Christ and willingly look past what we want or what we think is best and seek for what he thinks is best. We are often left to ourselves to see if we will continue on in the work we have covenanted to do even without the Spirit directly telling us what to do next. Remember Adam? He was commanded to live the law of sacrifice without ever being told why or what it meant. As far as Adam could see it was just a meaningless activity to test him, yet he did it anyway. This is the kind of faith we need to learn to have when it comes to keeping God’s commandments.
Just like Adam, who received his answers only after a trial of his faith, so too will we be made to obey at times without any meaningful explanation. Sometimes the Brethren tell us we have to do things a certain way. What if we disagree with them? What if we have doubts or questions about why this way, and not another way? Sometimes we don’t see a way for us to obey their directives, yet the faithful will turn to the Lord and seek for answers so they can follow the Lord’s servants in faith.
An Apostle’s perspective on living the Law of Sacrifice
Following are excerpts from Elder M. Russell Ballard. The link to his full article in the Ensign is at the bottom of the page. Everything that follows is his, except for the one note I have made in italics.
Sacrifice allows us to learn something about ourselves–what we are willing to offer to the Lord through our obedience.
Note: When asked why Abraham was commanded to go to Mount Moriah and offer his only hope of posterity, President Hugh B. Brown, an Apostle, said, ‘Abraham needed to learn something about Abraham.’ The Lord already knew what Abraham would do, but Abraham didn’t know the depth of his own faith in God until he was actually stopped from making the sacrifice in the very act of performing it. It was then that Abraham realized how far he was willing to go in the service of his God. This was a growth lesson for Abraham.
After the Savior’s ultimate sacrifice, two adjustments were made in the practice of the law of sacrifice. First, the ordinance of the sacrament replaced the ordinance of sacrifice; and second, this change moved the focus of the sacrifice from a person’s animal to the person himself. In a sense, the sacrifice changed from the offering to the offerer.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!” (‘”Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,”‘)
When we overcome our own selfish desires and put God first in our lives and covenant to serve Him regardless of the cost, we are then living the law of sacrifice.
One of the best ways to be sure we are keeping the first great commandment is to keep the second great commandment. The Master Himself taught that “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40) and that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). The degree of our love for the Lord and for our fellowman can be measured by what we are willing to sacrifice for them. Sacrifice is a demonstration of pure love.
Now as we contemplate the law of sacrifice in our lives, let us contemplate the environment in which we live. The blessings that have come to us in our times are monumental. We have need to guard carefully against ingratitude. The Lord said: “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things” (D&C 59:21). The spirit of the law of sacrifice promotes gratitude.
We are living in a period of great prosperity that may, when history is written, prove to be as devastating to our souls as the effects of physical persecutions were upon the bodies of our pioneer ancestors. President Brigham Young warned: “Poverty, persecution and oppression we have endured; many of us have suffered the loss of all things in a worldly point of view. Give us prosperity and see if we would bear it, and be willing to serve God. See if we would be as willing to sacrifice millions as we were to sacrifice what we had when in comparative poverty” (Deseret News Weekly, 26 Oct. 1870, 442).
Listen to the language of the scriptures as they describe the level of sacrifice the Lord requires of us: “Offer your whole souls as an offering unto [God]” (Omni 1:26; see also Mosiah 2:24). “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God” (Rom. 12:1). The Lord Himself has said that we should keep our “covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command” (D&C 97:8). The sacrifice the Lord asks of us is to wholly rid ourselves of the “natural man” (Mosiah 3:19) and all the ungodliness associated with it. When we completely surrender ourselves to the Lord, then He will cause a mighty change in us and we will become a new person, justified, sanctified, and born again with His image in our countenances (see Mosiah 5:2; Alma 5:14; Moses 6:59–60).
If I have a fear, it is that the principle of sacrifice may be slipping away from us. This principle is a law of God. We are obliged to understand it and practice it. If being a member of this Church becomes too easy, testimonies will become shallow, and the roots of testimony will not go down into the soil of faith as they did with our pioneer forefathers. May God grant each of us an understanding of the law of sacrifice and a conviction that it is necessary today. It is vitally important that we understand this law and live it.
Elder M. Russell Ballard