Michelle Dowell, Contributor
The word "sacrifice" is thrown around a little too easily in many Christian teachings and conversations. There are two reasons why the use of this word needs to be thought through more carefully: using it wrong can hurt people's understanding of the gospel and how to live well.
The first reason is when a teacher says "do this or that sacrificially" or "it will be a sacrifice to do this," maybe meaning giving more in the offering when it is painful or being extra nice to someone when you're too tired, it is taking sacrifice out of its great, life-changing context of Christ's sacrifice, and also the sacrifice for sins in the Old Testament that points to Christ.
When we think of that word, we should be grateful that Christ paid the price for us. Christ was a the sacrifice for our sins. That means we don't need to make a sacrifice for our sins--we need to go to Christ. And his part in our life and our gratefulness for that sacrifice causes us to do good in the world. It's not a painful journey all the time of constant sacrifices, but a process of sanctification that includes at times a grateful, happy heart because of the gospel.
The second is that it causes people to feel that the Christian needs to very often do some self-inflicting pain in order to do good. It's true that sometimes making the right choice will be painful. But not all the time, and feeling pain isn't always the way to make a right decision. Sometimes what is casually called a sacrifice, like giving to someone, could be a joyous occasion. You see the grateful heart of the person and anticipate it so it doesn't feel bad at all.
My guess is that people like to use the word sacrifice this way because it reminds them of Christ's sacrifice and Christians should be willing to want to emulate Christ. But the problem with this reasoning is that we aren't able to be exactly like Christ, because Christ was sinless, and the sacrifice he paid was one time. And, yes, we should be reminded often of Christ's sacrifice, but in a more joyous way. One that says Christ came to give life abundantly. And out of that hopeful message we should feel compelled to do good works. Basically, we need to focus on Christ first, and then maybe our works (although at times good works can flow naturally--without that intense focus on "should's"). Not the other way around or only our works.