Sacrifice in Mormonism
Mormonism teaches that sacrifice is an eternal principle. It has always been in force as a way to obey the Lord’s commandments and show devotion to Him. God commanded the first man and woman on Earth, Adam and Eve, to offer sacrifices of the firstborn animals of their flocks. In the Pearl of Great Price, the Book of Moses records: “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” (Moses 5:5).
Adam was taught that this sacrifice was “a similitude [representation] of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father” (Moses 5:7), showing that originally the Lord’s children understood that there was a relationship between their own sacrifices and the forthcoming sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ. A system of sacrificial offerings was given specifically to Moses as part of the law for the Israelites. Nephi, a prophet in the Book of Mormon, taught explicitly that sacrifices were performed to symbolize the sacrifice of Christ (see 2 Nephi 11:4). He also wrote, “We keep the law of Moses and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ. . . . For, for this end was the law given” (2 Nephi 25:24-25).
These sacrifices of the firstborn of the animals of one’s flock were offered throughout ancient times among those who were faithful servants of the Lord. When Jesus Christ came to the earth, he fulfilled the law of Moses by offering Himself as the last and great blood sacrifice. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Mormon Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
Mormons believe that after His mortal ministry, Christ elevated the law of sacrifice to a new level. In describing how the law would continue, Jesus told His Nephite Apostles that He would no longer accept burnt offerings but that His disciples should offer ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit’ (3 Nephi 9:19-20). Instead of the Lord requiring our animals or grain, now He wants us to give up all that is ungodly (“The Law of Sacrifice,” Aug. 13, 1996).
It is with this concept of offering oneself as a righteous individual to the Lord, and ‘sacrificing’ anything that is unworthy of Him, that Mormons still obey the law of sacrifice. Such a sacrifice assists individuals in working toward perfection by helping them understand and personally apply Jesus Christ’s Atonement for the sins of mankind. Elder Ballard further explained:
How is it we show the Lord that we have symbolically put ourselves upon today’s sacrificial altar? We show Him by living the first great commandment: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind’ (Matthew 22:37). 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.
As we strive to keep the law of sacrifice, it helps to remember that not only did Jesus sacrifice Himself, but God the Father makes great sacrifices on our behalf. He allows us continually to have our own free agency, although this often brings Him sorrow as we make choices to the injury of others and our very own destruction. When we keep in mind what pure joy we can give our generous Heavenly Father by doing what is right and by being good to each other, we feel great motivation to truly act as the wise and loving sons and daughters He wants us to be. A prophet in the Book of Mormon declared, “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). And when we are in the service of our God, we find that we are serving ourselves as well, fulfilling the divine potential for growth that we possess as His children. Sacrifice suddenly becomes no sacrifice at all.