Sacrifice has been required by the Lord since the beginning of time, as a way to obey the Lord’s commandments and show devotion to Him. The Lord commanded the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, to offer sacrifices of the firstborn sheep of their flocks. In one of the books of scripture in Mormonism The Pearl of Great Price, the book of Moses has record of these sacrifices:
“And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flock, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord” (Moses 5:5).
Adam was taught that the sacrifice was “a similitude 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 the sacrifice of their offerings and the sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ. A system of offerings was given specifically to Moses as part of the law of Moses. Nephi, a prophet in The Book of Mormon, taught that sacrifices were done 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). Ancient prophets offered sacrifices to the Lord as a way to look forward to and prepare for the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ.
These sacrifices of the firstborn of the sheep 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 and made it no longer necessary as a way to show devotion to the Lord. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said,
“After His mortal ministry, Christ elevated the law of sacrifice to a new level. . . . He would no longer accept burnt offerings but . . . 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” (Elder M. Russell Ballard, “The Law of Sacrifice,” Aug. 13, 1996).
It is with this idea 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. The sacrifice assists men to work towards perfection by understanding and applying Jesus Christ’s Atonement for the sins of mankind. M. Russell Ballard further explained this sacrifice as putting oneself “upon today’s sacrificial altar.” He said we can do this by “living the first great commandment: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind’ (Matthew 22:37).
Living the law of sacrifice today means overcoming selfish desires and putting the Lord first in one’s life. (M. Russell Ballard, “The Law of Sacrifice,” Aug. 13, 1996).