While we may not be called upon on this day in America to give up our physical lives (at least not yet, though the day is coming) for the sake of Jesus Christ, it nonetheless another important death to consider. Would I be willing to be tortured rather than compromise the truth of God? Would I offer my life in the place of another’s? “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.” (John 15:13) Would I gladly, with “incorrigible cheerfulness”, fearlessly stand up for the sake of the One who gave His life for mine, even if I knew it would mean certain persecution, and ultimately, death? This is not something to be taken lightly. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
For centuries, all throughout Christendom, thousands have given their lives and bodies for their faith in Jesus. They have been tortured relentlessly, burned at the stake, drowned, thrown to lions and wild beasts, hung, shot, and treated with the utmost contempt and unthinkable cruelty; yet they have been known to take it with joy as if it were the highest honor they could ever receive. Why? Because it is such.
Christians of today in general have lost sight of the fact that sacrificing for Christ is an honor. I am afraid to think of how many would bring shame to Christ’s name by rejecting a faith that they never even fully accepted if there were to be such an order for all believers to be hunted down and killed – as has happened frequently in past years and still happens in various places around the world.
What was one of the secrets to the Christians’ unwavering loyalty to Christ in the face of such horrific trials? In the first centuries of the Christian church, it’s leaders would test the potential convert’s sincerity before they made a decision for Christ by presenting him with all the facts that in today’s church are most of the time hidden or brushed over; the persecution and the price that must be paid for being a follower of Christ. “You know what this means, don’t you? Do you know what it will cost you? You will have to give up everything you have. You will be rejected. You will face torture and murder. Are you still willing?” And they, having counted the cost as Jesus said to do in Matthew 14:28-32, would have to either say, “I’m not ready for that” or say “I understand. I am willing.” They were then prepared for whatever they would face for the sake of Christ. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:9,13)
The American church has forgotten how essential it is to count the cost, and then pay the price when it does come up. Our churches, youth groups, and Bible studies are largely filled with “namby-pamby” (to put it in C.T. Studd’s words), lukewarm people who call themselves Christians that have lost the meaning of being a true believer – who would turn away from the faith at the drop of a hat if they found out it was going to cost them something that they valued.
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” (1 Peter 4:12-14a, 16)
When you choose to follow Christ not only in word but in wholehearted action as well, there is a very high likelihood that you will experience rejection by either or both family and friends – even “Christian” friends! It is at this point that the Lord calls us to die to relationships that tear us from our commitment to Him. This may be the true test of our devotion to Jesus because, as people designed by God for relationships and fellowship with other people, to have a relationship we value be broken or dissolved for the sake of following Jesus Christ can be extremely painful. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27) As a side note, we know from the rest of scripture that this does not mean to actually hate our family members or friends, but that our love for Christ is so great and prevailing that it pales in comparison to the love we hold for them, making it seem like hate in comparison.
But God, because He is merciful and full of compassion, has given special promises to those rejected by family for His sake. “Assuredly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecution — and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30) “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” (Psalm 27:10)
How willing are you to stay committed to Christ – even if it costs you something near and dear to your heart? How about your possessions? Your relationships…or how about your life? Think about it.