“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.” Hebrews 11:36-37
Would you be willing to die for what you believe? Would you surrender to the executioner rather than surrender your convictions?
In the New Testament we read the accounts of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James (Acts 12:2), the first to follow Christ in death for their faith. History tells us of the deaths of many of Jesus’ disciples – like Peter and Paul – who not only died for their faith, but endured great agony and suffering before the relief of death. I’ve been studying Church history, and the men (and women) who were martyred for their belief in Jesus. I was especially moved by the story of Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Her friend, Felicity was in the same arena, just days after giving birth, giving up her life for her uncompromising faith. Still today, Christians in around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. The recent news told the story of another mother in a Muslim country who faced a death sentence for her faith, and would not recant her Christian testimony. Even in the United States, some who said “Yes,” when questioned about their faith paid with their lives.
I want a faith like that. I want a faith that stands the ultimate test. I want to face every opposition with the bold proclamation: “Yes, I am a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, even if it meant my death. I am blessed to live a country that offers “freedom of religion,” though that is being tested and pressed and is shaping into a “freedom from religion.” Still, I am not likely to face government executions for being a Christian – at least not in the present.
But is that the only time my faith needs to stand? Is the threat of death the only time I might stand at the crossroads of holding onto my Christian conviction or denying Jesus? I have become convinced that we stand at that same point of decision every day; for every day we make choices that either confirm or deny that we are surrendered to Christ. Will I deny my Savior in the things I watch and listen to? Would your internet history prove or deny your faith in Jesus? What does my bank account say about my faith? Do my conversations and my language say I am a Christian? Or the way I act toward others? Will I chose to act in love, will I chose to forgive, to bless like my Savior, or will I deny Jesus with hate, grudges and cursing? Will you be obedient when the Spirit says give, or dismiss the one in need and miss the chance to be a witness for the Gospel? When we chose to follow the world, follow our flesh, or ignore the voice of God, we are denying that Jesus is Lord of our lives, and the consequences may not be death, but rather the slow death of our faith. If we deny Jesus in these lesser, daily decisions, how will we ever stand in the face of true persecution? In the face of death?
In the accounts of the Christian martyrs, many people came to faith in Christ by witnessing the strong convictions of these believers in the face of death. We have the same opportunity to be a witness today when we choose the things that honor and please God. The world will take notice. Yes, they will jeer and criticize – but they will see people who will not compromise their faith in Jesus, in matters great or small. They will see men and women, young and old, of every race who so firmly believe in the truth of the Gospel that they cannot be forced to deny that Jesus Christ is Lord, no matter the cost. The world desperately needs to see people who stand for the One who died for them.
I want a faith like that, because I have a Savior like that.
Holy Father, the greatest witness we can offer to the world is to live every day with an uncompromising faith. Give us that kind of faith Lord. Give us faith that stands up to every test, no matter the challenge or the consequence. Amen.