Would I die for Jesus? I think this is a valid question to ponder, especially for us who live rather easy lives, free from persecution and opposition. No matter where you are you will experiences struggles, but the life and death reality of persecution has a way of refining faith. I don't know if my faith is so refined.
In the letter to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11), we discover a church that experienced persecution. In fact they were being persecuted severely. It appears that this persecution was all encompassing which included: discrimination, life threatening poverty, imprisonment, and even death. Through all this persecution the Christians in Smyrna remained faithful. Even though they had been through hardship, Jesus urged them to continue in their faithfulness, because more persecution is on its way.
Persecution, life threatening persecution, is not something that we have to face in the United States. We may be discriminated against from time to time, but the reality is that persecution is not one of the weapons Satan has used against us. In some ways it is very easy to be a Christian in the United States.
Because it is so easy to be a Christian, it could be argued that many of the “Christians” in the United States are simply church goers rather than true Disciples of Jesus. Many pastors, when evaluating their congregations, realize that they are failing in the discipleship process. I know I felt that way.
That is why what Craig Keener wrote in his commentary on Revelation intrigued me:
If we have not prepared ourselves and our congregations to die for Christ’s name if necessary, we have not completed our responsibility of preparing disciples (Mark 8:34-38). Like Daniel and his friends, we prepare best for more strenuous future tests by passing the ones we are given in the present. But when we remain faithful in the face of rejection and persecution, Jesus promises us a reward far greater than the power and status our oppressors now enjoy. (p. 121; The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation)
Wow! That adds another level to the evaluation of our discipleship ministries. Often it seems like we are happy if a person comes to worship for an hour a week, gives a tithe, and helps out when asked. That isn’t discipleship. True disciples are willing to die for Jesus. How many people in our church families are willing to do that? How many of us are willing to die for Christ Jesus?
Mark 8:34-38 reads:
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (NLT)
This starts with repentance (defection to God's kingdom), and flows into how we live each day. If we, as leaders, aren't sacrificing for the kingdom, then we cannot call others to sacrifice for the kingdom. We cannot call people, or lead them, further than we are willing to go ourselves. Take some time today and ponder this question: Am I willing to die the death of a martyr? That is the type of faith Jesus expects us to have.