Fifteen years ago, in Paradise, CA —yes, that ill-fated town that later suffered a catastrophic fire— I heard a sermon that shocked and challenged me.
It was entitled: “You Don’t Need to Survive.”
The pastor spoke of our need to let everything go in the knowledge that Christ has given all for us, and we have been bought with a price. Christ, having purchased our souls, we should ready ourselves to do the same.
He spoke about missionaries in hostile countries, of lay people and pastors in countries where Christ is the enemy of the government, of businessmen and women working in companies that celebrate the acquisition of wealth even to the extent of disregarding powerless people.
Our pastor said that in the light of all that we have gained through faith in Christ, the loss of our physical lives is virtually nothing in comparison.
“You don’t need to survive” is antithetical to our instinctual drive to survive. Yet, the pastor repeated this phrase over and over within the body of his sermon.
But the survival instinct, in faith-filled believers, and in extraordinary times, must be subjugated in order to fulfill a higher purpose than mere physical survival.
And when I say that I was shocked at the pastor’s message, it’s not because I had never considered the reality of Christians dying for their faith. It was the phrase: “you don’t need…”
“You don’t need.”
What? Of course I need to survive. I mean, isn’t it the most basic need? It shows itself from the beginning, at a newborn’s first cry, at the sucking of its fist, the startle reflex, the toddler’s first attempt at deceiving its parents to avoid discipline, clinging to Mama at seeing a strange, new face.
Our Creator God put that instinct inside each of us.
But the apostle Paul said: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18 NIV)
And the apostle Peter said: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Pet. 4:12)
According to these great apostles, being willing to suffer for identifying with Christ and His Word—even to the point of death— is the mark of the true believer.
Many Christians are aware of how our nation is becoming increasingly hostile toward people of faith. If this trend continues (and I believe it will) how will we as believers navigate this strange new world? Will we simply melt into the new fabric, or will we hold to our integrity and our orthodoxy?
The price may be great. Already, some teachers, professors, and others have lost their jobs for daring to disagree with the present correct stance.
We will all have to determine what is a hill to choose to die on. Will we keep silent when our HR departments instruct us to agree with bad and harmful beliefs?
Will we teachers teach new but false histories, sciences, philosophies, sociologies? Or will it be a personal hill on which to choose our own professional death?
Will we leave a church that harps on and on about social issues but ignores preaching the soul-saving gospel? Are we willing to leave old friends and fun fellowship for the sake of clinging to right doctrine?
The other day I read an article about the church in China, how the communist government is very concerned by its rapid growth. What to do? I wanted to write a letter to the Chinese government and tell them how to make the church die: “Leave the church alone, give them tax benefits, approve their message, their work. Then watch them, in their newfound freedom, begin to tear each other apart, argue about doctrine, watch churches split, watch its members grow lukewarm and ineffectual in the face of all this luxurious freedom. Sirs, the way to destroy the church is by leaving them alone!”
I predict that, in the coming years, we western believers will face the same kind of snuffing out, disappearing, persecution that our Chinese brothers and sisters face. Are we willing to “not survive?”
Something to think about.
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9: 24 NIV)