The life of a martyr

Imagine they walk in, point a gun to your head and ask you to deny Christ or die. What would you do?

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Many years ago I used to muse on this question with friends. I would mentally explore the creative ways I could maintain my witness and preserve my life.

These were kind of fun hypotheticals to me, but in reality, many believers have had to face this decision. Nevertheless, I’ve come to realise the framing of the question “would you die for Jesus?” sort of misses the point of martyrdom.

The dictionary defines a martyr as “a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.”

But to define a martyr by death alone would be to miss the full picture. A Martyr in the kingdom of God is one who has lived for the cause, not just died for the cause.

Along with the death question, we must ask “Have I lived for Christ?”. Better still assuming you are alive now, “Am I living for Christ?” Is my time, money, ambition pointing heavenward? Before you give yourself a lazy ‘yes’, I’d suggest you let others answer that question on your behalf. Ask your family, friends and elders to rate you on that question from 0-10 maybe.

I used to think martyrdom was the privilege of a select few. But the words of Christ contradicts this thinking. He said: “Take up your cross and follow me, he who does not take up his cross is not worthy of me”.

This then means all who are His disciples must also be martyrs. It’s an all or nothing matter. Bearing the ‘Christian’ tag without following this path becomes meaningless. We can also extract a true picture of martyrdom from this; it is not the final ending but rather a journey. A martyr dies many times before he dies. The martyr no longer ‘asks would I die?’ rather he proclaims ‘I have died’.

Martyrs are celebrated all over the world. From Gandhi to Martin Luther King to Paul the apostle and even Bin Laden. Why? Because embodied in the martyr is the idea of dedication and patriotism. These people have given their lives for a cause bigger than themselves, for their convictions, for there people, for their Nations. And in their death they leave a potent legacy, earning them a ‘celebrity’ status.

In our celebration of martyrs, we often focus on the highlights, the most interesting touch points i.e. when he was beaten, when he was arrested, when he got shot. But we fail to absorb the spirit of martyrdom when we ignore the daily disciplines; when they woke up, when they went to work etc. etc. The daily death.

I want to be celebrated in the Kingdom of Heaven, with my brothers John and Peter and my great grandfather Abraham. Further still the great cloud of witnesses and the Lord want to celebrate us. I don’t want to crawl into holy company as one just escaping from the fire, embarrassed and humiliated by a mundane life.

Almost a decade ago the Lord impressed this on my heart “live for the King and the kingdom”. My life was to be dedicated in service to Him and his people. This is how I intend to live, and I’ve come to understand this is my reasonable act of sacrifice. Martyrdom is not optional. It’s the only way.

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