November 17, 2012

Are You a Living Martyr?

What is the agenda of a dead man? Does he feel pain? Can he be wronged and if he can, does he care? Where are his complaints? Or is he free? Freer than any of us. Free to be and abide where God puts him. 

This is not a conversation about life after death; this is a conversation about living a surrendered life to the point of death and the earthly experience of those who practice it.  

Many of us have asked the question, “Would I be willing to die for my faith?” For many years the fear of martyrdom was number one on my list. I didn't trust my resolve to endure torture without recanting. I accomplished the victory once in a dream. 

I dreamt that I was in a crowd of people where the mass genocide of Christians was occurring. Falling behind in the running crowd fleeing the scene, knowing that the enemy was hot on my heels, I fell to the ground faking dead. Through closed eyelids I saw an attacker straddle my limp body and lower his face near mine, studying it for signs of life. I was not sure if I had deceived him but soon felt the warm pressure of blood loss as a dagger penetrated my skull between my eyes. There was no pain, just numbness which started in my feet and inched its way up my body until I slipped out of consciousness. As darkness descended, full knowledge of my departure from this world arose. My distinct thought was, “I did it! I was successfully martyred! I did not recant!” and I was overjoyed that I had died faithfully only to wake from the dream.

If you have also played out these scenarios in your mind and come to the conclusion that you would die for your faith, take a moment to exchange the hypothetical for the practical. Examine your life for evidence that you are living out your faith. If not, then what makes you think you would die for a faith that you are not willing to live for? 

Dying is but a moment. Living is laced with opportunities to display faithfulness in this hour, tomorrow, and next year. Proof of the kind of devotion that endures martyrdom is apparent in the now. 

What does that kind of devotion look like?  

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” ~ Romans 8:16-17

A living martyr looks like the life of Christ. His sufferings were not limited to the days between His arrest and crucifixion. Because He was obedient daily, He suffered daily. 

Do you think it was easy for Jesus to be holy?   If the only requirement for a Savior was that He be born of flesh and die a sinless life, then God could have accomplished that goal and saved Jesus a lot of pain by allowing Herod to kill Him as an infant along with all the children age two and younger that Herod murdered in the regions surrounding Bethlehem after news of Jesus’ birth. 

Jesus was targeted, protected, and survived, saved so that He should suffer. Jesus wasn’t our perfect sacrifice without first suffering; obedience in the midst of suffering made Him perfect. Why do we hope for a different portion and grieve a similar refinement? 

Hebrews 5:7-9 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him . . .”

He was the Son of God. He was God’s heir. He had departed Heaven for this mission (John 6:38), but none of this exempted Him from suffering.

Jesus “learned” to be obedient. It didn’t come naturally to Him any more than it does to us. Obedience was painful to Him and will be painful for us His followers.

Jesus was “made perfect” through suffering. We come closer to reflecting the image of Christ as we endure our own version of the cross. “Take up your cross daily and follow me”, He requires us in Luke 9:23. A voluntary cross marks the birth of a living martyr. 

“He became” the source of our salvation. He wasn’t born qualified to save us, He earned His qualification through suffering. Jesus paid an extremely high price to save us from our sins.

He fasted, prayed, and was tempted (Matthew chapter 4). He owned no personal property (Matthew 8:20). He served the ungrateful (Luke 17:12-17). He was abandoned by His followers and He questioned the loyalty of His closest friends (John 6:66-67). He was humiliated, betrayed, falsely accused, imprisoned, beaten, and killed (Hebrews 12:2). He persevered in holiness, love, dignity, and composure no matter the offense (Matthew 27:13-14). 

If we share in His sufferings, we will share in His glory.  

If we bear His banner, we inherit His kingdom. 

Living out a faith that you are willing to die for is outwardly visible. Check your life for these signs, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Yes, these fruits are by-products of a life-force churning within a man, implanted in him by God. They cannot be falsely manufactured; however, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit is a matter of paying a high price of our own, complete surrender of our lives to God. It is a voluntary death. 

George Whitefield wrote,
“Very few Christians are willing to endure the suffering through which complete gentleness is obtained. We must die to ourselves before we are turned into gentleness, and our crucifixion involves suffering. It will mean experiencing genuine brokenness and crushing of self, which will be used to afflict the heart and conquer the mind. Today many people are attempting to use their mental capacity and logical thinking to obtain sanctification, yet this is nothing but a religious fabrication. . . Yet the heartstrings of their old nature have not been broken, and their unyielding character, which they inherited from Adam, has not been ground to powder. Their soul has not throbbed with the lonely, gushing groans of Gethsemane. Having no scars from their death on Calvary, they will exhibit nothing of the soft, sweet, gentle, restful, victorious, overflowing, and triumphant life that flows like a spring morning from an empty tomb.”  (from Streams in the Desert, June 11 entry)

Triumph is the empty tomb. We celebrate the resurrection only if we first endure the sting of death.

Does your life story include the tale of your voluntary death?   Have you paid the high price of obedience, sharing in Christ sufferings, now walking this earth a living martyr? 

If we will share in His glory, we must taste our share of the pain of obedience. Jesus learned obedience through suffering and it made Him perfect. So it shall be for us. There is no other pathway, but glory waits.

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