“When I return home next month, there is a good chance they will kill me before I can come back to America.”
He had only been a believer for a year.
“I could not help but tell my family and friends about the new life I found in Jesus. Several people disowned me outright. One said that if he sees me when I get back, he would kill me immediately. There is a good chance that someone will tell the government. When they do, I will not see you again in this life.”
Tears filled my eyes.
This new Muslim convert knew something that we Westerners tend to forget: Jesus is worth living for, even if it means proving that he is worth dying for.
Despite pressure from a well-intentioned campus minister, my friend had not been convinced by the “insider movement” that said he could continue to call himself a Muslim, continue reading and affirming the Quran, and attend the mosque regularly. He did not listen when told not to associate publicly with the Christian church, call Jesus the Son of God, or witness explicitly to his close family and friends. He must let his light shine before others (Matthew 5:16).
He would not refuse to verbalize his allegiance in the name of contextualization. If God willed, he would join the many martyrs before him who swam through blood into glory.
My friend ended up going back to his homeland in Tunisia, proclaimed his faith to his family and friends, and displayed that he would rather be an outsider with Christ than an insider without him. And, at least for now, he lives despite his boldness.
America’s Insider Movement
America has her own insider movement. Not one that seeks to survive in the face of unimaginable persecution, constant threat, or dangerous repercussions for Christian converts and their families. Our insider movement does not fumble its Christian witness before guns or flames or the Taliban. We forsake the saltiness of our witness before the mob of popular opinion.
Although we naturally spread the gospel of our football teams or favorite Netflix shows, we struggle to name the only name given to mankind by which sinners can be saved (Acts 4:12). The grunts of disapproval from the walking dead scares us from the task. We have forgotten that those who are insulted for the name of Christ are blessed (1 Peter 4:14). What was true in Jesus’s day is true in ours: “Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him” (John 7:13).
They feared getting kicked out of the synagogue — a focal point of Jewish life. We fear sarcasm from parents, ridicule on Twitter, being “that guy” in every social engagement. So, we are tempted to skulk from shadow to shadow, church service to home to work, only visiting our Lord under the cover of night, a Nicodemian variety of Christian association (John 3:2).
But this is incompatible with faithful Christian living.
Christianity and Cowardice?
Does that mean we only talk about Jesus 24-7? No. Does it mean forsaking all discernment about when to share and when not to? Of course not. Can it mean we never speak of Christ out of fear of man? Absolutely not. We do not seek to speak carelessly, but we do speak. The Christian life is a speaking life.
Charles Spurgeon thunders what martyrs throughout the ages have spoken with their blood,
I think there is scarcely a Christian man or woman that has been able to go all the way to heaven and yet quietly hide himself and run from bush to bush, creeping into Glory. Christianity and cowardice? What a contradiction in terms!
Shakespeare said that cowards die a thousand deaths before they die. The Bible says that the cowardly (who do not repent) die twice: once on earth, and once in the lake of fire.
“As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
Hiding Jesus in Plain Sight
And when we do associate with Christ, do we make it vague enough for the world to retweet? Is our “faith” gospel-less, cross-less, and Jesus-less? It is too politically correct to offend, too genteel to mention wrath or sin. It is spiritual without mentioning the Spirit, and creates a people of faith who never mention whom their faith is in. God is referenced as a distant deity that seems to have no distinguishable qualities or characteristics. The specifics of the gospel, it would seem, must remain a private matter.
This is seen also in Christian celebrities. Athletes thank “the man upstairs” for winning the World Series. Quarterbacks point to the sky after throwing touchdown passes. Some rappers-who-happen-to-be-Christians substitute the wellspring of the gospel for “positive messages” (cleaned up versions of secular music) in the name of contextualization. We hear Christ nodded to and hinted at, but never exalted.
We settle for being an insider of the world, instead of being an outsider with Christ.
What Western Christians Must Remember
Therefore, we must be reminded of some truths that will help combat the temptation to be covert Christians.
Remember, God uses bold speech to rescue from hell.
New souls die every day and will face the wrath of God without Christ. This cannot be more serious. “The “smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11). “The wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:6), and when it does, sinners will not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3) — though they beg the mountains to fall upon them (Revelation 6:16).
God has given us a message to rescue sinners. This message is to be spoken with words (Romans 10:14–15). It is the very power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). Pray to speak it boldly as the early church did (Acts 4:29).
Remember, time is short.
A few more mornings, a few more evenings, a few more winters, a few more springs, a few more laughs, a few more tears, and then we all will be before him. You have less time than you think. They have less time than you think. Implore the lost on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God with urgency (2 Corinthians 5:20–21).
Our lives, our days, our platforms are no longer ours — we were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 7:23). If people will listen to you because you teach their children, work on projects with them at the office, or are their family member, utilize that platform for the salvation of others.
Remember, a life of denial forfeits heaven.
We cannot be derelict at our post:
“Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32–33)
Those who refuse to acknowledge Jesus’s name in the face of persecution — by threat of machete or by fewer social media followers — will not enter the kingdom.
Remember, a slave is not above his Master.
The world chose Barabbas over Jesus. Followers of Christ should not expect to win popularity contests. Instead, expect persecution (John 15:20). A slave is not greater than his Master.
Any attempt to be more diplomatic than Jesus is compromise; any attempt to be more likeable than Jesus is sin; any attempt to be the world’s friend is betrayal (James 4:4).
Cozying up with God’s enemy makes us his enemy; as they persecuted his Son, they likewise will persecute us.
Remember, the Calvary road is the path of joy.
No one will ever suffer for Christ on earth and complain about it in heaven. Paul even calls suffering a grace in line with salvation (Philippians 1:29). As John Piper reminds us, the Calvary road is the road of joy:
All the riches of the glory of God in Christ are on [the Calvary] road. All the sweetest fellowship with Jesus is there. All the treasures of assurance. All the ecstasies of joy. All the clearest sightings of eternity. All the noblest camaraderie. All the humblest affections. All the most tender acts of forgiving kindness. All the deepest discoveries of God’s word. All the most earnest prayers.
They are all on the Calvary road where Jesus walks with his people. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. On this road, and this road alone, life is Christ and death is gain. Life on every other road is wasted. (Don’t Waste Your Life, 76–77)
It is true that only those who lose their lives will save them, but don’t miss the second part: they will save them.
Remember who is outside the camp.
We can’t stay inside because Christ calls us out to himself.
He was crucified outside the city, slaughtered where the sacrificial remains were burned, in order to save us. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured (Hebrews 13:13).
Why should we speak when we know we will only bear the reproach that he endured? Because “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
We are strangers and aliens here. Jesus is our home. Until he returns, we live outside of the world’s approval, bearing the same treatment he endured. He bore our wrath, and we go to him by identifying with him, praising God which is “the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
Where Boldness Comes From
Finally, we need to remember where this boldness comes from.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)
Conviction does not come from high scholarship. Boldness does not come from being the most gifted speaker. Courage comes from being with Jesus.
This treatise is not a plea to go out and offend people in the name of Christ. Nor is it a plea to get a Bible verse tattooed on your arm. It is a plea to be with Jesus.
The boldness that turns the world upside down comes from abiding in Christ. Common men and women in the presence of a glorious Savior burn with a flame the world cannot snuff out.