The Only Martyr’s Death Worth Dying


'The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer' by Jean-Léon GérômeChristians in the United States are increasingly alarmed at the rise of the martyrdom of fellow believers across the world. When dying for our faith comes to our own shores, it’s even more troubling.

Jesus said this:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
—John 15:18

We often think of the tossing of Christians to the lions in ancient Rome when we think of being hated for the Faith.

A list of Christian faith and practice that drew the attention of the Romans:

  • Rapidly spreading the Faith throughout Rome
  • Caring for infants otherwise left to die
  • Caring for the sick, infirm, and elderly
  • Affording women rights ordinarily not given to them
  • Expressing monotheistic beliefs about the nature of God

Only one of the above, though, convinced Roman leaders to send Christians to die a martyr’s death in the Colosseum.

Today, the following beliefs and practices of Christians in the United States raise the ire of those who might hate us:

  • Espousing a pro-life / anti-abortion stance
  • Supporting conservative politicians and politics
  • Opposing same-sex marriage
  • Making wild predictions about End Times
  • Opposing permissive cultural mores

Can you spot the telling difference between the two lists?

What got Christians martyred in Rome? Their monotheistic view of God. It was how Christians depicted the nature of God that Roman leaders saw as an immediate threat. The other factors may have contributed, but they were not the final cause. (I would recommend Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity for further details.)

Today, fellow believers in other countries are martyred for the same reason as ancient Christians in Rome. Consider too the message of the apostles. It was their view of who God is, talking about Jesus, and putting Him above all else that enraged others enough to kill them.

If you and I must die a martyr’s death, the only real martyrdom, the only genuine reason to die for the Christian faith, is the person of Jesus. Be hated because we believe Jesus Christ is Lord.

Being hated for anything on that second list is not the point. Being hated for being opinionated about social issues, or voting for conservative politicians, or for homeschooling, or for anything else that is not Jesus is not martyrdom for the Faith.

Meditate on that earlier Bible verse for a moment.

I write this today because of my concern that we may be unclear on this. The way we talk about why people might hate Christians has little to do with the person of Jesus Christ and what we think about Him. Instead, it seems to be about our opinions on everything else.

There’s enough scandal in the person of Jesus and what He said and did to rock anyone’s world. But, in the United States, is Jesus truly the primary reason people hate Christians? If not, then we need to change the focus of our rhetoric.

One day, if they do come us, let’s ensure we die for the right reason.

6 thoughts on “The Only Martyr’s Death Worth Dying

  1. You’ve raised an important distinction here, that I’d never thought about before.

    Isn’t it possible though that at least some of the hatred directed towards Christians in the second list derives from the underlying idea that the Biblical God is real and has presented an underlying morality that applies to all people at all times and places. Believers in Jesus will not back down. This seems to be at least part of where the front line battle in America has erupted.

    In any case, you state the crux of the matter exactly right when you say, Being hated for being opinionated about social issues, or voting for conservative politicians, or for homeschooling, or for anything else that is not Jesus is not martyrdom for the Faith.

    Let’s hope that God will continue to strengthen to hold our faith no matter what the future holds.

    Thanks for quite a thought provoking post.

  2. Gary

    Thank you for the great post.

    It made me think of the vast differences between the believers of the early church and much of the church today.

    They were ‘not of this world.’ They didn’t embrace the idolatry of the temple or the cruelty and violence of the arena. Neither were they fooled by the ‘glory’ of Rome; it’s power and beliefs— and they refused to bow to its false hope and its demands. They saw a kingdom coming that would consign all false rulers and powers to dust.

    They believed in a coming judgement on all unrighteousness. They saw the end of the story was the restoration of all things by the true messiah. Their unswayed belief in the kingdom of Christ angered the religious and political rulers because it saw past their falsehood and pretense of their illegitimate rulers, to a hope for all who struggled under oppression. It promised freedom and justice, mercy or judgement. It was a message of hope to the humble, but loss and wrath to the proud.

    They early church clearly saw and was able to discern two kingdoms. One was based on lies, human effort, strength, power and wisdom; and underwritten by the gods of this age. The other was eternal . . . counterculture and unpopular. It was hated and persecuted by the false kingdoms, but it is a kingdom that will ultimately revealed to all creation, bringing restoration and glory back to the world.
    Such a faith was unbearably offensive to those building their own kingdoms.

    • Gary,

      In a consumeristic culture, it’s nigh unto impossible to be “not of this world.” I don’t know how “not of this world” I am either. I know I don’t want to be of it.

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