The recent martyrdom of Ethiopian Christians in Libya has some Christians asking themselves, "Would I die for my faith?" Very few of us American Christians will ever have to answer that question with our lives, so the question is hypothetical. And in the comfort of our own homes, it is relatively easy to answer in the affirmative.
A more pressing and relevant question for me has been, "Would you be willing to die in order to enter and continue in your Christian faith?"
I became a Christian when I was 16 years old. After some initial enthusiasm, I didn't let it bother me too much. I was married at 21 and now I've been married for 37 years. But, under my poor spiritual leadership, I shouldn't have made it past 10, or 15, or 25 years. Fortunately after 25 years, with the "help" that God gave me and a para-church ministry, I was able to save my failing marriage.
What I've come to believe is that the state of my marriage is a near perfect reflection of the state of my relationship to Christ. I must be willing to practice my Belief on the person closest to me; the person I vowed to love and cherish. If I can't or won't, I have little chance of successfully practicing it on others. I will have lost any credibility that I might have beyond my own home.
So, when Paul says, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her," it is not only a teaching about how to love my wife, but how to enter into the Faith. The example of Christ is self-sacrifice. When Jesus told Nicodemus that one "must be born again," and when Paul says that we are to become "a new creature," the implication is that we are to die to our natural selves and be re-born as spiritually alive creatures.
If you ask most husbands if they'd give up their lives to save their wife's, they might answer something like, "Sure, if we were in a room and somebody threw a live grenade in there, I'd jump on it to save her life." But, that's never going to happen. What's far more likely is that my wife will want to watch a Jane Austin movie at the same time the big ballgame is on. What then?
I had to come to grips with the fact that my conversion as a 16 year old was incomplete. As heretical as it sounds, I needed to be born-again, again. I had to be willing to bring myself to my own personal firing line. My natural-self had to die. It was an essential part of entering into the Faith.
Frankly, I didn't want to die to myself. I have a strong sense of self-preservation. What good will it do for me to die? Who will replace me? I have big plans. I want to be somebody. But, I have since come to believe that it would be very rare to achieve worldly success and spiritual success simultaneously. I looked to Christ as my example.
In a worldly sense, when Pontius Pilate declared "Ecce homo," he presented a Christ that had been stripped, scourged, and crowned with thorns. He put on display a thoroughly beaten man with no prospects other than to be crucified. A dead man walking. But, in a spiritual sense, he introduced an incredibly powerful man. One who was willing to die for others. A servant-leader in complete self-control. I wanted to be like Him.
To continue in my Faith, I must bring myself to my own personal firing line every day. As Paul put it, I'm crucified with Christ. As Jesus put it, I take up my cross daily and follow Him. When my old natural-self dies, I know who I want to replace me: A spiritually re-born man in whom Christ lives. A man who will produce the fruit of the Spirit. A man who will continue to die to himself every day and put others' opinions, desires, thoughts, and interests (especially his wife's) before his own.
It is a daunting task. God help me.
This piece was written as part of The High Calling Writer Network community link-up theme: Called to The Firing Line