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For God’s Sake: To live is Christ, and to die is gain

It happened while I was in seminary. The church my wife and I had joined asked me to help them start a men’s ministry. Our team reviewed several teaching curricula, but none fit our ministry goals.

Over the summer, while not in school, I read several books hoping to get a better grasp of what is at the heart of the Christian life. One book I read was “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.”

In 1563, John Foxe, a puritan preacher, published an account of the lives and deaths of Christian martyrs throughout history, beginning with the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. The word martyr comes from “marturos,” a Greek word that means “witness,” one called to bear witness at a trial.

Martyr came to refer to those who bore witness of their faith in Christ by their willingness to die for Christ rather than recant.

What I found remarkable was how these Christian men and women went to a grisly execution willingly, even eagerly, all the while professing loudly that Jesus Christ is Lord. I wondered how I would act if I were facing execution for my faith in Christ.

Would I die courageously, or would I beg for mercy in the hope of escaping death? I reckoned that these martyrs died courageously because God filled them with his Spirit enabling them to boldly bear witness of Christ in death. I wondered if He might do the same for me. That is when the watershed moment happened.

I suddenly realized that what made these martyrs noteworthy was not merely their bold witness for Christ in death; it was their bold witness for Christ in life. They lived their new life in Christ in such a bold, uncompromising way that those opposed to the gospel took notice and sought to silence them.

Yes, they died in a remarkable way, but they also lived in a remarkable way. I concluded that the only faith worth dying for is a faith worth living for, and the only faith worth living for is a faith worth dying for.

The Apostle Paul’s words that reminded me of my watershed moment are, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He wrote them while under house arrest in Rome because of his witness for Christ.

He was executed a few years later. Paul knew the gospel’s promise of a new life in Christ for those who put their faith in Christ alone for salvation.

It is a life of ongoing transformation into Christlikeness. After death, that transformation is accomplished fully and forever in an instant and the glories of heaven are their home. Truly, for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.


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