(This is a continuation of the last week's post.)
That is why we must occasionally speak of martyrdom: we need to know what we're spending our lives on. We need to know what we're living for. And that must necessarily be something we're also willing to die for. For to live for something is a greater task than to die for something; the former necessarily encompasses the latter, just as death is merely one part - the last part - of life.
This necessity flows out of nothing less than the Gospel itself. We are crucified and raised with Christ, and now it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Our salvation depends on our participation in his death and resurrection. In this way, living (and dying) for God is nothing more than a natural extension of our salvation, whereby we die to ourselves and live for Christ.
But one may ask, "Isn't salvation free? Isn't it unearned? When did it become so expensive all of a sudden? Now you're saying that it'll cost me my life?" Yes, in both senses: of living for and possibly dying for Christ. But how could this be?
When people ask "Isn't salvation free?", I sometimes wonder if they mean "Isn't salvation cheap? And there's nothing cheaper than something free!" But this is utterly wrong. Yes, salvation is free. It is not cheap. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (A German pastor who was martyred by the Nazis) understood this. He said, "when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die", and "cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace", and "it is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life".
How does that work? Say that your body is completely overrun with cancer. You have no medical skills to save yourself, no funds or equipment necessary for any treatment, and no will to live on. But now, a great physician comes to you, and gives you the hope and motivation for continued life. He then performs a radical new procedure: he transplants your brain into another body, effectively giving you a whole-body transplant. And this new body is healthy, athletic, beautiful, and glorious. It is beyond anything you could have ever hoped to achieve with your old body. And he does not charge you anything: all you had to do is place yourself in the great physician's hands.
The great physician's services are completely free. Your lack of medical skills, funds, equipment, drugs, or even willingness to live on were no barriers to his work. You were healed of your disease and receive your new, amazing body: this is something you could have never achieved yourself despite your utmost effort - in fact, you did not exert any effort at all to obtain these gifts. None of these things could be earned through your works; they are completely free.
However, this treatment did cost you something: namely, your old body, in its entirety. Perhaps you had been working on hair growth on your old, bald head for years, and thought you had finally seen some signs of progress. Perhaps you had grown fond of a particular lump of cancer because it was a part of your body. Perhaps you miss the scars across your wrists from when you lost the will to live. All of that - your old body and your fondness of its flaws - has died. That is the cost of your salvation.
That is how the treatment is both free and costly. It is by no means cheap; it required tremendous expenditure of resources by the great physician, and it costs you your entire body, the one that you had spent your life in.
Our salvation in Christ is like that. It is the process of going from a sin-identity to a Christ-identity. It is crucifying the former and being resurrected with the latter. Life and death are intrinsically tied into the whole process, and that process of dying and being raised may play itself out in real life, in martyrdom.
Of course, it is possible to overemphasize martyrdom, and we must take care not to do so. For the foreseeable future, the probability of martyrdom is small for a typical American Christian. And even if the unforeseeable happens, we are not to seek martyrdom as if we were seeking death. It is only given to us as an option when there are no righteous means of escape. This has been the standard practice of the Church going back to New Testament times: Christ tells us to flee from a city under persecution. Apostle Peter properly runs away when released from jail by angels. And Apostle Paul gives an earnest defense when put on trial for his faith. All that needs to be keep in mind.
But, as long as we keep the Gospel at the center, all of the rest will fall into place - in both living and dying.
You may next want to read:
The Gospel: the central message of Christianity (part 1)
The universe is an MMO, and God is the game designer.
Another post, from the table of contents