Columnists > Voices

Nothing to lose

With no eternal risk, Christians are called to continual temporal risk

Issue: "Summer Books 2002," July 7, 2002

Last month President Bush reflected on the national effect of 9/11. "We are a different nation today-sadder and stronger, less innocent and more courageous, more appreciative of life, and for many who serve our country, more willing to risk life in a great cause." Yes, and how much more true for those who are Christians first and Americans second? They serve the greatest cause in history, spreading allegiance to Jesus Christ for the joy of all people.

Missionary Martin Burnham, dying in the Philippines, last month became one of the over 100,000 Christians likely to be martyred this year. Along with other Christians, he knew that by removing eternal risk, Christ calls his people to continual temporal risk. For the followers of Jesus the final risk is gone: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). "Neither death nor life ... will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). "Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25).

When the threat of death becomes a door to paradise, the final barrier to temporal risk is broken. When a Christian says from the heart, "To live is Christ and to die is gain," he is free to love no matter what. Some forms of radical Islam may entice martyr-murderers with similar dreams, but Christian hope is the power to love, not kill. Christian hope produces life-givers, not life-takers.

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The crucified Christ calls His people to live and die for their enemies, as He did. The only risks permitted by Christ are the perils of love. With staggering promises of everlasting joy, Jesus unleashed a movement of radical, loving risk-takers. "You will be delivered up even by parents ... and some of you they will put to death" (Luke 21:16). Only some. Which means it might be you, and it might not. That's what risk means. It is not risky to shoot yourself in the head. The outcome is certain. It is risky to serve Christ in a war zone. You might get shot. You might not.

Christ calls us to take risks for kingdom purposes. Almost every message of American consumerism says the opposite: Maximize comfort and security-now, not in heaven. Christ does not join that chorus. To every timid saint, wavering on the edge of some dangerous gospel venture, He says, Fear not, you can only be killed (Luke 12:4). And "your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:11-12).

Note the great biblical legacy of loving risk-takers. Joab, facing the Syrians on one side and the Ammonites on the other, said to his brother Abishai, "Let us be courageous for our people ... and may the Lord do what seems good to him" (2 Samuel 10:12). Esther broke the royal law to save her people and said, "If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). Shadrach and his comrades refused to bow down to the king's idol and said, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us ... But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods" (Daniel 3:17-18). And when the Holy Spirit told Paul that in every city afflictions await him, he said, "I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course ..." (Acts 20:24).

"Every Christian," Stephen Neil wrote about the early church, "knew that sooner or later he might have to testify to his faith at the cost of his life" (A History of Christian Missions). This was normal. To become a Christian was to risk your life. Tens of thousands did it. Why? Because to do it was to gain Christ, and not to was to lose your soul.

In America and around the world the price of being a real Christian is rising. Things are getting back to normal. Those who make gospel-risk a voluntary lifestyle will be most ready when we have no choice. Therefore I urge you, in the words of the early church, "Let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:13-14).

When God removed all risk above
He loosed a thousand risks of love.

John Piper
John Piper

John is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.

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